Techno Tuesday: Dense & Pika breakdown their live setup
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
Dense & Pika are your favorite techno producer’s secret weapon. Their infamous studio concoctions are the kind of blistering, high octane productions you only hear at peaktime on the club floor. In the past year, they’ve transformed into one of Drumcode’s most prized assets, contributing such monolithic tunes as “TEX” and “Edging Forward.” Meanwhile, on the remix front, they’ve turned both Tiga and Audion’s work into formidable techno bombs that continue to receive playtime months after release.
To celebrate the pair’s recent performance from Junction 2, London’s newest underground festival, Dense & Pika join us for Techno Tuesday to offer an in-depth look into how they perform.
“Coming from being primarily a live act for the first two years of the project we started to find it very restrictive only playing our own material and much shorter sets. to combat this we decided to take elements of our live set and try to merge them into a set up that was a hybrid between the two.
On the left we have Ableton with 8 channels split across a customised midi controller (see pic attached). Built by a friend in Berlin (unfortunately we can’t persuade him to build another).
Channel 1- 3 – tracks and loops,
Channel 4 kicks,
Channel 5 has melodies, acid lines, chords /stabs,
Channel 6 vocals,
Channel 7 is the TR-8 or Roland 909
Channel 8 is a send channel for effects that can be assigned to any channel on the mixer.
All the tracks are broken down into 4 components where possible. Intro/melody/vocal/outro and then everything is colour coded to make navigation easier. This gives us the ability to jump between sections of tracks or into drops etc rather than just playing out the whole track. All of this goes into 1 channel on Pioneer DJM900 NXS.
When ever you hear a track there will be at least 4 or 5 different elements involved. For example, most tracks will have extra kicks put under them and hat patterns from the drum machine depending on what is needed at that particular time.
On the right side we have Traktor split across the remaining 3 channels of the mixer. Previously we were running Ableton as a slave sending the midi clock from traktor – which proved to be very unreliable. We were also using Ableton push for drums (707 on the drum rack, sylenth for synths etc & in some cases the Dave Smith Tetra as well, but as things went on it still felt like a live set (headache wise) there was a lot to think about and sound check and lots of crap to lug about. Eventually we stream lined everything down and we now use machine micro with Traktor this offers really good creativity during the sets. This is run off the 4th channel on the mixer, along with another traktor deck & a remix deck on top (which contains basic loops & accapellas – kind of in a dumbed down Ableton clip style) again very effective and quick. Generally we have 4 groups set up on the Maschine –
Group 1 – a custom drum machine (featuring 606/707/808 hits)
Group 2 – various Heavy effected percussion lifted from our Dense & Pika tracks – that we find gives the whole mix a sense of ‘our own D&P identity’
Group 3 – custom acid / synth / bass samples – which can then be played up / down scales on the pads like keys, which again makes it feel more ‘live’
Group 4 -a miscellaneous channel that can be anything from rises, vocal snippets, FX (this is the group we will often change whilst travelling to each different gig to try and keep things fresh – some work, some don’t!
The 2 & 3 channels run a traktor deck each A&B (alongside C if needed on 4)
Nothing is synced between the two laptops and the drum machine. They are not connected by USB or midi. Everything is synced by ear as we found after various long tests that there is no way to sync the two laptops more effectively than by ear. It’s also a lot more interesting when you can swing the drum machines differently by nudging it forward or backwards.
Playing this way keeps us both completely involved in the set as things are constantly being re-worked or remixed on the fly. Obviously working across 12 channels and a drum machine, things can go wrong. So you have to really be on top of your set up, but it means we have 100% control. It’s very different to mixing between two tracks on vinyl or cd and it comes with its own challenges.”