Between soundchecks at Wembley, Rudimental’s Kesi Dryden and Piers Agget tell Mike Hillier about life on the road…
What roles do you play in the band?
KD: We’re both producer–songwriters. But when it comes to playing live, Piers plays the Nord and organs, and I play percussion and some keyboard parts.
Describe your live set-up…
PA: My set-up is a Nord Stage 2 and a Virus TI hooked up to a MIDI keyboard under my Nord. I play organ, piano, Rhodes and funky clav parts, as well as synth parts on the Virus. I also sing backing vocals.
KD: I use Mainstage on a laptop controlled from a MIDI keyboard and a Roland SPD-S, and every now and then I jump on the drumkit, which can get pretty complicated. The SPD-S has samples that we’ve loaded in, Mainstage has sounds and synths that we’ve built, some are from our productions that we’ve copied over and put into Mainstage, but obviously tweaked for the live show.
What do you do to make your live shows special?
PA: Sometimes we’ll try and play and remake all the parts that we made in the studio. But other times we’ll choose something else – if there’s a synth line that can be played by a guitar and it sounds good, then we’ll change that line to a guitar. But if we feel like it’s a key part of the song then we’ll sample it from our production and play it as a sample in Mainstage. We’re adamant that the live show doesn’t sound exactly like the record. We want it to be an experience that blows you away. The Virus deals with a lot of the hard synth sounds; it’s got a really good synth engine. And having Mainstage really helps, because if we build a synth sound in Logic on the ES-1 or ES-2 then we can load it straight into the live show.
Sometimes they sound great in the studio but when you load the same sound into Mainstage and put it through a massive PA it doesn’t sound as good, so we spend a lot of time editing it in the rehearsal space. We’ll add compression and EQ in Mainstage before it even touches the sound desk.
KD: That’s what a lot of our rehearsal time ends up as: rather than putting in new songs in and rehearsing them, we end up tweaking the sounds.
PA: Our sound man, Ricky, has been with us quite a while. Some songs will take three or four months to nail down sonically. We have to test it on different PA systems, and he’ll come with us and give us feedback, let us know you know that sound isn’t cutting through properly, and ask us to change it on stage.
Are there any challenges associated with mixing live instrumentation with pre-recorded samples?
PA: We’ve got six or seven channels coming from Ableton, with the click going to the drummer, and we all follow the drummer. Then probably another 50 channels of live instrumentation. It can get quite intense, and complex. For us it’s important to have the bass heavy and having the drums and bass cut through like a rave. For our style of music that’s quite a challenge because we’ve got trumpets, saxophones, keyboards all blended in with really loud tough drum ‘n’ bass.
What would you consider your biggest success to date?
KD: Definitely putting on our own festival with Disclosure, the Wild Life Festival, on 6 June. We had 70,000 people over the weekend. We headlined the Saturday and Disclosure headlined the Sunday. We curated the line-up as a dream festival, people we wanted to see, people we’re fans of and people we grew up listening to. We had Nas, Wu-Tang Clan and our friend Jess Glynne. We’ve been talking with Disclosure for a long time about the possibility of doing something. This was the first time, and it was a great success. Next year hopefully it’ll be bigger and better.
What’s the biggest challenge that you see coming up?
KD: Being on the road so much of the time, being away from family and friends, and just getting tired. When you’re doing five different countries in five days with minimal sleep and you’re stuck on the tour bus with 15 people that you see every minute of your life it can be a bit stressful. But it’s all fine when we get on stage and that’s the pay-off. We’re not moaning – we love what we do, it’s the dream. But at the end of a three-month tour, after seeing everyone constantly, it does get hard.
What is the one issue that never seems to go away?
PA: Random technical faults that you can’t foresee. We’ll turn up to a festival in America and we’ll hire gear in. Hopefully that hire company has made sure everything is in tune and that nothing is missing. But a little thing can mess up the intro to the show. There are so many factors that make our show run, and sometimes you can’t have a perfect show, but you can’t get that all the time.
This is #1 of 10 ‘views from the top’ appearing in PSNLive2015, PSNEurope‘s 10th annual analysis of the European live sound industry. This year, we quizzed incumbents of key industry roles on the ups and downs of the business. The result is a range of insights (views from the top, no less) from a diverse group of individuals, all of whose careers are inextricably linked to the fabric of live sound.