Back to the Future: An Oral History of Livetronica
As the jamband scene grew and evolved, various fan-fractions started to splinter off and the jamtronica community developed into its own micro-genre. STS9 and the Disco Biscuits, in particular, grew in popularity and would often host festivals and multi- night runs with late-night shows of their own in major cities. Not only would these events feature rock bands playing electronic music, but they would also feature DJs and live/ studio hybrid projects playing around with increased technology. Several musicians pointed to Camp Bisco 2006 and STS9’s multi-night run at the Boulder Theatre in 2007 as turning points.
Aron Magner: East Coast festivals had a formula at the time—a reggae band, a bluegrass band, a rock band, a jazz band and a somewhere-in-the-middle fusion band. Camp Bisco was designed to bring together DJs and famous electronic artists with bands like us.
Steve Molitz: Phil Lesh loves electronic music, and he traces the genre all the way back to its roots with the early avant-garde and musique concrète composers. And Mickey [Hart] has also always been very adventurous when it comes to mixing different musical styles to create new sounds, so playing livetronica was a very natural fit for him. When we toured in our band Hydra, he did a lot of really innovative and creative work with effects processing, MIDI and sampling.
Jeffree Lerner: We’d started moving toward being producers as well as musicians. We didn’t know if it would necessarily be in Sector 9 or turn into a different entity itself. It’s a different type of expression.
Dominic Lalli: I was writing everything on piano, but started messing around with Ableton Live. When I tied those two things together—my writing and Ableton Live (being a whole new instrument in itself to learn)—I realized this is the easiest way to write songs. It’s a whole other world and I could do it myself with the saxophone. That was the intriguing thing for me.
Jeffree Lerner: [STS9 guitarist] Hunter Brown was the first of us to use computers. He was bringing in different sequences and produced sounds that couldn’t be recreated in a live setting. So everyone has an electronic element to balance their traditional instrument.
Tom Hamilton: I certainly wasn’t listening to house or trance in the ‘90s, but I was listening to Goldie and Squarepusher by the end of the decade. I was hanging out with people that were heavily into drugs and underground music. Then Stereolab and Radiohead’s Kid A—the most game-changing record in pop music since Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—and things like that started happening. I heard them and I was like, “Oh, fuck—that’s it!!” You can take the elements of this underground music and bring it together with the idea of a song.
Michael Travis: In 2002, I was skiing in Lake Tahoe, and I came down to get a coffee. This lounge compilation, High Fidelity Lounge: Volume 2, was on and I was just so impressed by how immaculately produced, folky and smooth it was. It was so perfect. The results were so disciplined. And then, I realized it was one guy building it all. I was really intoxicated with this idea of this perfect band discipline. Soon after, I was sitting at a friend’s computer—I wasn’t computer savvy at that point.
Alex Botwin: At the time [when we formed Pnuma Trio], as far as [listening to] live electronic stuff, it would probably be Sound Tribe. And then, we heard of Lotus. We basically started at the very beginning of the scene, and there weren’t too many people using Ableton Live like we were to play shows. I was 19.
Michael Travis: I loved the electronic vibe and I really wanted to play tonal instruments live. When Jason Hann joined String Cheese in 2005, he would stay over at my house. We started jamming on a seven string bass and drum kit. He told me if I wanted to get serious, Ableton is the best thing to loop with ever. We were trying to play loungy, downtempo stuff because that’s where my heart really was.