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Underworld Puts the SSL L500 Centre Stage
UK – Influential British electronic dance act Underworld has chosen a Solid State Logic L500 as performance tool for its live tours. The console joins founder-member Rick Smith on stage as a fast, versatile, creative instrument, allowing him to combine old-school dub mixing techniques with the best in performance technology.
It has been 20 years since the original release of Underworld’s ground-breaking album dubnobasswithmyheadman, and the anniversary was marked with a remastered release, accompanied by a tour that showcased the band’s legendary live work. For this and the subsequent global festival tour founder member Rick Smith’s new instrument of choice was an SSL L500 console, allowing him to combine old-school dub mixing techniques with the best in performance technology.
To Smith, live performance is about: “Being in the moment and having absolutely no choice about that fact; whatever your state of mind is, this is it; this is the moment that matters.”
To bring the ‘moment’ to the audience and shape the Underworld sound, Smith uses a wide variety of dynamic mixing techniques – cuts, solos, automation snapshots, faders, effects, and so on: “It’s about deconstruction and construction and reconstruction and rearrangement,” he explains.” That to me was always the best kind of dub, that so excited me back in my 20s.”
Smith was heavily influenced by the reggae /dub genre and saw a link between that and the output of early electronic acts like Kraftwerk. He developed this crossover in Underworld and as such, the mixing console is an intrinsic part of the performance: “It’s an instrument,” states Smith. “It’s absolutely an instrument right at the heart of the stage.”
On the L500, Smith notes: “There are new ways of working with Dub, and with arrangements, that are possible with the console. You’ve literally got seconds and everything has to happen so fast – very different from front of house. The console is just an extraordinary thing, and extraordinary for what I know we’re going to do with it over the next couple of years as well – we’ve just started.”
The console has a number of operating options including the main touch screen, the fader tile encoders, and the channel control tile. Smith chooses to work with “all of the above,” noting that the experience can be different for everybody. "What’s wonderful is that one has the choice to be able to operate in whatever way pleases you.”
“I’ve always had a craving for touch screen on stage in all sorts of areas,” he continues, “so I find that quite straight forward. I’d say sometimes it’s really nice to turn to a rotary encoder, when you’re working with a compressor or EQ or an effect, other times it’s absolutely beautiful to tap a button and draw, pinch, extend, you know? These are quite nice words to use when you’re talking about EQ.”
In the difficult stage environment, the L500’s exceptional display quality is also of great value to Smith. “It’s clear, bright, and in my face, which when you’re drowning in smoke and lights and energy – dim light, sunlight – this is all really important. If you can’t see, you can’t work.”
Smith can spend anywhere between six months and a year preparing for Underworld live shows, and he was as careful in choosing the console as any professional touring musician would be in choosing their instrument: “The mixing desk is an instrument and is at the heart of what Underworld can and can’t do on stage," he states. “It was tricky because I knew I was looking for a console that was going to sit in a performance aspect on stage as opposed to purely front of house.
“Very quickly it became no choice; everything about it started to slot into place – the capabilities of it, the idea of SSL. It made me feel confident about something that I knew would take me some time to explore.
“There was real joy when we started to use it, everything we plugged in, I felt it just sounded better.”
Recently upgraded to the new V3 ‘Plus’ software, the L500 will be shaping Underworld’s sound for some time to come. Smith: “It’s taken me probably about seven or eight years to make any fundamental change to our live set up and here is this thing which is at the heart of it now. The potential of it is as important to me as what we are actually doing right now.”
Rick Smith is now exploring using the L500 in his studio set up.
26th November 2015
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