The 15 top live acts of the year
Live shows are enabling producers to create unique experiences for dancefloors
You know it's been a big year for live acts in electronic music when even Carl Cox heavily hints he's soon to hang up his DJ headphone to focus on live performing for good. The more specialised style of performance is being utilised more and more by electronic producers who want to be able to curate a unique experience when playing their music dancefloors. From transformed tracks, off the cuff experimentation, light shows, custom soundsystems and even choreography, the results have been impressive.
We've brought you our DJs who defined the year and top breakthrough DJs who are shaking up the dance music landscape, and now it's time for our top live acts of 2022 (in alphabetical order).
Melding together the worlds of rap, AV, theatre and electronic into an almost dissonant clash of forms, Preston-born multidisciplinary artist Blackhaine’s live offering at events such as No Bounds Festival, C2C, Unsound, Tresor and Corsica Studios is one we won’t be forgetting any time soon. He touches on themes of drug abuse and Northern poverty, and the shame and self-destructiveness that comes with it — employing blood-curdling noise riffs, his signature Lancashire accent and synths that never quite seem to hit the right melody to give you respite, all accompanied by his abrasive choreography.
[Photo: Natalie Curtis]
Making the transition from DJ to live act is often one of the most nerve-wracking moves an electronic musician can make. But to play your first live set just months after the release of your debut EP? and for said live set to be in Berghain? Sounds like a job for Kulør boss Courtesy. Indeed this apparently fearless Copenhagen-based producer rolled off the release of ‘Night Journeys II’ onto a bumper European live tour — with stops, alongside Bergz, at Amsterdam’s Paradiso Noord, Primavera and Village Underground. In contrast to the mania of her DJ sets, her live set is ambient and ethereal, bringing a calming energy to the dancefloor that's complemented by tailored lighting.
[Photo: Kasia Zacharko]
Back in 2021, Folamour graced the cover of Mixmag and told us: “Now I’m going to try to be a bit wiser when we go back to touring and take a bit more time for myself, even more so because I want to focus on improving my skills in terms of writing music.” And he stuck to his words. Playing with drum machines he has created more jazzy melodies and driving beats, reflected in his single ‘My People’. Something that elevates his music is his ‘Power to the PPL A/V’ experience. Taking DJing to the next level, Folamour has combined audio and visuals to create an unmissable spectacle that has caught people by surprise, from Bristolians at Love Saves the Day to Parisians at Les Plages Electroniques. A vibrant energy pours out from the stage as Folamour proves he’s not just a DJ but also a performer.
4 FRED AGAIN..
If 2022 has taught us anything, it’s that dance music is on top, and Fred again.. could bat anyone out of the park when it comes to this year’s most influential live electronic acts. Considering he’s just a short 18 months into showcasing his live show, the new superstar gained a battalion of new fans following his debut Boiler Room in August which currently sits at some 10 million views on YouTube. His shows pair live vocals from the producer’s collaborators with impromptu keys, pads, and the occasional vocals from Fred again.. himself. Thousands upon thousands of fans have flocked to catch the artist at one of his global live shows, which included three consecutive sold-out nights at London’s Brixton Academy.
Catching HAAi is an unforgettable experience. Electrifying and frenzied, the Australian artist always keeps things energetic, playing at some of the world's most prestigious clubs and festivals and combining house, techno, acid, and more. Alongside releasing her debut album ‘Baby, We’re Ascending’ this year, HAAi reconnected with her passion for live performing, having previously spent years singing in bands. Her live show is fraught and impactful, with heavyweight beats, atmospheric vocals and dizzying lighting. A stand-out debut at Corsica Studios with live long in the memory.
6 JOY ANONYMOUS
Straight from the shores of South Bank, London duo Joy Anonymous smashed 2022 both on the stage and in the studio. From their regular Thames-side events on the shores of London’s famous river to warm-up shows for Fred again.. and afterparties with Four Tet, this double act have claimed their crowns this year when it comes to live shows. What makes their performances most impressive is the ad-lib additions from crowd members, or perhaps the freestyle vocals from Joy Anonymous’ Henry - all performed comfortably from two deck chairs in an open-air setting on the riverside with minimal equipment.
7 KISS NUKA
Emotive and evocative, Kiss Nuka mesmerises any dancefloor with her live wizardry. The audio-visual artist from Mumbai is an entirely live performer that uses soundscapes to tell stories. Keeping experimental, Kiss Nuka sculpts beats and synths to flow from track to track along with playing a mixture of released and unreleased work. Her Lab Goa set is a perfect example of this as she performed original work such as ‘I Love The Drive’ while also melting into improvised sounds and soft vocals. To end the year she performed her debut EP ‘Serpentine’ live at the Magnetic Fields Festival and 2023 will see her set off on a tour across India.
8 LORAINE JAMES
Loraine James’ live sets are always a mind-modifying exploration of electronic music that would be an injustice to try and fit into genre boxes. Her ability to blend frenetic beats with slower jams and ambient soundscapes is singular, and coupled with her jazz-informed improvisations, her shows are always an experience. As well as playing weekend-in, weekend-out in most cities a casual fan of geography would be able to list on the top their head, this year the Hyperdub-affiliated artist has stepped it up even more, having worked with the London Contemporary Orchestra in a special homage concert to composer Julius Eastman.
[Photo: Suleika Müller]
9 LUV NRG SOUNDSYSTEM
It’s rare in 2022 for crowds to really experience soundsystems like they used to be experienced; from the early days of soundsystem culture in the Caribbean to the ‘90s free party movement — dance music was traditionally accompanied by giant, dominating speaker stacks carted from venue to venue, with artists being as associated with the hulking equipment they were accompanying on the road as much as with genre they were playing. Now, soundsystems are owned by clubs, festivals and venues; while we still get to experience their mind-bending impact on the music we love — there is part of us that has always wanted to experience them just like they were in the good old days. So it’s refreshing to see Eris Drew & Octo Octa, despite their joint and individual hectic tour schedules in 2022 - that have included stops across the entire planet - bringing it all back.
The LUV NRG Soundsystem is an eight-sub, 8.5 metre tall soundsystem created with the help of SBS Slammer — the engineer responsible for Nowadays’ impressive offering. Though they aren’t technically playing “live” in the traditional sense, seeing them in this format is truly a live experience like few others, and we think it deserve a place on this list for some good old fashioned vision. Having already debuted in three shows across Boston, Washington and NYC — Eris and Maya’s New Hampshire backyard project has created a one-of-a-kind event, getting back to the roots of dance music. Here’s to hoping this “Mother Beat-powered” soundsystem could soon be coming in the T4T box truck to a town near us in 2023!
As our glowing live review in September gushed, it feels like Overmono are on the path of following the Orbital-Underworld-Chemical-Brothers-Bicep-pipeline of a live duo that will conquer the biggest stages in dance music and beyond. Their performances this year were tight and tons of fun, hitting that sweetspot of producing thrilling live renditions of their studio tracks and also throwing in little curveball moments such as the incorporation of cult classics like ‘Pulse X’ to fuel the mania.
[Photo: Rollo Jackson]
11 SLEEP D
As the minds behind iconic party and label Butter Sessions, Corey Kikos and Maryos Syawish AKA Sleep D have been at the very forefront of Melbourne’s underground scene for over a decade. In that time, they have developed a taste for the refined across the spectrum of house, techno, and trance, as well as a suitably thoughtful live set that is always curated to the spaces and times that they are playing. Having long established their reputation as excellent selectors, in 2022 the duo took their live performances global – with tours taking them to Europe, the USA and East Asia – as well as kicking off the new year with a brand new audiovisual live show in their native Australia.
[Photo: Georgia Haynes]
12 SOFIA KOURTESIS
Berlin-based DJ and producer Sofia Kourtesis first performed her live show last year after the release of her breakthrough EP ‘Fresia Magdalena’, which plucked influence from her hometown of Lima, Peru. Incorporating her own peppy vocals into her sets, the producer also gained additional percussion from backing band members as she live mixed at stages across the world, including Paris’ Pitchfork Festival, Philadelphia’s Making Time, and an afternoon slot at Glastonbury Festival. In 2022, Sofia Kourtesis spent a stellar year touring alongside Caribou and Flume, made her debut on the cover of Mixmag, and prepared an up-tempo Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1 showing her versatility in house music.
[Photo: Iván Salinero]
13 SOICHI TERADA
The so-called “smiliest man in Japan”, it’s been a special kind of delight to have Soichi Terada back on the live circuit this year following the release of his critically acclaimed album ‘Asakusa Light’ last December, his first full-length project in 10 years. If Soichi’s enrapturing synths and invigorating percussion were the only thing we were given during his live sets, we’d still be falling over ourselves to catch them; but the Far East Recordings honcho’s infectious spirit and fondness for physically moving with his productions are the thing that has been pushing us to his festival sets all summer long. Whether it’s folding origami cranes on stage and then getting them to talk into a mic, asking audience members to use his midi controller or standing astride his equipment dancing — he’s been a constant delight, and a reminder of the joy dance music can bring. We never want this tour to end.
14 SPACE AFRIKA
Behind a knot of wires, Space Afrika produce dubbed-out beats, whispered vocals and airy sequences that are dripping with reverb, while backing visuals take you on meandering journeys through inner city landscapes. The Manchester duo’s ambient live sets are a transportative experience, simultaneously soothing and thought-provoking in their juxtaposition of sound, sights and subtitles. Sets everwhere from experimental hotbeds like Unsound and CTM to the rowdier Horst and Dekmantel reflect their ability to connect on multiple levels, while closing the year out at Berghain’s infamous 72-hour Silvester Klubnacht is sure to be nothing short of spiritual.
[Photo: Chloé Magdelaine & Timon Benson]
Singaporean singer and producer yeule has had a meteoric rise this year following the release of their acclaimed second record ‘Glitch Princess’ which gave an introspective look at identity and alienation. After its release in February, the glitch and synth pop musician set off on a live tour around Europe and North America from their current base of London, hitting spots including Barcelona’s Primavera Festival, a double bill at The Echo in Los Angeles, and a string of shows alongside Charli XCX on her ‘Crash’ tour. Their live show melds electronic elements with a live band as the producer switches between instruments and vocals, including their skilful piano intervals and solo moments with the electric guitar.