On paper, it sounds like it will Icicle at his finest. So to prelude the event, we hot stepped it over to the producer’s south London studio, to discuss the inner workings and his motivated intentions behind the creation of his live set…
Could you give me a brief verbal run down of your studio?
Icicle: Ok, so Logic is by far the back bone for my studio set up at the moment. I’ve got my soundcard, vocal speaker and Audeze headphones that are amazing. I’ve got a second screen where I run my analysers. It’s got this perfect curve taped to it as I worked out exactly where I want my music to be. There’s also a fair bit of kit here that I’m more likely to use in my live show. I’ve got Machine Studio which the whole show is based around. It gives me this higher level of control and in the studio I’m able to break down my tunes from Logic and put them into individual parts. My new keyboard, Komplete Kontrol S2 from Native Instruments is amazing. I use it a lot as a fair bit of my music is made using Native Instruments software. It allows you to see where your samples are mapped once you’ve loaded up your instruments, or a complicated contact patch, so it makes the whole process and your work flow much faster. It’s a really intelligent MIDI controller - none of the other controllers are really built for this sort of thing. I’ve got the Virus TI Synth too which I also use when I’m playing live – it makes everything sound really nice and is a very good thing to use on the computer with all the DI stuff. So, yeah, I guess this is just the basics of my studio – I’ve also got my rack synths and modular synths that I use for fun from time to time.
What’s your favourite piece?
On stage it is the Machine Studio as it’s the core of the whole show. I also get a huge kick out of the Virus if I’m playing on some big stage somewhere with a huge sound system. In the studio, it’s difficult to say, but the speakers give me so much clarity especially when backed up with the headphones. I cannot stress how important it is to blow your entire studio budget on a solid monitoring system.
“I can mix tunes from my USB stick in a club but it’ll never hold the same kind of value compared to playing live.”
So I read that your live show is really about bringing what you do in your studio to an audience…
Well the basic [make up] of my live set up is what I’ve just shown you, but I’ve also got an analogue mixer. This runs out of my soundcard and allows me to mix outputs like drums, melodies, bass and percussion as they all come in. You can use a mixer on the computer but I’ve purposely used an analogue mixer so that it’s completely authentic. It’s just me creating some loops, sequencing, filtering out and creating a progression while playing melodies over the top – a process that I regularly do in my studio but is being articulated on stage. It’s me doing a lot of shit. Of course, I’m not collaborating and improvising with some jazz band, but it’s more live than I’ve ever been before and it’s allowing me to connect so much more with my music. You know, I can mix tunes from my USB stick in a club but it’ll never hold the same kind of value compared to playing live. Even when you play your own track in a DJ set, they’ll be some other DJ who’ll play it exactly the same way.
I guess playing live is presenting yourself as an artist in your rawest form…
It’s just more much honest. With the live show, I only play my own material so if I feel like I’m losing the energy or disconnecting with the crowd I can’t just quickly play some anthem to get the crowd and energy back. It’s completely down to you and your music.
Do you find that there are more limitations compared to DJing?
It is a limitation but it’s not [limiting] because on the other hand, playing live is 100% your own identity. It’s you. I don’t know, I guess maybe it has something to do with the fact that I feel as if DJing is too faceless. You just play the best combination of tracks and although there’s a lot that has to be said when it comes to selection and working the crowd – you can still be a genius with it – but, as I’ve come from a vinyl back ground, I feel that the authenticity has gone so DJing just didn’t cut it for me. I’ve always felt that there must be more to it.
Can you tell us about the visual element of the live show?
I’ve done a live show before Entropy with an old set up – it was fun and it taught me a lot but with this show I wanted to explore and incorporate a visual element. In drum & bass you often see these overly produced, big budget visuals brought in by some external company but I wanted to do something a little closer to home. A friend of mine, Drew Best, who’s a renowned animator from America happened to be really interested my ideas. I wanted to use my MIDI to control the visuals myself, triggering various different visuals each time I played a certain note. I wanted the visuals to underline what I was doing musically rather than just having some DVD playing in the background. I’ve also got a VJ to help with the effect and keeping the flow – which I can’t do because I’ve only got two hands. It’s really fun to think of your music on a different level and how it can be presented through visuals. Video is multi-dimensional so I think it gives the show a lot more depth.
And can you tell us about Skittles, having a vocalist involved must add a whole other ‘live’ dimension…
It’s wicked to have him involved. He’s a massive part of the show and we’ve worked hard to get right but it’s been a lot of fun to play with. He comes from more of a hip hop background so we met at this interesting creative place which maybe before might’ve not have been so obvious. But it’s worked really well.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you started developing the live show?
There have been so many! I mean, just getting stuff finished on time is challenging enough. I guess what I’ve found to be most challenging is just traveling with all the equipment. We’re taking about carrying 100 kilos round with us and we’ve only done about seven shows so far. Setting up has proved to be quite difficult too – every club is different so there will always be some technical issues. It’s also hard to work with sound engineers who aren’t used to this kind of set up. And to be honest, performing is hard too. Compared to a DJ set where you can get drunk and go with it, you have to really focus so it can drain your energy a bit though it is completely worth it.
“I’ve been learning non-stop for the last couple months. It’s got me to a place where I am really excited again.”
Would you say you’ve found the whole experience quite daunting in some ways?
Realistically? Yes it has. I might know how I am going to perform, how I’m going to combine the LED projectors and how it’ll all work together but until you’ve done the whole tour and you’ve experienced every possible scenario in terms of the different clubs and different people, there’s a lot of stress that comes with it. It’s exciting though. There’s not a lot of artists who are doing this kind of live show, especially in drum & bass and even more so within my particular sound. So you can kind of secretly go, ‘fuck yeah!’ It’s all worth it.
Do you feel it’s helped you progress as an artist?
Completely. For me to work on numerous different platforms, different software and to completely think about my music in different way, it’s definitely helped me progress. As I said before, I might not be some jazz pianist but I’m thinking about what more I can do in dance music to keep people listening and interested in my music so I think there must have been some progress along the way. In fact, in terms of the visual side of things, initially I was completely new to it but I already feel pretty clued up. I’ve been learning non-stop for the last couple months. It’s got me to a place where I am really excited again. Music got to a point where it became still in the sense that I was doing well for a while, people liked my music but they didn’t necessarily want me to progress or do something new so I felt stuck.
I have the most fun when I’m learning new things. I never cared too much for my tunes or my back catalogue because I was always focused on what was next and how I might be able to do something different. So I think the live show has been a major opportunity for me to learn new things. I now have this feeling that the sky is the limit. What else can I do? What else can I learn? It’s motivating.
Is there a lot more to come from it? Do you plan to develop the live show further?
100%. This is just my starting point. I’ve proved that it works, I can travel with it and perform the show in many different places. I imagine that eventually there will be a massive stage with all sorts of incredible LED projection mapping and perhaps more people on stage with me. Ultimately, the goal is to connect with the audience and to make people want to dance. I don’t want them to think of my show as some self-indulgent, weird audio visual show so I think I will maintain this focus on trying to make it work in any environment we’re put in.
So briefly what can we expect? How would you best describe the show?
It’s my studio work flow brought to the stage. The majority of the material will be from my latest album, Entropy, but I’ll also play a few bits from back catalogue and Skittles will be bringing his mad energy to the table. Overall, it’ll be a unique experience that’ll hopefully disintegrate the place!
Photos: Hana Makovcova