It’s Monday night in a warehouse in North Hollywood, and The Glitch Mob are running through their new live show with a patient professionalism. Their new album, See Without Eyes, has just been released, and it’s their final night of rehearsals before hitting the road for their North American tour.
For the past week, the band — comprised of members Justin Boreta, Ed Ma, and Joshua Mayer — has set up shop in private studio location in Burbank, where they’ve staged their entire live show, equipped with full lighting and sound to mimic an actual Glitch Mob concert experience.
Two minutes into their setlist, Josh calls for the music to stop. One of his MIDI pad velocities is off. The crew’s technicians diagnose the problem, and the set restarts anew. It’s not the kind of bug you want to encounter before setting off on tour, but luckily the second pass proves a successful run through.
The rehearsal space itself is not much more than a large, dark room, and is in fact dwarfed by the sheer enormity of The Glitch Mob’s new stage design. The setup looks like some sort of intergalactic spaceship. At the center are three black, futuristic-looking consoles, each with an illuminated grid of playable rectangular pads. Behind each console is an arrangement of large, colorless drums, including three giant taiko-inspired creations and an auxiliary row of what the band calls “space bongos.” Finally, behind the entire setup, is a tall row of lighting towers. This is ‘The Blade 2.0.’
Over the years, The Blade has become an integral part of The Glitch Mob mythos. Such is evident in the way the band refers to the setup. “It’s what we go to battle with every night,” Ma says, endearingly. “It’s our Excalibur.”
The first version of The Blade was introduced back in 2014, in tandem with the group’s sophomore album, Love Death Immortality. The stage accompanied the band to festivals such as Coachella, Ultra, and Austin City Limits, and proved an instant hit among fans. Now, with a new album in tow, the group has revamped the stage with a new design and some of the most cutting-edge technology of the day.
“We are using the fastest, most high-powered Windows laptops we can find,” Ma says. In this case, Dell Alienware PCs: the kind of laptops with so much processing power that they’re typically reserved for high-level gaming.
That’s just the brains of the operation, however. On stage, the band utilizes 22 different MIDI controllers, all of which correspond to specific sounds and samplers within Ableton Live. The result is a fully playable stage — so much so that hitting just about any component of it will trigger some sort of sample or noise.
It’s kind of like being inside the cockpit of a futuristic spaceship, surrounded by glowing pads and buttons. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’d be easy to make a mess of the whole thing. But in the right hands, it’s an incredibly powerful tool.
To actually perform their music, the band tediously chop up every single sound from their songs in Ableton and load them into digital samplers. “We’ve taken all the elements from the album and it’s all been printed down to audio,” Boreta explains.
This allows the group to perform their music with the kind of immaculate sonic quality they work so hard to deliver on their records. “It is, verbatim, the album broken into a million little shards and then put into samplers,” Boreta says.
One of the more salient aspects of The Glitch Mob’s live setup is their decision to angle their MIDI controllers down towards the crowd. This simple decision allows the audience to easily see every pad strike and finger-drummed melody sequence.
“We’ve found that it engages people more,” Boreta says. “For us, it creates this sense of connectivity and energy that you can’t match with just a laptop and a controller.”
The strategic positioning is reflective of a larger desire within the band: to move away from the laptop-based paradigm of electronic music performance. This isn’t to say the band is trying to ditch the laptop altogether, but rather to address a long-standing problem with computer-based performance: the inherent divide between crowd and performer.
“For so long, there’s been a running joke,” Ma says. “When you see someone up there with a laptop, ‘what the hell are they exactly doing?’ We wanted to make it very clear, like, ‘hey, we’re actually up here playing as much music as three people can play live.’”
It’s the kind of ethos that likens The Glitch Mob closer to a stadium rock act than a touring DJ group. “The way that we’ve programmed this set, and the way that we perform it, we don’t need to be staring at the computer,” Ma says. “That’s kind of the whole point of it — to really get away from that paradigm.”
At the end of the day, it’s important to note that The Glitch Mob don’t have to do any of this. They could very easily be a successfully touring electronic group with just a laptop or a pair of pioneer CDJs. Many do.
But there’s something to be said about reinvesting in one’s own art — in adding to one’s own mythology and creating something that is truly different.
“It’s about taking people outside of their normal sphere of perception,” Ma says. “Giving them an experience or memory that they will keep with themselves for long after.”