Laptop performers are not DJs – they are musicians, playing music every bit as live as a guitarist or a drummer. Laptop examines the ways in which digital music is produced and consumed in live performance. The documentary looks at technology in music composition and performance, and questions the use of the computer as a ‘traditional’ instrument. Nearly everyone understands that computers are now commonplace in the composition of music, but few can conceptualize the computer as an instrument that can be ‘played,’ like a guitar or a drum kit. Shot in Philadelphia, the film features interviews with and performances by several of the top laptop musicians and promoters in the world. The film finds its narrative structure in the ‘laptop battle,’ a high-stakes national live music competition between laptop artists, modeled in part on the traditional ‘rap battles’ seen in films like 8 Mile. In these high-energy battles, laptop artists go head-to-head with frenzied live performances of their digital tracks, with judging based on performances, audience reaction, and the merits of the compositions.
Filmmaker and Georgia State University professor Daniel Robin writes of the film, “There’s the surface narrative arc of the ongoing Laptop battle that has a built-in forward progression, but perhaps more interesting and compelling for me, and this is where I think the filmmaker really discovers something unique about this sub-culture, is the tension that comes from how the musicians describe their experiences playing in basements, house parties, and small venues; this becomes an existential journey of sorts in finding their audience and getting validation for their art and craft.”