Giving a Good Slap

By in Live Sound, On Tour with Massive Attack

So that was that. A whirlwind of a summer spent crisscrossing Europe mixing Massive Attack on S3L (there’s about fifty earlier blogs if you’ve just tuned in).

I can’t remember having that much fun behind a mixing desk, ever. We finished our last show of the tour in Blackheath, London. Britannia Row, who I’ve worked with for 25 years, supplied a very good K2 rig that sounded great from the off, just as you’d expect. Best of all, Grace Jones opened for us. She was incredible—all 80’s glamour, costume changes, and surreal chat between songs. Wicked Jamaican band and sounded great too. Mixed on a Profile. I’ve had “Slave to the Rhythm” in my head ever since. “Heeeeeres Grace!”

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

“A Good Slap”

As ever when you finish a tour you have mixed emotions. Sad to leave your roadie comrades behind, delighted to go home to your family. No more back lounge rider, no more bus bunks. Things we might have improved, things that went well. Definitely feel that we left this tour on the positive side of the reckoning. I got a mail from a French sound engineer colleague talking about the audio, which said:

“MASSIVE ATTACK met une bonne claque partout où il passe”

Which I think literally means MA gave a good slap wherever they went. If that means we surprised, challenged, and made people reassess their preconceptions about audio, then job done. If that described the show as a whole, I think 3D, Daddy G and the band would be happy with it too. Wherever we went, audio colleagues and audience alike were astonished by how small the S3L was, its dynamic range, and the breadth of sounds it could produce. A member of the crowd at one gig said, “Does all that sound come out of that little desk?”

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

The show before Blackheath was in Paris at ‘Fete de L’Huma’, a huge celebration of life and humanity organized by France’s colourful and buoyant workers parties and trade unions. 80,000 people, biggest audience of the summer, danced, waved their flags, partied, ate amazing regional food and wine for the cost of the ingredients, and had a great time. Entrance for the whole weekend was 20 Euros! It just shows what kind of festival you can have when you work collectively. We had a huge K1 rig lovingly set up by Potar Hurlant, a major French rental house. It was great to see Madje again, their Technical Director and a famous audio enthusiast who mixes loads of cool French Artists like Air and Yael Naim. He was dying to see the S3L in action and is taking it out on his next tour.

The Video

In the middle of all this traveling, roadying and gigging, from Iceland in the North to Lebanon in the South and all stops in between we managed to make a video. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the tour. We check out what’s happening on the stage, some tech stuff: plugins, timecode etc. and generally talk about my approach to mixing Massive Attack. I should warn you that old grey roadie talking is my Dad. I’m much, much younger, thinner and my hair’s darker.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

So what have I learned on this tour?

  1. Size isn’t everything!
  2. I work in an industry full of lovely and eccentric people.
  3. Lebanon has the best tabouleh and hummus on the planet!
  4. Shellfish and dark rum don’t mix.
  5. Iceland is like nowhere else.
  6. P.A systems by d&b and L’Acoustic (and nearly everyone else) have gotten awesome.
  7. Statistically, if you play football you’re more likely to get bitten by a Suarez than a shark.

And the thing I set out to test:

How does the S3L, the object of my obsession for the last four years, perform in the real world? Man, it surprised even me, and everyone else I met by its radical reinvention of what a sound desk looks like, weighs like, operates like and sounds like. From rainy muddy fields to insanely high temperatures it just worked.

I watched local crew, even after I asked them to be careful, throw it around, drop it, bounce it hundreds of yards over cobblestones. It’s been craned over 30m medieval walls (Carcassonne castle!), flown in commercial and charter planes, cross-loaded to flatbeds to climb a mountain, on boats, trains and everything else possible (except camels, next tour)! By the end of the tour the flight-cases looked like they’d been in a war but everyday my desk just got on with its job, sounding high-end-studio sweet, recording to Pro Tools and following code.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

A new version of the operating system, VENUE 4.5, has just come out with loads of insanely good new features and a mind-boggling preamp sharing, gain tracking system. Looking forward to taking it to the next level in Mexico and US in October. Pass by the shows and say hello, leave a message here, or find me on LinkedIn.

THANKS (wiping away a manly tear)

I’d just like to thank my two audio chums on the tour. Paul (have you seen my) Hatt and Oliver (Gizmo) Twiby. Never been on such a harmonious team. Here’s a lovely photo of them.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

As I always say, “in audio it’s always about the source”, and on Massive we have three backline stars, so the source is always perfect. Nick Sizer, drums, who if they gave knighthoods for roadying would defo be Sir Nick, Gentleman and pun-master that he is; Jez, guitar wizard to the stars and the most charming man in rock; and Henry, MIDI maestro, who’s sideline in hot-sauces set my taste buds alight all summer. Check out Henry’s FOH sauce (it doesn’t mean front of house!).

I’d also like to thank Icarus, the video designer, a man who’s so smart we all consult the ‘Icapedia’ every day, Tim the LD who always had a spare ciggy for the ‘non-smoking’ audio crew and Euan, Pro Tools genius and smiler.

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

Paul Hatt and Gizmo

On Tour with Massive Attack: Giving a Good Slap

Benny and David who managed the tour like a cross between an old peoples holiday and a military exercise and of course Massive Attack who remain the most amazing, talented, challenging and friendly artists I’ve ever worked for.

And thanks to you all for following my adventures with Massive over the past few months via this blog series—I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed it and I hope to hear from you!

As a live sound engineer, I have been lucky enough to work with some amazing artists including Coldplay, Massive Attack, Manic Street Preachers, Natalie Imbruglia, Richard Ashcroft and Lisa Stansfield. I have also mixed broadcast sound on David Letterman, Saturday Night Live, Jay Leno, the Brit Awards, the MTV Music Awards and the 2010 World Cup Kickoff Concert.