Band Setups - AIR / Stereolab

I keep looking at the various setups that bands use on stage to perform pop with synths.

It seems like there is a tradeoff between complexity of arrangement and flexiblity.

The most flexible setups for doing full sounding arrangements without resorting to backing tracks seems to be 4 members.

For example when I saw AIR, the two lead guys switch off on multiple keyboards, guitars, and vocals.

Their drummer is primarily focused on drums.

Then they had a wildcard guy in the background doing stuff like vibraphone and playing a jupiter 8 and auxillary percussion. Sounds like a relatively fun role to play in a band.

  1. Laetitia Saedier Source Ensemble (ex-Stereolab)

4 outstanding multi-instrumentalists and everyone sings.

One dedicated multi-keyboard player, one who switches from guitars to keyboards
laetitia sings, plays keyboards, guitar. their drummer primarily drums but even switched to keys.

  1. Chvrches (3 piece)

I honestly dont like the fact that they dont have a drummer.

I started practicing with a drummer last night switching between guitar and keyboards.

I feel like generally synth and drums alone has a hard time keeping things going. I feel like I would really need a bassist or another member to fill things out.

It’s like piano + drummer without a bass player sounds oddly empty. It could be my ear is so primed to recordings that I just expect there to be a bass there.

addendum: after not playing with a band for 6 years, i’ve learned REALLY quickly that writing in a DAW with limitless potential requires a really different kind of thinking than writing with a group.

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I’m not certain the difference between synth bands and any other act- tbh.

Keys will always have the highest likelihood of expanding the arrangement as you can play multiple sound sources at a time.

One option for drums would be to trigger different sounds between band members using kick pedals while playing their instruments.

Or you could work with loops for the best of both worlds.


Our band (Nightsatan) has a 3 guy line-up of a drummer who plays Roland SPD -drumpads and two guys on synths. My role as a synthdude is to play mainly basslines, melodies and drones and my colleague plays pads/chords and solos. Sometimes we have songs where our drummer plays synths too and we’ve also talked about doing songs with all three of us playing drumpads.

In the beginning, 10 years ago we had a dogma of not having anything preprogrammed. No loops, no sequences, no samples, no arpeggiators, no nothing. Everything you heard was played live with our fingers, but we’ve kinda slipped a little from that principle. The beauty of having no acoustic instruments or vocals is that our studio/rehearsal space is in an old apartment block. We can rehearse everything with headphones.


I’ve modified the title. I guess in my mind there is like a classic three or four piece punk band (rhythm/lead, bass, drums) and every other kind of arrangment, once you throw electronic instruments into the mix, has a lot of possibilities. It’s interesting to hear how other people do it, as a great deal of live music I see these days either:

  • mostly follow the rock band recipe
  • or you have a guy with a table and all sorts of gear / noise or dj setup

To me, the most interesting setups to watch, as an audience, have some kind of synthesis of these two things.

Thievery Corporation does a great job of this.

No offense to Elektron heads because I love my Digitakt, but when it’s not on youtube its simply not fun to watch some some guy pushing buttons (except for Cenk, but then again, I only watch him on youtube).

My whole idea, when I started our band, came from seeing a local doom metal band Reverend Bizarre play live at a record store I used to work in. I loved the way they played without shirts, sounding really heavy and I immediately wanted start my own doom metal band. The problem was that I did not have a guitar and I could not play one. I had a bunch of synths. That’s how we came up with a new genre called laser metal where we play slow doom music but with only synths and electronic instruments. So it’s kind of a symbiosis of guitar music played with electronic instruments.

And yes, I work in an office. I watch people with laptops all day long. That’s the last thing I want to see when I go out to have a beer and see a band.


The problem was that I did not have a guitar and I could not play one. I had a bunch of synths.


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what do you guys do for band arrangements? do you notate? use guitar pro? is an ableton session that gets sent around your notation? its been so long since ive tried to do this but i used guitar pro quite frequently back in the day

My mate uses Dorico Steinberg for notation. He does mostly TV/radio commercials and uses it all the time.
When I jam with him, he just prints out a sheet for me and it’s too easy.

The last iteration of our band was myself on Bass and synths and himself on guitar and synths. We used an SR16 for percussion.
Too easy when you’re playing micro gigs of 80’s synth pop to ppl in their 40’s.

He and I worked with the same drummer for years from a 7 piece Jazz band, which diminished one by one to a 3 piece jazz-grunge band. Honestly, it’s so much easier working without a live drummer.

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We don’t notate anything. We jam like a normal guitar band would jam and sometimes come up with riffs/melodies that we like. Often one of us comes to band rehearsal with a couple of song ideas and the other two guys try to come up with their own parts that fit. When we have something worthwhile, we record a demo of it. I guess that’s the way many guitar bands work.

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