I went to a Skrillex concert last year. When Skrillex performs live, what is he doing?

  • 1
    Great question. Electronic music DJs often seem to be really busy up on the stage. Can't they just program everything in advance, get off the stage and dance with the crowd? Apr 13, 2015 at 15:15
  • 1
    @pacoverflow They can, that'd be what you get on the album basically. You might as well go and see a band who just put their CD on and press play.
    – Patrick
    Nov 18, 2015 at 11:12
  • @pacoverflow I'd like to note that when I saw Skrillex perform, it was clear that he and his bandmates were very actively involved in playing the music.
    – Kevin
    Nov 18, 2015 at 19:33
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    Related to musicfans.stackexchange.com/questions/4133/…
    – Bebs
    Nov 28, 2016 at 19:07

1 Answer 1


Electronic music live acts are normally performed using sequencers that trigger synthesizers and/or samplers, plus an array of controls like knobs and faders. It's common for the sequencers to control the rhythm and pitch, and the knobs and faders to control volume and timbre, but you can make the sequencers and knobs/faders control something else inside the limits of the device.

From this video we can see that Skrillex is using Ableton Live as a sequencer, but it is more accurately defined as a non-linear DAW (you can think of it as a very powerful hybrid of sampler, synth, mixer, and drum machine).

He is also using a M-Audio Trigger Finger as a control surface, which includes faders, knobs, and pads to control whatever you program them to control in Ableton Live. Maybe he bought this bundle:

Live-Trigger bundle

This type of setup (Ableton Live + a control surface) is the most common setup for electronic music live performance now days. When using analog synths, a common setup is to use Live as a sequencer (using MIDI tracks) that feed analog synths (you can see James Holden doing it here, Surgeon doing it here, both using modular synths).

In general, that's what he is doing (ideally, more on that later). Using a control surface to control Ableton Live (if he is doing anything at all, electronic music has its own "lip-sync" issues). Inside Ableton Live you'll find synths, samplers, audio tracks, effects, and whatever audio processing and production dynamic you can think of.

What synths, effects, etc is he using? The video suggests that Skrillex is using one knob to control a stutter effect (Live's beat repeat effect, most likely), but it's hard to know for sure.

Because of some interviews (and this page, specifically) we know that he uses stuff like Massive (very common in Dubstep production), Sylenth1, and Reaktor. Through the Finger Trigger he probably controls things like envelopes, LFOs, delay times, distortion amount, etc.

With that said, without having the actual Ableton Live patch it is hard to be specific about what he is doing. The control surface might not even be connected and everything is already automated and/or pre-recorded. Or maybe he has intimate control of every single dynamic.

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    My question is why do these DJs need to do anything? Isn't the playlist determined in advance? What kinds of decisions are they making on the fly? Apr 13, 2015 at 15:25
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    @pacoverflow DJing and live performance are two different things. In the case of live performers, the decisions they make on the fly depend on their setup. Some have everything pre-programmed and they do little or nothing during the "performance", others have deep control over everything and improvise, and everything in between.
    – NPN328
    Apr 13, 2015 at 22:27

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