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EXCLUSIVE: Chemical Brothers touring team takes us inside the iconic dance duo’s tour with d&b audiotechnik’s new KSL system

In this exclusive interview, the band’s FOH engineer Shan Hira and Matt Vickers of Skan give us the lowdown of the new system and how it has reinvented the band's live sound

Enhanced dynamic behaviour: great name for an album. Even if the Chemical Brothers haven’t written it yet, you get the sense they could. Never conventional by any stretch, Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands have just completed a tour that has once again changed the way they sound. What audiences heard was simultaneously familiar and yet entirely new.

“Chris Fitch at Skan offered us the opportunity to try something at the forefront of audio development,” says long time FOH engineer Shan Hira. “Knowing I would have Scott Essen as system tech, who always does a great job, it was just too good an offer to resist.”

Hira’s opportunity took the form of full broadband control: “Quite simply a PA system that from top to bottom only did what we asked it to do,” he claims. “We had great fun with it in Amsterdam AFAS and Paris Bercy, and it really came into its own at Ally Pally. Not the most pleasant of rooms to mix in, but it felt like I had more control than I’ve ever had in that room before.” The system in question was the recently launched KSL Series from d&b audiotechnik.

“With the advent of line arrays, skilled system technicians and designers using accurate modelling tools have been able to tame difficult acoustics for some time; but even so, the pattern control of KSL over the entire spectrum down to 50Hz is a much-welcomed feature,” comments Skan’s Matt Vickers, a man whose knowledge of d&b systems in the live domain sees him regularly consulted by d&b’s development team. “It has been the long-term challenge of most systems to control these difficult ‘upper bass’ frequencies. Rather than glossing over it, the guys at d&b went at it head-on and found a solution that really works.”

Hira agreed: “KSL is a pleasure to mix on, it’s a nice flat playing field right across the spectrum, even that tricky Hi Low-end – it’s all in your hands.”

Skan also saw several other aspects of KSL that compelled the team to road test it in the live environment. “Headroom is central to any system’s performance,” notes Vickers. “With regard to pattern control, it has increased performance with no noticeable compromises elsewhere. In terms of the increased low frequency response, this appears to have no negative effect on headroom. The only thoughts here being those of re-educating ourselves as to how best use the system and control this extended range from the ‘one cabinet’ solution, rather than having separate gain control over flown subs.

“If applying Array Processing (AP), the headroom can be managed at the design stage within the prediction software. That is a really important point, we (as the system techs) are still in control. With AP there are many options and realistic results that can be achieved, given the arrays chosen. If an end user runs out of steam then they have either chosen the wrong box count for the space available, or they are trying to defy the laws of physics by over processing, all of which are relevant to any system design with any product.”

Essen, Hira’s system tech for the tour, experienced a new practical advantage. “With the advent of the d&b SL Series there are now three ways to fly,” he comments. “Traditional tension rigging, compression rigging with the manual tensioner, or compression rigging with a motor as a tensioner. Under Matt’s guidance over the last year or so, I and several other Skan system techs have been working intermittently with KSL’s larger cousin the GSL. It’s the first full bandwidth control line array from d&b and is designed for large arenas and stadium applications. The rigging choice here was a no brainer, it’s a heavy box, so Skan have chosen the latter option for this as our standard package, and yes, using this method is easier, faster, and more manageable than equivalent long lines of J-Series. For the KSL, the jury is still out. Skan has vast experience of flying J-Series from our own custom carts and packaging with only tension mode available, so we have a fast, safe and neat way of doing this.

“That said, my experience from using the motorised compression method on the Chemical Brothers tour leads us to believe it will become the winner as we get used to working in a different way with this new product.”

Vickers adds: “Back in November 2018 we used GSL in San Mames stadium in Bilbao. I can very much testify that, when allowed to run in a space this large, the system comes to life. Obviously, it works in arenas and still sounds amazing, as the last year has shown, and we are more than happy to supply GSL in these environments if that is what the client chooses, but there are other factors to consider such as weight, scalability for smaller venues along the same tour, and line length vs elements available for processing etc. Sometimes there can be a tendency to ‘just want the biggest system’, hence one of the biggest challenges we face is to work with our clients and look at an entire project to ensure that we are recommending the best product for the job. It certainly feels like KSL will fit perfectly into the arena market. It is the right size and weight, is more scalable for the varying venue sizes and styles on a typical arena tour, is truck smart, and you get the benefit of more elements per effective line length available for processing in tricky indoor environments.”

“To this day I believe, and our touring techs constantly report, that J-Series is currently the most consistent sounding system across the globe,” Vickers concluded. “Never once has our J rig let us down, and even when Array Processing came along and pushed its boundaries even further, it continued to deliver. That said, I believe KSL will be a significant step forward from J, and as users realise the benefits of full range pattern control, the demand for this technology will increase. The KSL will hopefully be received as the most sensible and viable solution for arena sized touring, and slot into place where the J-Series has historically done so well.”

From Hira’s perspective, that’s a given. “Once you’ve used KSL you won’t want to go back. I have used J-Series since then and had a good gig, it’s still the best system easily-available world-wide, but as an engineer I now have KSL and GSL at the top of my request list.” 

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