Balkan Beat Box founders Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan hail from Israel but have been active for the past decade in some of New York's hottest underground bands, including Firewater, Gogol Bordello, J.U.F, and Big Lazy. Based in Brooklyn, Balkan Beat Box's dance-inducing stage show is propelled by relentless trance and hip-hop beats laced with influences from Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Eastern European, and other folk traditions. On-stage personnel varies, but includes guitarists, horn players, percussionists, dancers, vocalists, the occasional VJ, and a healthy dose of loops, samples, and backing vocals supplied by Ableton Live, triggered onstage by drummer Muskat.
"About eighty percent of the show involves Ableton Live," explains Muskat. "I use it to run all the loops, samples, and backing vocal tracks." He runs Live on a dedicated MusicXPC computer, which he swears by, and routes audio through the sound card of a Tascam US428 controller.
Balkan Beat Box's live performances teeter on the edge of mayhem, and that's just the way Muskat likes it. "It's kind of crazy - definitely when you see how energetic the BBB show is, how much jumping around is involved. We also change the arrangements of the songs on every show, so everybody on stage is very alert to my conducting. I control the computer - triggering Live from a little Oxygen two-octave MIDI keyboard - while I'm also playing the drums. Don't ask how I do that, 'cause I don't know. I've been working with samplers and controllers for many years (like the MPC 2000) while playing drums, so I just push the keys with my sticks or any available finger I find around, sometimes elbows or sharp objects. Somehow I pull it off, and I enjoy the tension of doing both things at the same time. The accidents are great too!"
Muskat appreciates Live's suitability for the stage, as it provides the flexibility he needs to change arrangements and events on the spot. "It's important to understand," he says, "BBB is a hardcore dance party. If people are on dancing during a certain part of the beat, I might let it go for another minute or so. It's like DJing - you have to be alert to the dance floor."
He first learned about Live after finishing the band's debut album, Balkan Beat Box. "After making the first album, and using so many electronic sounds and beats, I wanted that same sound on stage. I had no interest in playing all those beats and sounds with live instruments only. I wanted the electronic aesthetic of the album to be presented on stage as it is on the album - plusthe energy of live musicians. So I was looking for a box that could do that; my MPC wasn't enough anymore - it couldn't hold the amount of beats, samples, and vocal tracks I needed, and the only way to arrange a song was via 'Song,' so things couldn't change on the go. So the search began, and here I am using Live. This is the only software I know of that can do that. Of course the difference between Live and all the rest is being able to control the arrangements on the spot, deciding when I want to change things on the go, and having the freedom to call the arrangements on the spot. If I had to stick to pre-set arrangements, to what the MPC calls a 'Song,' it would be so boring."
Don't pass up the chance to see Balkan Beat Box live (with their busy tour schedule, the odds are you'll have the chance soon enough - they've been rocking dance floors from Brooklyn to Berlin, Tel Aviv to Tokyo, Bordeaux to Brussels). You'll see what Ableton Live can do in combination with a stageful of world-class players, and you'll get your money's worth - and then some - on the dance floor.
For more information, check out www.balkanbeatbox.com.