The Glitch Mob: Slaying the Laptop Game

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A giant bus was blasting dubstep outside, a line of New Era cap-clad hipsters, dreadlocked kids, hip-hop enthusiasts, and slightly regular-looking people wrapped around the building, and the über-stressed bouncers were turning people away from the guest list. But that was nothing compared to what was happening inside Mighty, the S.F. venue playing host to The Glitch Mob show one windy night this past May. By 11 p.m., Mighty’s bar is typically five deep, but not tonight: The four guys standing on stage, behind a row of laptops, would prove to have a more intoxicating effect.

Hard as that sounds to believe, the reason several hundred people were sending whoops, hollers, and high-pitched shrieks in the direction of the stage was largely in part due to the fact that Josh “Ooah” Mayer, Justin Boreta, Matthew “Kraddy” Kratz, and Edward “edIT” Ma were whooping and hollering right back, more wrestling with their computers than playing them, and sending distorted but highly danceable music through the speakers. In short, they appeared to be enjoying themselves on stage, a sight so rare in this age of electronic music it’s a little awing when it actually happens.

“We Slay Crowds” is a phrase unabashedly posted on The Glitch Mob’s MySpace page, and immodest as it might sound, the four-man outfit currently tearing up dancefloors and confusing the hell out of anyone trying to put a label on their music is well suited to claim that slogan as their own. With a trademark style that’s influenced by everything from dubstep to heavy metal, endless amounts of energy, and a technical rider that states they have to be as physically close to the audience as possible when playing, these four producers and friends seem poised and ready to reinvent the laptop game.

“The way you bring [the music] live is what matters,” says Ma, over the phone from his home in Los Angeles. “The whole purpose of why we’re doing this is that we’re basically out there writing music to wow ourselves and wow other people. So the connection with the audience is huge for us.”

“When you have a laptop up there, it can create this wall between the performer and the audience, because you don’t really know what the hell the person is doing up there,” Boreta, the lone member of the group who resides in San Francisco, adds. “We’re trying to approach what we do not from necessarily the traditional DJ angle, but more of a live band angle.”

Not that any one of them is penning set lists on sheets of notebook paper before each show (in fact, the group only knows the first and last songs of each set and freestyles the rest), but the spirit of a traditional four-piece band jamming off one another is definitely a large part of a Glitch Mob show. Rather than falling into the trap of staying pinned behind a laptop screen, the four members opt instead to step away from the computers at intervals, add MIDI controllers, cut and paste tracks on the fly– which can result in anything from an extended acapella to a full-on synth assault– and constantly interact with one another and the audience. It’s a sight that’s rare in electronic music these days, when an artist could as easily be editing his MySpace profile as pressing buttons in Ableton, and a refreshing change to club-going audiences. Head to a Glitch Mob show and one will inevitably find the room packed wall-to-wall with everyone from decked-out ladies swaying and crooning near the stage to geeked-out guys in glasses, analyzing the aural surroundings in the back. The point, however, is that across the board, the audience is captivated by what is happening onstage. “The fact that we’re having fun up there and that we come up with stuff on the fly we’d never initially planned, people see that,” says Kratz. “It becomes like watching a band throw it together and jam live, which is novel for the whole laptop situation.”

Mayer, Boreta, Kratz, and Ma are no strangers to such improvisation. The Glitch Mob formed roughly two years ago, but members of the group have been performing together for years, darting up and down the West Coast, sharing gigs, and inviting one another onstage to tag-team at the decks. The formation of an actual unit wasn’t so much a carefully planned endeavor as it was a natural next step for the four. “We were all doing the same thing,” says Boreta. “We were playing similar types of music, making music on our laptops, and decided to try it together.” Though the group is often associated with the whole L.A. IDM-via-hip-hop scene that’s led by Flying Lotus, Daedelus, Samiyam, and others, (perhaps with good reason, seeing as the whole lot tends to name-drop one another’s acts in every other interview they give), he’s quick to point out that the Glitch Mob name was initially a joke. “We just threw it out there and it stuck,” he says, adding that it was actually meant as a friendly-but-firm jab driven towards the whole scene. “A lot of times people call what we do glitch-hop or glitch music and we reject that.”

It’s not the only label they reject, and if breaking down boundaries is the credo of this band, then nowhere is that more evident than when it comes to classifying their music. It’s not dubstep. It’s not hip-hop or glitch-hop, and don’t even think about calling it lazer bass. Though tracks like their remixes of Nalpa’s “Monday” and Matty G’s “West Coast Rocks” bear certain common denominators (heavy synth layers, loads of feedback, earth-shattering basslines), all four members are steadfastly against trying to wrestle what they do into a specific genre. Rather, they would like their music to be seen as a catch-all genre that could appeal to multiple audiences. “Our music speaks to a lot of different people and we don’t want to forget any of them,” says Mayer. “We don’t want to get stuck in some world where we only make a certain kind of thing. We want to be playing next to the hottest emo band and next to the biggest hip-hop acts.”

Kratz has, perhaps, the loosest definition of what The Glitch Mob’s sound is: “We want a new name every time. If someone asks us what the name is, I want to be like, ‘Well, what would you call it?’ And then I’d be like, ‘Okay, well that’s what we’re calling it.’”

It’s this sort of attitude that also propels the group when working in their studio (endearingly referred to as The Mob Compound). Because each member produces music as a solo artist as well, different sounds are brought to the table by different people. The pretty melodies usually belong to Mayer, while the expansive synth layers are often Boreta’s. Kratz, in his own words, “brings the booty,” and Ma is the undisputed drum master of the crew. Currently at work on a full-length album, the group is bringing all of these elements into play, but also exploring new territory that’s right in keeping with their mission of eschewing any and all constraints. “It would be very easy for us to come up with 10 bangers and put that out as a record,” says Ma. “That would be a no-brainer, but what we really want to do is put down a document of where we were as artists at this point in time, and we want it to stand the test of time.”

Which is to say, fans can expect not just the bass-heavy dancefloor numbers as seen in their remix work, but also mellower, more experimental cuts that might not necessarily be suited to a club. Essentially, the group is taking the same carefree, anything-goes approach that works so well in the live setting to the studio, along with a willingness to take risks and a fierce determination to steer clear of classification. “We’re not constricting ourselves to anything, which is why I don’t know what to call this thing we’ve got going on,” asserts Ma. “To us, this is just the music we write. I don’t know what to call it. I guess just call it Glitch Mob.”