As someone whose idea of battling with a laptop normally consists of shouting abuse at them when my own technical ineptitude causes 2,000-word articles to disappear into the digital ether, I'll admit that I wasn’t the best qualified to be one of the judges at the second Laptop Battle in Bristol a few weeks ago. (Although, as a music scribe, I do own a fair few records that sound like laptops insulting me back, so maybe that’s why.)
Anyway – the script is this. Originating in Seattle, it’s like an electronica version of a turntablist contest or an MC mic battle, with eight producers getting a few rounds to play the best beats they can on their laptop in a knock-out competition which is then judged on ‘composition’, ‘technical ability’ and ‘crowd reaction’ until a winner is crowned. Unfortunately I didn’t get to use any of the stinging Simon Cowell put-downs I’d prepared in advance (of which ‘Time to press Ctrl-Alt-Delete. On your career!’ was – sadly – the wittiest.)
Some of the producers fell into the laptop trap of never letting a beat go for more than 30 seconds without mauling it into undanceable abstraction, but the time limits on each contestant means they could never go up their own fundament for too long, and MC Gusto Fresh’s comical chatter kept things moving along nicely. And although I suspected that plenty of the contestants had brought along their mates for vocal support, there was certainly more whooping, hollering and smiles than you’d get with Autechre.
After knocking out obvious losers like Company Fuck – a man in Kiss make-up who just screamed ‘fuck!’ over what sounded like a sample of a jammed photocopier – judging became a bit tighter in the next rounds as the contestants began blasting out their best bleeps and beats. Although – having little knowledge of technical ability myself – I began knocking marks off in this particular category for things like ‘slight resemblance to Dane Bowers’ and ‘taking his T-shirt off – it’s Bristol in winter, for God’s sake.’
Which brought us down to defending champion and local favourite Headphobe and dark horse/new pretender Shinra from the Net-Lab label. Who absolutely kicked arse with some deep but wonky electro beats that seized him the crown. Laptop battles might lack the dexterity of the DMC or the creative cussing of a mic battle but they’ve certainly got more byte than most laptop gigs. That’s an electronica ‘joke’, by the way.