“I have a special weapon for rooms like the Roundhouse. It’s called ‘volume’.”
PSNEurope is sitting backstage with Charles ‘Chicky’ Reeves before a performance by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – AKA OMD – at the Hamburg Docks in May.
“I don’t want anybody thinking, ‘Shall I get a beer?’ or, ‘Hey, that girl’s cute’,” continues Chicky. “I don’t want them to be thinking about anything else apart from the sound. I want it to be just loud enough: not that it hurts, but that they can’t think about anything else; that they don’t miss anything, and that I completely hold their attention for 45 minutes.”
It was the ‘volume’ approach to FOH mixing for Grace Jones at London’s Roundhouse in 2009 that led Chicky to being hired “almost on the spot” by OMD’s Paul Humphreys, he recalls.
Over three years later, Chicky’s still working with the ‘80s synth pop heroes as they hit the touring and festival circuit with English Electric, their 12th studio album and the second since the band reformed in its original early line-up of Andy McCluskey, Humphreys, Martin Cooper and Malcolm Holmes.
Originally from Altanta Georgia, Chicky is a resident Londoner who considers himself “mainly a studio guy who also does FOH”, though he admits the split is becoming more of a 50/50 thing. For the European leg of the English Electric tour (which started in the UK in April, then dropped briefly into Belgium and Holland before alighting in Germany), he has been working with Liverpool’s Adlib Audio. As a trusted keystone of OMD’s live sound, Chicky chose both the PA and the console for the tour.
“Originally we were going to take a d&b system out. Then Adlib talked to us about Coda ViRAY: ‘Smaller footprint, packs a real punch, you’ll really like it,’ they said.”
Adlib, already a user of Coda’s LA12 big box system, was one of the first PA companies to make a substantial investment in ViRAY after its launch in October of 2012. The Liverpool PA house went on to purchase more cabinets before this OMD tour. But it was with some trepidation that Chicky approached the system, what with him being such a d&b fan…
“Pardon my language,” he says, adopting a suppressed shout, “but I fucking love it! I won’t tour with anything else. It’s very ‘present’, it throws very well, we’ve played in big places and it just fills the room really nicely! I love this system and Adlib have been fantastic.” Chicky has worked with Capital Sound and Clair Bros before, but never Adlib, so the English Electric tour has doubly won him over. “We’re certain that Adlib and Coda is where we are going to go. I’m so thrilled… And that one guy can hang [ViRAY] up on his own in about an hour, that’s terrific!” ViRAY was used on all but three of the 13 UK dates, and will be deployed to all five German venues. It’s generally hung with 13 boxes per side, rising to 16 in the bigger halls.
Chicky expands on his Damascene conversion to Coda. “One of the things was, I had my back to the ViRAY system [at the production day before the tour], and it sounded like I had the speakers right behind me because the presence was that good… but I was 40 feet from the stage.
“I can push so much low end [into the system] - and at a live gig I’m close to pushing it to its limit – so you can feel that kick drum in your chest, that’s the most important.” He did warn us about his weapon… “Touring with this Coda rig is something I would like to do continuously because I’m hearing things I’m not able to hear on any other system: the separation between the kick and the bass, and the keyboards and the vocal stuff,” he gushes. “I mean, I’m hearing things that I’m able to hear in my studio! I mix on Focal Twin 6Bes, and with those you get a lot of separation, a lot of detail. I mix hi-fi stuff, basically. And ViRAY is like a really loud hi-fi!”@page_break@ Chicky mixes on an Avid D-Show. “Partly because, even though there are only four guys on stage, it’s such a complicated show to mix… so many cues, so much ducking between vocals and keyboards, and all five kick drum channels – yes there are five – those and all the bass instruments, which are coming from four different places… I couldn’t switch to another console unless we spent about four days in production rehearsals to transfer – which would be fine, but there’s always so much going on.”
There are 23 monitor mixes to manage, he describes, a combination fo IEMs and wedges. “There’s a lot going on for a band hat doesn’t have guitars. It’s a very loud stage, maybe 98dBA… which is another reason why I love this PA because it can easily cut above and through that.” Back in the day, OMD created straightforward popsongs with simple hooks and unfussy arrangements: think of Electricity, Enola Gay, Maid of Orleans, Souvenir (all which featured in the setlist).
“Their old stuff is like that,” he agrees. “The newer stuff is quite electro, with a lot of stuff going on all the time. I have to ride the elements, creating separation between verses and choruses, doing crazy splashes so you can feel the chorus rush in… effectively live production.
He expands on this: “I don’t let more than four bars go by when there isn’t some kind of change – that last snare beat at the end of four bars, you’ll hear a long reverb on it, for instance – a ‘splash’.” His favourite plug-in is the Classic Console from (the now seemingly defunct) URS, which sits on “just about” every output for low-end tape saturation, compression and four-band EQ. There are some Massey plug-ins in the mix too, another unusual choice.
Chicky runs Logic’s MainStage for further processing using Waves plugs for those reverb splashes and vocal effects (but not for backing track playback –that’s from Pro Tools).
“I also have a KAOSS pad which I use for all Andy McCluskey’s vocal effects - it’s built-in tape delay is just beautiful.”
It’s a very digital show all round, then.
"You should see my studio, it’s completely different: valve console, everything!”
Why so much mixing in the box?
“I got sick of carrying two racks with me everywhere. Live, I can get the sound I want like this.”
His microphone choice is nothing special: a Shure beta58 for the lead vocals for instance. (“I’ve thought about switching to Heil Sound mics, because it would be good to be a bit more directional, but we haven’t had a chance to try them out.”)
There are SM81s on the hats, EV 408s on the snare and the floor tom. The kick drum is a combination of Shure beta91, Yamaha subkick and an Audix D6 which triggers two channels of sine waves, at 48 and 72Hz respectively, for further low end muscle.
“The moment the kick comes in during the ninth bar of the opener Metroland, it gets people’s attention. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I just want impact!” he laughs.
The OMD song Enola Gay is about the plane that dropped the atomic bomb in World War II. Later that evening, when the Hamburg Docks filled with the volume, hi-fi quality ViRAY, and those kick drums hit the audience full-on in the body cavity, it’s clear there are much friendlier weapons in town, and Charles 'Chicky' Reeves is the Commander-in-Chief.