Recently we had the chance to sit down and chat with Julien and Marc from the feline-helmet wearing trio, Black Tiger Sex Machine, about their unique gear and live setup. Named one of Ultra Music’s Top Ten Masked DJs, Black Tiger Sex Machine sports clean black tiger helmets with glowing eyes during their live performances. However, after getting the low down on BTSM’s live operation, the word DJ hardly encapsulates what these fine gentlemen are. From the making of the helmets to the balancing act of digital drum pads, CDJs, and live synths, let’s go behind the scenes with the founders of Kannibalen Records, Black Tiger Sex Machine!
The sleek signature BTSM helmets are the product of a collaborative effort with Montreal-based Industrial Designer Gabriel Hebert. Debuting in January of 2012, the helmets’ design was meant to be a natural extension of the darker undertones and imagery behind the BTSM brand. Made from the simple, yet incredibly versatile polystyrene, which is employed in a variety of products from CD cases to ubiquitous styrofoam, simple is the name of the game when it comes to the helmets. Unlike artists like Deadmau5 and Daft Punk who project advanced visuals across their signature dome pieces, BTSM wanted to keep it simple, opting for a one tone white light, rather than be constricted by wires and power supplies (look ma, no cables!). This allows, Marc, Julien, and Patrick to focus on what really matters, the music.
Incorporating three musicians into a live set in electronic music can be rather difficult. A clever live setup is needed to give each member a meaningful role and to integrate their sound into a consistent and standard output (unless of course you’re Swedish House Mafia, in which case two of you can stand around doing heart hands all night).
That said, BTSM aimed to bridge the gap between live act and DJ while still allowing for a good amount of flexibility. Patrick and Julien comprise the traditional live elements of a live act, while Marc operates in a more traditional DJ capacity. However, none of the members can truly be lumped into a cut and dry category.
The beauty of BTSM is the versatility they have created for each respective member. Patrick’s weapons of choice are two midi keyboard controllers which preside over a what is known as a ‘soft synth’. This means that the synthesizers he plays are digitally based; all of the actual musical computations are done by a computer and not by dedicated analog hardware. There are several advantages to the soft-synth format, namely the increased flexibility in customization as well as the ability to forgo purchasing incredibly expensive analog instruments. Popular synths such as Massive and Sylenth are plug and play with the vast majority of midi controllers allowing BTSM to tweak and switch synth patches on a whim. Resampled tones can be bounced out into a playable format further increasing the range of sounds at Patrick’s finger tips.
Julien also utilizes midi controllers, however they come in the form of virtual drums. While more limited in the range of ‘notes’ that are able to be triggered, they still offer the same amount of flexibility in the tones which are played. Percussive elements can be swapped on the fly and added not only to BTSM originals, but over the top of a huge range of tracks. Given that a good deal of energy comes from the rhythmic elements in EDM, these virtual drums quite literally pack a punch. Plus it’s beyond refreshing to see a pair of drumsticks in the EDM game, especially outside of the use of a full on drumkit.
Marc functions in somewhat of the traditional DJ role, but also plays a larger role in bringing in a huge variety of layers. Stems from originals and other artists songs can be seamlessly integrated into the overall set, allowing BTSM to chose the most effective and interesting way to showcase the group’s live elements. On the fly, the mixer becomes a tool to smooth and hone the overall audio mix to fit with each members’ contribution. As well as the traditional ability to mix nearly every song on the market right now, the CDJ becomes an instrument and turntable in Marc’s hands.
The resulting symbiosis between these three musicians creates the experience we have come to know as Black Tiger Sex Machine; a brand, a performance, and an icon wrapped together in one enjoyable presentation. We would love to go into the deepest of details, but quite frankly the possibility of this unique live set up is vast, one that BTSM is still in the process of completely refining and perfecting. Still, one cant help but be impressed with such a well put together working concept, especially given how effectively awesome it is so far. BTSM is far from finished with it and we cannot wait to bring you what they cook up!
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