Question for live performers: Does the setup "matter"?

I’d appreciate input from folks that play live, improv or semi-improv, electronic music…

Do you find or have you found that the gear you use on stage matters with regards to getting gigs, your perceived “value” as a performance , etc?

Considering that so much of what we do could be done on gear that ranges from a laptop/ipad to a massive Kieth Emerson-sized modular rig, does it add more “value” to the performance if there’s more knobs, dials, blinking lights, etc. so the audience “gets” that you’re doing more than just DJ’ing tracks or pressing play?

For example, even if you’re jamming off a laptop or ipad, but you surround yourself with a bunch of physical controllers, etc. to make it look like Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, does that help your brand as a performer (i.e. seem more “serious”) vs if you went out and performed the EXACT same set off a laptop?

I mean at the end of the day it’s entertainment and there’s a reason Tommy Lee did drum solos on a rig that moved around like a roller coaster right?

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I can say that the gear doesn’t matter much.

What you do with your gear is what the whole game is.

Put on a good show and it doesn’t matter what your set up looks like.

…that being said: you can always make your show look better and better to add that extra element.

Music first. Set appeal second.


True that. Though i ve played at a local party night here that only books hardware live techno sets. But that s likely an exception.

Gear is definitely a shorthand for immediacy. I’ve seen people do rad thing with just a laptop tho.

My personal rule of thumb is “if there is no risk, there is no point”.


Having run a few live electronic nights in the past, I’d say that someone on only a laptop looks a little suspect as to how much of it is live, even with a controller there. The exception is if the audience can hear your movements essentially. So we once had a guy who did hip hop live from a controller and you could physically see the guy hitting pads at the moment beats hit or chords struck, etc. However, for other styles, having a pure hardware rig that keeps you busy throughout is more professional in my opinion. Especially if your movements are timed with more drastic changes to the music. As someone said above tho, it’s all entertainment and if the audience connects with the music it doesn’t matter too much. It’s more for other music gear geeks in the audience at that point (me included haha).

Edit: Who doesn’t enjoy seeing Cenk go to town on some boxes though? The extreme speed of his movements is kinda breathtaking and very entertaining!


From my experience. Doesnt make any difference what so ever. Unless its a totally right on niche venue, the crowd think you are a dj anyway.
If you hare having a good time, and your music is quality, the audience will notice that more than what gear you use.


Unless you’re playing for a bunch of neckbeards (shots fired!), the only thing an audience cares about is if they’re having a good time. The only thing a venue cares about is if they’re selling alcohol. The only thing alcohol cares about is if the neckbeards are entertained.

As much as we all talk about gear… I think the things that truly matter:

  • Is the music enjoyable
  • Is the crowd entertained
  • Did you get on and off stage in a way that treated other performers and a sound engineer with respect (yeah, setup/strike time)
  • How much of a crowd did you pull.

My personal rule of thumb is “if there is no risk, there is no point”.



Sometimes the gear upstages the performer. Now I like Colin Benders, as I’m sure many of you guys do. How disheartening must it be for him to be sweating out some bangers for a room full of neckbeards who can crane their necks over his gear but can’t muster up a single hip movement between them for a whole hour.


Very good point.
And there’s a flip side too. I once had a gig in Sydney on the same night as Squarepusher. He was playing the opera house, Im playing some small uni venue. So I thought, whats the point? Everyone will be at Squarepusher. I’ll just take a laptop and run that stems set of of my own tracks, fiddle with a midi controller for an hour and get paid (it was a paid gig). Totally inexpected result, the venue I played was packed to the gills and the crowd went absolutly nuts for my set. I was stoked to see so many people dancing to my stuff, but I felt like a fraud, but did it matter? And should I have gone to see Sqaurepusher instead?


I remember bumping into Venetian Snares at a gig ages ago and lamenting that his sets are quite “DJish” and he never gets to play live with all the analogue kit he uses for his last step records.
Then he basically headlined Bangface in 2016 with an hour long hardware modular glitch odyssey. Went down like a lead balloon. He’d have had the crowd eating out of his hand if he’d just DJ’ed out the hits. Not criticising him, it took massive balls to go out there and do what he did, but it just wasn’t the right crowd or the right time for it.

Saw the very same hardware modular glitch odyssey at a tiny local venue about a week later. It was banging and the crowd loved it.

It’s less about what you’re doing than it is about who you’re doing it at.


Wow! I really appreciate the responses.

That vid of Colin is TOTALLY what I meant about the Frankenstein’s Lab! :slight_smile:

Yea, I think that really sums it up…

For instance, I’ve been working on doing reeeaaallly long form, “slow mix” technoish stuff that often doesn’t even have the kick on 4/4 stereotype and when I listen back, it’s crazy how peaceful and meditate repetitive, frequency rich noise can be (“music”?). That got me thinking that it’s basically like “Ambient music” in the vein of sleep-music as opposed to Eno’s idea of just “background music”. That led me to believe that you could prob. work on a meditation/yoga session with essentially “Techno” instead of the rainsticks and singing bowls and gongs.

So being able to perform long format rhythmic glitch techno for a yoga session in Berlin with a bunch of skinny people in all black yoga outfits.

That’s what I’m looking to do.

Now to find a booking agent with that specialty.


I can’t remember the dudes name but I saw a show once where the guy just mashed spacebar and rocked the fuck out. Song over. SPACEBAR. ROCK Out. Rinse, repeat. Crowd went nuts

It does not matter


Yep. Look at Sleaford Mods. Same deal. Hit play, other dude rants. That’s it. People go insane for it. Who’s to argue, their stuff is ace.


Something else to be mindful of is how stressed u can look managing a bunch of gear. I watched another set once where the act was using their OT for the first time in a real complicated setup and the whole thing was a disaster.

I’ve done the same, unwieldy amount of things to press and control, trying my best to pull it all off, while the artist that followed me had a compact elegant setup, knocking it out of the park.

I learnt my lesson with that one.

Still, all approaches are valid. You could carve coconuts into a mic next to an aerated jar of bees and a cup of crickets and that would do


A performer who presses play and smiles and dances will create a better vibe than a stressed-out mofo squinting at gear trying to figure out where that snare sample went. I’ve done both.

But yeah depends on the venue/event more than anything, as others have said.


From my experience, if you’re crooning into a mic while strumming chords on an acoustic guitar, people get that. You’re “performing.” If you’re muting/unmuting tracks, twiddling knobs, and playing some keys here and there, it will fly clearly over the heads of 95% of your audience. I don’t mean to be condescending, but the majority of people just don’t get it. To echo what someone else said here, to them it just looks like you’re doing a weird DJ thing.

I’m an electric bass player by trade and most of my tracks have live bass playing, so I incorporate that into my performances just so that people can see that yes, I’m actually doing something musical here with an instrument they’re familiar with. It’s often cumbersome and to be honest I’d rather perform without it, but I feel it builds a connection with the audience that I otherwise wouldn’t have. And even then the comment I hear most often after a gig is, “Very cool. I mean, I have no idea what you were doing there, but it sounded cool.”


I ve had people come up to me with request tracks to DJ while i m doing a live set.


This! I do a similar thing with a couple of machines, a looper and my guitar. If I’m playing for a band-minded crowd I’ll often explain a little about what I’m actually doing.