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Why I Love... Electronic Open Mics

Simon Horrocks By Simon Horrocks
Published January 2021

Electronic Open Mics

If regular open mic nights aren’t quite right for the emerging army of knob‑twiddlers, loopers and beatmakers, where do we go to perform?

As an electronic music maker, I’ve felt the heat when playing at open mic nights where unplugged rock, pop and folk is the norm. Firstly, I’ll spend more of my allocated slot setting up my synths and cables than performing, and secondly, my set leaves the audience clueless as to what I just performed and which bits I did live.

After I’m done, I get the systematic wry smile and a mispronunciation of my name from the event host. Cajon chap smiles politely, but I think he’s just relieved to give his hands a rest. Guitar guy is oblivious to everything, although he can’t stop staring at my Big Muff pedal. Perhaps my synthwave‑cum‑chillstep piece was just a bit too ‘out there’?

So, if these regular open mic nights aren’t quite right for the emerging army of knob‑twiddlers, loopers and beatmakers, where do we go to perform? Luckily, some innovative new communities are emerging for the growing number of DIY circuit‑benders and modular geeks.

Manchester‑based musician Martin Christie is responsible for one such platform. Over the last few years he has established a series of live Electronic Music Open Mic (EMOM) nights, which started off as a showcase for his own poetry and electronic folk performances, but has turned into an international, multi‑networking, ‘anything goes’ forum for electronic musicians of all abilities and genres to share new material.

Martin Christie: Electronic musicians need a live space where electronic music is understood, and the setup times are more sympathetic.

“As much as we love the diversity of regular open mics, electronic musicians need a space where electronic music is understood, and the setup times are more sympathetic,” says Martin. “We’ve challenged venues to create a forum for meeting like‑minded synth‑nerds and audiophiles.”

We are seeing a huge surge of DIY musicians, taking what they learned on Ableton, then throwing away the laptop and plugging things in. Artists like Inwards, Kelpe and Nathan Fake mainly originate from DJ culture, but make live beats, with new sub‑genres emerging from ambient, noise, drum & bass, synthpop, experimental and hip‑hop, using the implausible hotchpotch of old and new technologies from ’80s grooveboxes to crazy suitcases full of wires.

Podcasts like Podular Modcasts, Homebrew Electronica, and Not 97 are great places to explore these under‑the‑radar sounds. Electronic music‑making events have also cropped up over the last few years, such as Sound On Sound’s own SynthFest UK, Seventh Wave and Machina Bristronica in the UK, as well as Synth Expo in the US. But for everything live, 2020 has obviously brought new challenges.

Martin Christie continues: “Lockdown hasn’t stopped us at all. Within weeks, collaborators and musicians were setting up virtual EMOM live streams which, in turn, created innovative visual performances, even using VR. During and after the streams, performers go online to share links, tracks, get feedback or tips on marketing or distribution. We were also some of the first people to put on socially distanced events too, which has been a real success.”

Lockdown has had some positives too. There’s time to do more purchasing of gear, writing, recording, rehearsing or trying new things, as well as working on marketing and social media. But clearly, the desire and objective is to get back to the physical, live performance. Let’s just hope that when things are back to normal, more venue owners are open to these new ways of making music, and embrace this incredibly important movement.

Published January 2021