Now in its sixth year, the Laptop Battle has become a high-adrenaline highlight of the electronic-music calendar. In 2003, Zach "Zapan" Huntting and Kris Moon humbly launched LB in Seattle's Deep Down Lounge, but it has spread its cables into clubs across North America and in the UK, Germany, Italy, Japan, and New Zealand.
This Friday, 16 combatants from Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver will go through three-minute elimination rounds of maximal compositional skill-flexing. Judges will evaluate each track for song development, emotional impact, performance, and crowd response. Contestants are permitted a laptop, sound card, and controller. This year's lineup includes Squid Leader, KFO, Andrew Luck, and Tron Sister (two-time champ Moon will also perform).
"In many ways, the event has succeeded beyond our wildest dreams," Moon says. "It's spread [worldwide], and I don't think either one of us saw that coming! The fact that we are throwing our sixth event with 16 contestants in Seattle says a lot about the event, in that the local producers have faith in what we're doing."
"Kris and I have been working hard to grow the LB phenomenon organically over the last five years," Huntting states. "The next step would be to get some bigger sponsorships or a capital infusion that would allow us to expand our marketing and distribution efforts."
Another factor that enhances the LB experience is the diversity of styles participants display. "We like to set it up so that hiphop goes head-to-head with electro, techno goes against drum 'n' bass, and IDM fights with industrial music," Huntting asserts. "We like our crowds as diverse as possible. That way, everybody has at least a few new, interesting experiences, and everybody gets to hear and cheer for their favorite genre."
"At first, I think the Laptop Battle favored harder, faster, glitchier stuff, but there's always been competitors who have approached it differently, on a more song-oriented tip or with a unique performance," Moon says.
It hasn't been all smooth beat-matching for the LB, however. Huntting recalls a farcical event at San Francisco's Milk Bar in 2004. "Contestants' sound was only coming out of one channel, and we periodically lost sound altogether. I was MCing that night, and the audience was glaring at me as if I had stolen one of their children. It was a hostile and unfriendly crowd, to say the least. In the end, I was so flustered that I accidentally gave the winner's sponsorship package to the runner-up, and I had to fight with him and his manager—who had been giving me the finger from the sidelines the entire night—in order to get it back to the right person."
"If we had made a movie of that night, we would be rich!" Moon says.