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An Oral History of the “Dubfire:Live HYBRID” Genesis

While some artists choose to be content with status quo, others like Dubfire constantly look for ways to reinvent themselves and evolve.

by Christopher Metler
May 14 2015, 2:20pm

Photo by Kyle Diorio

While some artists choose to be merely content with status quo, others constantly look for ways to reinvent themselves and evolve. Falling into the latter category is techno titan Dubfire with his most ambitious achievement to date—"Dubfire:Live HYBRID", which premiered late in 2014 at the Amsterdam Dance Event (ADE).

By seamlessly weaving together elements of 2D and 3D animation with live audio and lighting, Dubfire reinvented the concert experience. His debut live show explores the intersection of science and technology—of man and machine—and their resulting evolution and inevitable fusion.

Interviewing some of the key visual, sonic, and artistic players involved in its execution, THUMP has stitched together their accounts into an oral history of the "Dubfire:Live HYBRID" genesis.

All photos by Togis Information Design

I. "The idea of reinterpreting my work in a new way was just too tempting."

ALI 'DUBFIRE' SHIRAZINIA (DJ/PRODUCER): The idea to put a live show together was always in the back of my mind. It became more of a priority in early 2013. As a bit of backstory, I had always played in bands when I was a teenager and often did shows in front of an audience or anywhere we could get away with playing. For me, DJing evolved out of that band scene that I was in, but the 'performance' side of my personality was always there. After several decades in the music industry, I longed to get back to those roots. Plus, I had amassed such a large volume of original productions, collaborations, and remixes. So the idea of reinterpreting my work in a new way—using current advances in software, hardware, lighting, audio, and visual technology—was just too tempting.

CRISTIANO NICOLINI (MUSIC DIRECTOR): I met Ali a long time ago in Barcelona. We were introduced by friends and had a few sessions about how to integrate Ableton into his DJ set. At the time, I was the only Ableton Certified Trainer in Spain and one of the first in Europe. He was quite impressed about the possibilities of the software and we thought it could be a good chance to finally start working it into his idea of a Dubfire live show.

DUBFIRE: I recruited the visual design team at VolvoxLabs (VVOX) in New York through Jarrett Smith from Derivative in Toronto. Jarrett had done the Plastikman gigs for Richie Hawtin and developed the Touch Designer technology that has become an industry standard for these kind of shows. In the end, he introduced me to the team of Kamil Nawratil and Javier Cruz at VVOX.

CRISTIANO: Kamil and VVOX are really forward thinking, top-level visual designers and programmers of one of the most advanced software for music and video interaction.

KAMIL NAWRATIL (VISUAL DESIGNER): We met several times with Dubfire online and in person in Brooklyn. In early 2014, we did most of the conceptual work. Between all his crazy travel, Ali still had enough time to go over the scenes, speak with us often, and provide really helpful comments.

DUBFIRE: We bounced quite a few ideas back and forth after I gave them the initial direction and vision, before settling on the man-machine HYBRID narrative which we ultimately felt represented the music best.

KAMIL: For VVOX, weaving a narrative into a techno music performance was a challenge. We needed to strike a balance. We wanted a story, but something that would not be too overwhelming. Ali really inspired us all to push the limits.

II. "Everyone wanted a live show that felt proper."

CRISTIANO: It's important for the audience to know and feel that every performance is a unique event. And for Dubfire to feel the thrill of modifying his own music on the fly.

KAMIL: Since the show would be projected on a grand wall behind Dubfire, we wanted to add something more physical to the cinematic animations that Dubfire could see when he was playing. So we also designed a multi-layered stage piece to project real-time sound reactive to the scenes.

DUBFIRE: My next step was to bring in Vartan Tchekmedyian and Hayk Khanjian at VT Pro Design in Los Angeles to build the stage pieces and concepts that we ultimately settled on. Those guys and I had just started to work together on concepts for the Deep Dish full production show that was debuting in Miami last year at the Winter Music Conference.

HAYK KHANJIAN (PRODUCTION MANAGER): We'd had various conversations about the Dubfire live show throughout the Deep Dish reunion tour and what it would take to fabricate certain pieces. It came down to materials, materials, materials. That was the hardest part. Finding the right scrim substance for the backdrop was a beast of a challenge.The goal was to lose the least possible amount of light from one screen layer to the next, which is impossible with any fabric. It had to be a plastic of some sort that reflects light more than it absorbs it.

CRISTIANO: On my end, I think the biggest challenge was to find a setup that would be able to program a coherent show that would tell a story. It needed to be synchronized to the videos and the lights and yet remain flexible enough to control all the sounds and effects, all while easily rearranged in between gigs. A combination of good engineered controllers, some custom made Lemur interfaces on two iPads, and a complex Ableton Live set integrated with some Max4Live patches made it possible to have that framework.

DUBFIRE: Trying to adhere to an initial budget is a blessing and a curse. A curse because the coolest ideas cost the most, yet a blessing because having a limited budget can force you to get incredibly creative. Even though I tried to follow the budget, I ended up blowing way past it. So much so that I may never recoup my costs. But that's okay because I was able to not only fuel my creative drive and meet my self-imposed challenges, but give the fans an experience that they will never forget.

III. "It's a great feeling: man versus machine, just like in the HYBRID story."

CRISTIANO: The debut of "Dubfire:Live - HYBRID" at ADE was a challenging launch. The show's production was brought in for the occasion and set up from scratch with just one test a few days before. It was risky.

DUBFIRE: We were confident after everything went unusually well with the test show at Bonusz. But at the next show, I knew I was going to be criticized and picked apart by the industry and my colleagues. We were also two months late in announcing the show, so the promotion got off to a late start. And there were countless other parties on that same night.

KAMIL: The anticipation is exciting and stressing altogether. You're a little OCD making sure everything is been triple checked, but you're still never 100 percent sure. What if it doesn't trigger? What if it crashes? There is always that factor of the unknown of what's going to happen during the performance, especially when there are so many elements involved. It's a great feeling: man versus machine, just like in the HYBRID story.

DUBFIRE: It was nerveracking, but despite some of the setbacks, a huge success! The live response, online chatter, and messages from fans and colleagues is beyond anything I ever expected. Everyone is blown away by the experience we've created. I'm hopeful and confident that what Plastikman and Modeselektor have done in terms of bringing an actual live performance show to techno audiences will usher in a new era of support for this genre.

VolvoxLabs: DubfireLive: HYBRID Visual Teaser from VolvoxLabs on Vimeo.

IV. "HYBRID is in constant evolution. Every show is a test and an experiment to evolve..."

CRISTIANO: Techno is usually associated to clubs and festivals where people go to experience a DJ or live set that is mainly focused on the dance factor. HYBRID is a show that is meant to be experienced fully—sound, lights, visuals—to tell a story and to make people connect each other. Techno is a music genre that, if properly understood and used, has a deep kind of primitive, ritualistic power of elevating people.Every show is a test and an experiment to evolve into something new, more organic, and integrated with all the senses. I would not be surprised if soon enough the music and the visuals will be reacting to Dubfire's body movements and the crowd's reactions to the show itself. I like to think this is HYBRID 1.0, and that we are already working on the beta versions of future releases.

DUBFIRE: HYBRID is merely the name I gave this particular show and concept. I have already begun to brainstorm ideas about the next one, which may very well likely be formed around an album. I even have the name already locked in! In many ways, HYBRID has given me the confidence of knowing that I can achieve the task of realizing the musical and visual ideas which are always swimming in my head. All thanks to the great team who helped me do it. And I'm just getting started...

Tour Dates:
May 30 - Baum Festival (Bogota, Colombia)
June 20 - Sonar By Night (Barcelona, Spain)
August 29 - South West Four 2015 (London, United Kingdom)
September 25 - Citadela Nervo (Brno, Czech Republic)

Dubfire is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

VolvoxLabs' Website
VT Pro Design's Website

You can follow Chris on Twitter.