The 12 Best Live Dance Music Albums Of All Time
Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 turns ten this year, and it remains as thrilling as ever.
Unfortunately the anniversary is also a reminder that we haven’t had a Daft Punk tour for a decade, with no sign of one to come. The duo’s 2006/2007 pyramid shows – probably the most mythologised tour in dance music history – may have been their last. It’s a small silver lining, then, to have it preserved on a live album.
The official live album is something of a rarity for electronic acts, particularly now with set rips flooding the internet. They’re also a tricky sell, because dance music shows are best experienced right there, in the communal moment. Here are 12 instances of the live album done right.
#12 The Prodigy – World’s On Fire
Within the first seconds of The Prodigy’s concert album, you know what you’re in for. A roaring crowd gives a hero’s welcome, Maxim riles them up some more on the mic, and Breathe explodes.
“This is The Prodigy at its most adrenalised”
World’s On Fire was recorded in 2010 at The Prodigy’s enormous Warrior’s Dance festival in Milton Keynes, England, where the headliners played to a reported 65,000 fans.
As befitting a show that vast, this is The Prodigy at its most adrenalised, which means Maxim and Keith Flint are whooping, hyping and flexing almost non-stop, which can wear thin for the headphone participant.
Given its 2011 release, World’s On Fire also includes a few too many later and lesser Prodigy tracks to be a timeless live album. There’s also an over-reliance on crunching rock guitars that obscure the rave spirit of early Prodigy. Those setbacks aside, this is a live album in the truest sense.
#11 Moderat – Live
The newest entry on this list comes from Moderat, the meeting of minds between Apparat and Modeselektor. The Berlin-based trio played its biggest hometown gig at the Velodrome last summer, and Live captures all the moody atmospherics of their show.
With Apparat leading the vocals, you can almost picture the room’s swirling smoke and closed eyes as the setlist weaves in and out of all three Moderat albums.
#10 Bonobo – The Northern Borders: Live
When Simon Green DJs as Bonobo, it’s just one man and his wide-ranging music taste. The Bonobo live show, on the other hand, is a much more complex beast.
Following the release of his fifth studio album, The North Borders, Green set out on a world tour that included over 150 dates in 30 countries. For these shows, the ensemble cast around Green included a drummer and guitarist, string and horn players and several guest vocalists. With that much investment in personnel, you definitely want to record a live album.
#9 Autechre – AE_LIVE
Autechre likes to challenge their fans, and Autechre fans like to be challenged. The Warp Records mainstays have a reputation for loud, brain-scrambling concerts that never honour a linear structure.
In 2015, the duo released Ae_LIVE to members of the Autechre mailing list, and it’s undoubtedly for the truest of believers. Comprising nine recordings from their 2014/2015 tour, you’re looking at over almost ten hours of heady, overwhelming electronic music, much of it recurring with minute tweaks from show to show. Good luck in there.
#8 The Orb – Live ‘93
A couple of years after their debut album, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, we got a live album from The Orb. Like most of the ambient collective’s output, Live ’93 is not exactly conventional.
“Ambient acolytes will savour the ride”
While other entries on this list focus in on one night, The Orb compiled recordings from various stops on their 1993 tour (including Glastonbury) across a double album. Most of the live versions stretch longer than ten minutes, with those swirling, dubbed-out electronics building at their own trippy pace.
This is unlikely to convert any new fans to the ways of The Orb, but ambient acolytes will savour the ride.
#7 Chemical Brothers – Don’t Think
Even if you don’t regularly return to their studio albums, it’s hard to deny the brute force of the Chemical Brothers live. The duo’s shows are booming, immersive and remarkably visual, even if the Chems stay shrouded in shadows behind a bank of machines.
Don’t Think was recorded at Japan’s Fuji Rock Festival in 2011, so the setlist works its way back from the Further LP. This came out as both a DVD and a live album, and unfortunately the audio isn’t available on Spotify. Seek it out, though, to hear 15 years of block rockin’ beats distilled into a powerhouse 96 minutes.
#6 Justice – A Cross The Universe
Like their heroes Daft Punk, Justice have recorded not one but two live albums. If you had to pick a standout, 2008’s A Cross The Universe has the edge over the later Access All Arenas.
“If you were hitting festivals on the regular in 2008, this is weapons-grade déjà vu”
A Cross The Universe captures the Frenchmen at their leather-rocking, electro-ruling peak. The recording is taken from a headline show in California a year on from the release of their raucous debut album †, and the setlist is stacked with bangers.
If you were hitting festivals on the regular in 2008, this is weapons-grade déjà vu.
#5 Plastikman – EX
Richie Hawtin is a divisive figure in techno, whether it’s the increasingly narcotic direction of his DJ sets or the self-seriousness of his personal brand.
What’s undeniable, though, is Hawtin’s power as Plastikman. The producer’s shadowy alter-ego resurfaced after an extended absence for Time Warp in 2010, followed the next year by a trip to Australia for Future Music Festival. Then, in 2013, Hawtin recorded the Plastikman live album EX at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
With a setlist of all new music, it feels closer to a studio album than a concert recording, but there’s an extra thrill to imagining these steely, spectral tracks bouncing around the walls of a world-renowned art museum.
#4 Daft Punk – Alive 1997
Back before Daft Punk were robots, and long before they were the rumoured festival headliner that never materialises, the duo recorded Alive 1997. This live recording is taken from the first proper Daft Punk tour, Daftendirektour, which ran right through 1997.
Thomas and Guy-Man chose their favourite show from that whirlwind year – November 8 at Que Club in Birmingham – to immortalise as an album. While some albums on this list capture a career-spanning setlist, Alive 1997 bottles the lightning that was Homework-era Daft Punk.
This remains an exhilarating 45-minute throwback to a time when dance music’s biggest act played in the dark on hardware, with rave weapons like Rollin’ & Scratchin‘ and Revolution 909 standing in for a flashing pyramid.
#3 LCD Soundsystem – The Long Goodbye [Live at Madison Square]
Six years ago, indie-dance heroes LCD Soundsystem told us they were going away for good. After visiting Australia for some killer “final” shows with Hot Chip, the band’s official farewell happened at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden in April 2011.
The sold-out show lasted for three hours, hit on all the fan favourites, and ended on a brilliant, bittersweet high. As we now know, that wasn’t actually the end for LCD, which takes a bit of the epic shine off The Long Goodbye. Regardless, this remains a fun reminder of just how good this band is onstage.
#2 Underworld – Everything, Everything
Underworld is one of dance music’s most treasured live acts, with enough classic tracks to make a setlist heavy on goosebump moments. (The joy of watching frontman Karl Hyde dance is also not to be discounted.) It’s no surprise, then, that the group’s 2000 live album Everything, Everything is such a treat.
“If there’s any album that’ll make you wish you were peaking at a late ‘90s rave, it’s this one”
Recorded during the 98/99 Beaucoup Fish world tour, this is 75 minutes of Underworld at its apex. Darren Emerson was still a member (he left not long after Everything, Everything), the progressive house era was in full effect, and the group had perfected the build-and-release of its live set.
If there’s any album that’ll make you wish you were sweaty-palmed and peaking at a late ‘90s rave, it’s this one.
#1 Daft Punk – Alive 2007
Dance music’s best-known live album is also its best. Daft Punk’s Alive 2006/2007 tour was precision planned from start to finish: the big pyramid reveal at Coachella, shows across the world from Argentina to Australia, and then the live album to make it all immortal.
Alive 2007 was recorded at the duo’s arena show in Paris, but the location scarcely matters here. It’s a document of the tour as a whole, with all the same “holy shit!” crowd roars we experienced at the Australian shows. It’s still exciting to hear how Thomas and Guy-Man sequenced their music live, blending and layering tracks from Homework, Discovery and Human After All into a cohesive set. Ten years later, the transitions can still bring on a serotonin rush.
“The pyramid was cool and all, but it’s this music that endures”
It’s also notable that Daft Punk decided not to release a concert DVD, keeping Alive 2007 a strictly audio affair. It was a typically savvy decision. The pyramid was cool and all, but it’s this music that endures.