Imagine a post-apocalyptic world where the last remaining humans battle against artificial intelligence for survival. After the smoke clears, on a heaping mound of junked robots, stands a trio armed merely with speakers.
That trio is the Los Angeles-based electronic dance crew The Glitch Mob, and that image is easily conjured when listening to their latest release, Drink the Sea.
More literally, the band of Ed Ma, Justin Boreta and Josh Mayer has mastered their robots—electronic mediums for music creation—in ways that haven’t been done before.
The first minute of album opener “Animus Vox” sounds like it could have been The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’s main theme if the movie had been set in 2200. The unrelentingly exuberant songs that follow create a cohesive collection. “We didn’t want just a bunch of dance-floor singles—that’s the world we come from,” says Justin Boreta.
They wrote each song with a particular emotion in mind—like, say, triumph—and the sonic details followed.
“[The album] started as a literal story, but in the end, it became ambiguous, and we were attracted to that idea,” Boreta says. The track list, however, retains a distinctive arc, crescendoing through songs like “We Swarm,” “Drive It Like You Stole It” and “Fortune Days”—titles that only seem to further enhance that post-apocalyptic image.
Each song was titled only after it was completed, to allow the music to grow organically from the original concept. An elaborate process was used to precisely nail each one. “We would put the song on repeat and, while listening to it over and over, we’d make this collage of random words, artwork titles, lines from poems and we’d browse around online,” Boreta says. “We started with sometimes, like, 100 words, and kept cutting it down until it was perfect.”
This meticulous culling also gives insight into how the band creates their sound and the engineering feat of their live shows.
To backtrack a bit, the three members cut their teeth in Los Angeles’ jungle and hip-hop DJ scene. Promoters continuously booked them on the same bill, and at one party, they decided to overthrow conventional mores and combine efforts. This was back when laptops had begun to replace record players and digital music leveled the DJ playing field—having a rare “Weapon X” in the record collection didn’t mean much anymore.
In Los Angeles, there’s a community vibe among DJs and producers, Boreta says; everyone is helping one another.
“If anyone can get better, we all get better,” says Boreta, adding that they share software plug-ins with their friends, reputable L.A.-area producers like Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus and Bassnectar. However, The Glitch Mob’s sound differs from their peers.
They infuse breakbeat and golden era hip-hop with elements of jazz, indie rock and experimental music. “When you listen to [Drink the Sea], it’s soft for electronic music these days,” says Boreta, making comparisons to Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and The White Stripes.
The Glitch Mob created this intricate music by cultivating unique sounds individually through layering processes. “We are equally audio and engineering geeks. In a sense, engineering is where our real talent lies,” Boreta says.
Before their engineering became so complex, live shows were simple: three guys, one laptop and some MIDI players. “Now, the set-up is super-complicated, where, for instance, we have 18 channels coming out of one sound card,” Boreta says. They use two MacBook Pros to connect their gaggle of MIDI players and keyboards, along with a guitar and bass, all of it situated at three different stations, which the trio rotates through during a set, or even on any given song.
At the forefront of their rig sit three Lemur pads. The Lemur, which looks like an iPad, has an open framework, so they programed the interface to allow the band members to tap on them to trigger different sounds. In concert, they are tilted so the audience can see them in use.
“At first, people wonder why we are up there doing stuff. They’re just used to seeing the laptop thing,” Boreta says. “We spent a lot of time on this system. Being able to actually play the music is really important.”
And they are reworking the electronic-band paradigm. “No one has done this before,” he says. “There’s not a template for being what we want to be. It’s a fun process.”
THE GLITCH MOB
537 W. 100 South
Friday, July 1, 9 p.m.
$20 advance/$25 day of show
Thu., Aug. 21, 7 p.m. / $5