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Tools of the Trade

Stimming breaks down the setup for his entrancing live sets

By Glenn Jackson
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Hamburg’s Stimming returned to the Diynamic imprint earlier this month with a self-titled LP of moody, soulful house music and enveloping hybrid productions that escape any particular categorization. Similar to his recorded work, Stimming’s live sets have gained a reputation for their immersive quality, combining the German producer’s touch for poignant tracks with a welcome sense of fun and an unquestionable live element which utilizes Ableton to rearrange tracks on the spot and add to them using a live synthesizer. With all this in mind, we managed to track down Stimming and ask him just how he pieces together his live shows. Read the full interview below.

To begin with, tell us a little about your setup. What kind of system do you use?

I use Ableton Live as a huge sampler from which I play the stems of my own songs. I figured out that three stems per track works best: one for the bass drum and bass, another for all the various percussive elements, and a third for the songs’ melodic content. Ableton is controlled by an Akai APC40, and I also have a UAD Satellite with me to help “master” the signal with a chain consisting of four different processors (an EQ, compressor, maximizer, and limiter). The master signal itself is converted by a RME Babyface soundcard. About three months ago, I also added an Arturia Minibrute to my live setup. The Minibrute is a fully analog, monophonic synthesizer that I use live for all kinds of sounds. The synth signal then goes through an Eventide Space stompbox before eventually going through Ableton’s audio routing.

How do you organize your music?

Right now, 26 tracks of mine are loaded into Ableton for my live set. I’ve organized them into two parts: Channels 1 -3 are used from one set of tracks and channels 4 – 6 are used for another set. Channel 7 receives the audio signal from the Minibrute, and channel 8 is used for the MIDI channel which controls the synth. Often I search for a nice melody on my headphones while the track is playing and then record it onto the MIDI channel on the fly, and when I’m sure its right, I let the audio signal come through.

How many hours do you spend preparing for an average gig?

I usually practice for two or three hours every week, and two days before leaving. I do only two days because it raises the excitement of playing again.

Do you make special edits of your tracks when you play out?

As I said earlier, every track consists of three stems, but I didn’t mention that these stems are all cut into different parts. These parts allow me to rearrange tracks every time I play, just depending on how I feel. To be more specific, every track is cut into around seven separate sections (intro, first break, middle, etc.), so if something works really well, I’ll just start that part from the beginning again or if something isn’t working quite as well, I’ll move on faster than the song was originally arranged. On top of all that, there is the extra synthesizer which adds something that was never in the track before. In a way, even if you recognize my original tunes, it will always be a little different.

Are you able to change your set depending on the different possible vibes of the night, depending on the mood of the dance floor?

That can be an issue when playing live, you simply don’t have the choice of playing something completely different than what you have planned. For me, it’s often very difficult, especially when I play after a very stompy techno DJ—I don’t have any tracks to answer a set like that. Still, it’s better now than it was two years ago, when I just had around twelve tracks with me. Nowadays, I have more options, not only because I have more tracks but also because of the added synthesizer, where the only limit is my creativity.

How much does your set vary in tempo over the course of the night?

It really only varies around two to five bpm. I usually start a little bit slower, at around 119, and then end up at around 123 bpm. Something I’m curious about is to see what happens if I make the tempo much slower during my set. I have a track on my new album, “Die Maechtigen,” which I composed at 111 bpm and am looking forward to playing this out in the future.

Do you use FX during your set?

On every channel in my Ableton session are low- and high-pass filters, and I have one effect on a send which is the Space2 from Native Instrument’s Reaktor Library. I love this effect because it is very versatile and can send the signal to a very huge virtual space. The APC40 makes it very easy to control everything without the need to look at the screen, it’s like a dream!

Do you generally record your sets?

Only if I’m preparing a set for radio-use, but usually not.

Do you have any absolute DON’Ts when you play?

I won’t get naked, or play that “specific” dubstep with violins which I was asked for at one of my gigs a month or so ago.

When you’re headlining, what would you like to hear from the opening DJ?

I’d like to hear an interesting and creative set with tracks I’ve never heard before, and hopefully not too fast.

What technological innovation would you most like to have, as a performer?

Touchscreens with a surface feel.

What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?

In the beginning of my career, I was asked to play the main stage at Fusion Festival, and my Elektron Machinedrum (the first series, the new one’s don’t seem to have this problem anymore) did not like the electrical power from the festival’s rig, so all my drums and percussion (including the kick drum) stopped working. But instead of this happening to me right at the beginning or during setup, it worked for five minutes and then shut down with a very loud fiiiieeeeeeeeeeeep on the large and powerful sound system the festival had. No one got hurt, apart from my heart.

Do you ever miss the simpler times, when all you had was a bag of records?

I miss it a little bit, simply because I like the way vinyl sounds (on fresh needles). But in general, I don’t care how things come out of the speakers, I just care what comes out of the speakers.

What are your favorite tracks to play during a set?

* Peaktime favorite

“Ferdinand (feat. Urzula Amen)” because of its break.

* Opening track

I made this one with H.O.S.H. and it makes for a powerful beginning.

* Track for when you really need to visit the bathroom

I don’t have the time for this during my sets, and I don’t drink anymore, so that makes things easier!

* Closing track

Six years old but still fresh.