There’s a new trend in the electronic music scene: producers are starting to tour and perform live with instrument-playing musicians. While he probably wasn’t the first, Pretty Lights definitely helped popularize the idea, and now downbeat producer Emancipator has joined the fray with his Emancipator Ensemble Tour. The tour stopped in Madison at the Majestic Theatre last Thursday, lulling Madison into a tranquil trance with their chill beats and relaxed riffs.
The Emancipator Ensemble is composed of electronic producer Doug Appling — who tours as the Emancipator solo act — as well as violinist Ilya Goldberg and drummer Colby Buckler.
Having never listened to Emancipator’s studio albums, I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard Thursday night. I went in expecting heavy electronic bass-wubs for some reason, and what I got was soothing, downtempo drum beats played over bass, guitar, mandolin and violin, with some synth-y, entrancing auras pads. Every song was imbued with an almost spiritual tone. It was engaging, but not overly enthusiastic like the opening act.
Opening for Emancipator was Odesza, who seemed like a welcome contrast to the main act. More of a traditional DJ/producer group, Odesza had the crowd energized with their inspired, pulsing club-bangers. Not to say people weren’t equally excited for Emancipator, it just seemed like the crowd was more visually excitable during the opener.
But when Appling and his Ensemble took the stage, I hard a hard time discerning who got the crowd more pumped because I was hooked in from then on out.
Emancipator’s stage lights were unique to my show experiences. Behind the musicians, were tall, thin, white strips that almost looked like window blinds with colorful, dancing scenery projected over it. Visually, it wasn’t as entrancing as Papadosio’s or intense as STS9’s lights, but it was very appropriate for the calming beats and chill crowd.
Every aspect of the show seemed well-rehearsed. Some might say that it felt a little too practiced and that there could have been more jamming or improvisational elements. While I had a great time, I will admit the show was lacking some of those mind-blowing moments that make you turn to your fellow concert goer and ask if this is all really happening. However, since this is Emancipator’s first tour with a live band, perhaps they are still getting used to playing together and need more shows under their belt before they feel comfortable exploring the uncharted waters of live improvisations. It can take a lot of time to figure out bandmates’ playing styles and musical intuition, as well as figuring out how that all fits under a head-producer’s umbrella of an electronic show.
Hopefully, if Emancipator comes back with his Ensemble, they’ll be comfortable enough to try more jamming and experiment with their playing style. That being said, if you’re interested in attending a grooving, energizing-yet-chill concert but don’t want anything that’s too “rave-y” or “jam-band-y,” then the Emancipator Ensemble is right up your ally.