Laurence Guy: How I Play Live
We go behind the scenes of Laurence Guy's live show, set-up and performance approach
Church Records regular Laurence Guy's transition from DJ to producer to live performer saw his studio and set-up shift and evolve as he developed his approach. We caught up with him to find out more about how his live show started, what drives his setup and how the hunt for esoteric equipment inspires his music-making.
What was your approach when you first started putting your live setup together? What was the end goal?
“It’s been an idea I’ve toyed with for a while. I was looking for a new way to present my music outside of the home listening environment, but also outside of the traditional DJ format that is so common for this style of music. The main catalyst to really get it going was an opportunity that came my way to support Leifur James at the London South Bank centre. This was proposed as a DJ set, but I felt that it would be an amazing way to debut the live show so initially I created an ambient, half improvised performance specifically for this.
“It was one of the most nerve-racking yet rewarding gigs I’ve played by a long shot. Another factor was that over the last couple of years, my music, especially my first album from 2017, has grown popular specifically on Spotify. This means that many people have come to my music from a different perspective, a listening perspective and not one of ‘DJ/club culture’ or however you care to phrase it. I found that there became a disparity between what people coming to my shows wanted and expected to hear and what I play as a DJ.
“I’ve been DJing longer than I’ve been producing and I’ve generally seen it as a separate artform. I rarely play my own music – in my mind, I have thousands of records to choose from that not only fit better in a dancefloor context, but also that I’m in love with and enthused to play. For me, the live show is a way to showcase my music in unique and surprising ways, while also giving the audience an insight into my studio process and mindset. The more live shows I do, the more I enjoy the experience. It’s a completely different ballgame to DJing, I guess I’m out of my comfort zone and the reward for that is always exhilarating.”
What were the main challenges in putting the setup together?
“The first challenge was learning Ableton. I’ve produced on Logic since I started so it was a long process to rewire my brain. I felt that Ableton was the best software for a live show and luckily I haven’t changed my tune. The next was deciding what other bits of equipment I needed and trying to remember the ins and outs of MIDI and hooking everything up. I wanted everything to be in harmony and also relatively straightforward to use. After that, I embarked on the process of gathering stems from old releases to work into the show. This was one of the hardest parts as I’m not at all organised and it could end up taking a day just to find an old project, only to find that the files were gone, or on another hard drive, which wouldn’t work etc.
“In the end I got what I could and I’m happy I have enough from my past releases to not piss everyone at the shows off. I definitely regret some rash decisions I’ve made about deleting entire project folders for past EPs in some kind of manic Marie Kondo moment. The main challenge was more mental for me than actually putting the set-up together. I had to work out how I wanted to present the show, what I wanted it to sound like and to do it all in a way that was authentic to me – this is obviously an ongoing process but I’m getting there.”
How did you decide what bits of kit to use over others?
“Some I had already, the Moog and laptop basically. I’ve had the Sub Phatty for years and have really tried to learn it inside out. The main improvisation/actual keys playing is on this synth so it had to be something I was comfortable with. For the rest, I did a lot of online research, spoke to friends and peers and generally sought advice. When it came to getting the main components, I went into Elevator Sounds in Bristol and talked through what I need – or thought I needed – with their staff and that’s really when it started to make sense. Big shout out to those guys, and I would say to anyone investing in specialist equipment, go to a specialist shop and you won’t fuck it up too much.”
What’s the full setup now?
“Ableton Live 10, Akai APC40, Make Noise 0 Coast, Bastl Thyme, Arturia Keystep, Moog Sub Phatty.”
How much improvisation is there generally? Did you specifically choose equipment that allowed you to improvise over more rigid sequenced setup? Which do you prefer?
“It depends a bit on the show to be honest. For club shows, I generally improvise a little less and like to have a set tracklist. The changes to each show happen ahead of time rather than in the moment, so I’m not doing a copycat show every time, but I have a rigid(ish) structure to it. The main improvisational element for these is me jamming on the Moog Sub Phatty. This synth has been used in all my tunes for the last five years and I’m really comfortable playing it.
“For ambient shows, it’s a lot more improvisational. The basic structure for these is that I have the keystep triggering sequences that I record in realtime. It controls four soft synths in Ableton and the 0 Coast – I discovered by accident that when you have a polyphonic sequence – chords played into the Keystep controlling a mono synth – 0 Coast – you get a kind of glitching effect as the synth tries to jump between the notes of the chords. The soft synths play the chords over the top and then I jam on the Moog.
“Further down the line I will set up the club show to be more off the cuff, but I haven’t reached a level of confidence with it yet. One thing I do enjoy is having channels and sampler instruments set up with all the loops and sounds I’ve recorded from vinyl over the years and trying to work them into the show. Ableton's time stretching engine is crazy so it’s pretty easy to just drop things in as and when. To take it further I might try bringing a turntable and stack of records with me as well, but I’ll cross that bridge later.
“Another really exciting concept I’ve got involved with is Sebastian Mullaerts ‘Circle of Live’ project. This is a completely improvised show, where three or more artists come together and perform a live jam all night long. For me it’s been great to hone my skills alongside more experienced performers and basically attempt to hold my own. A kind of baptism of fire I guess! The aim for me is to bring these two styles of performance together and find my perfect balance point between a more sequenced or more improvised show.”
How has your live show influenced your DJ sets? Have you found yourself craving more hands-on FX units etc?
“As I said, I see them as a separate art form so there hasn’t been much influence. I guess I have noticed I feel more confident in playing my own tracks, but no yearning for FX etc just yet. The records should hopefully speak for themselves.”
How does the setup differ from your studio or is it a similar type of setup and ethos when making music?
“The set-up is the same as my studio minus a turntable and records to sample! I spend a lot of time sampling vinyl and creating playable sampler instruments in Ableton, kind of like creating presets in a soft synth, but with sounds mapped to a keyboard – trumpets, piano samples, vocals, weird ambience etc. When I’m making music at home I’ll get an idea going and then start to audition these instruments over the top. I’m also doing this in the live show to an extent, but with pre-determined sets of sampler instruments.”
How would you change the setup if you could?
“I feel there will be a constant process of adding and taking away of equipment. The main thing I’m going to focus on for now is the basic signal chain of the show. Having a great soundcard, a nice mixing desk etc. I want to make sure that my music doesn’t get lost in the club environment. Due to my music using a lot of ‘lofi’ samples, it can be a challenge to create a crisp sound on a big stage. I’m also excited to experiment with different pedals/outboard FX. There’s a few amazing second-hand guitar and synth shops near me where you can pick stuff up super cheap. I feel like I can ‘dig’ for weird equipment in the same way I would for records to sample and this is very exciting to me.”
What are the challenges of playing ‘live’ electronic music in a club environment? Do people on the dance floor appreciate the live nature of the show?
“I’m still very much at the start of my ‘live’ career so time will tell this for me. One thing I have noticed is that I’m consciously trying to stay out of my DJ mindset whilst playing live. When you’re DJing and you feel the crowd flagging it’s easy enough to just start playing bigger/harder records or to constantly try different styles until you get them back on side, but for me the purpose of a live set is more about presenting your own music and artistry and shouldn’t be so easily affected by what’s going on in front of you.”
Laurence Guy's Australia tour starts January 24th
24th Jan - Colour / Dance Flaws - Melbourne (DJ)
25th Jan - Darklab / Altar - Hobart (LIVE)
26th Jan - Wildlife Victoria & Fire Relief Fund For Nations Communities Fundraiser - TBA (DJ)
31st Jan - Sugar / Housing Boom - Adelaide (DJ)
1st Feb - Si Paradiso / Turnt Tables - Perth (LIVE)
7th Feb - Fredas / Full House - Sydney (DJ)
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