Simon Forsyth has had a lifelong passion for synthesizers, particularly of the analogue variety.
He's worked as a keyboard tech for George Michael, Stereo MCs, Tricky, and both the West End and touring productions of Thriller.
I don't know many "normal" people.. Somehow I always tend to get drawn to and mingle with people of outstanding character, or "freaks" as society likes to label them.
Martin and Jane(aka Anais Neon), of the band Vile Electrodes, are two of the nicest 'freaks' I have encountered for many years.
When I first met them at the Mute festival a couple of years ago, we connected immediately through a mutual love and indeed geeky obsession with all things analogue.
Roll forward a couple of years and with a healthy number of gigs under their belt, the Viles came to the attention of Andy McClusky and Paul Humphries of OMD fame and were duly offered the coveted support slot for the German leg of OMD's European tour 2013.
Not only was this a massive opportunity for development, but as life-long fans of OMD, this really was a dream come true.
So how does this involve me?.. Well, Martin's love of analogue synths, both vintage and modern, extends to the Viles stage setup and live performance. While so many acts have succumbed to the power and reliability of laptop based live setups, The Viles proudly sticks two fingers up to the laptop revolution and continue to fly the flag of live analogue.
This rather brave or some would say foolish path is clearly fraught with potential problems and failures. But for the Viles, the challenge and technical ballet this demands is an intrinsic part of the performance.
So.. My mission, should I decide to accept it, is to help Vile Electrodes and their voltage controlled time bomb through some of the biggest and most important gigs of their career..
What could possibly go wrong?...
Thursday 16th (t minus 4)
"We're down to our last Juno"
With 2 weeks of rehearsals and numerous configuration changes to the equipment lineup, It is a clearly (and understandably) tense Martin I find in St Leonard's..
"He's a little bit cranky" says Jane, "didn't get much sleep last night"
Martin is polite(as always), but his face clearly has the look of someone who is currently processing about 10,000 things.
After establishing there is little for me to do other than get in Martin's way and ask lot's of stupid questions, I make a tactical withdrawal to the nearest cafe for breakfast until things are ready to move.
With a few more things ticked off the desperately long list, we load the van and drive over to the rehearsal studios. On arrival, we find we have been moved to the upstairs rehearsal room..
7 keyboards, various modules etc. all in flightcases.. Oh we'll, up we go then.
After the forces of gravity have reminded me how I am no longer 25, the assembly of the Vile Machine begins.
What on first inspection looks like the centre spread of Analogue Playboy is actually a craftily chosen selection of instruments that not only provide the Electrode palette but also provide a level of backup and redundancy for each other. Martin is not just a geek, he is a very shrewd geek.
The layout is split into two rigs one for Martin and the other for Anais. There is a central rack that houses mixers, limiters and a couple of extra backup synths.
The full kit list is below(subject to change)
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Oberheim Matrix 1000
Samson 1u mixer x2
Drawmer DL221 Comp/lim
Samson quad comp/lim
With the gear set up, the first issues start to appear. The first casualty (surprisingly) is the recently updated Moog Minitaur. The update to firmware V2.0 seems to have introduced a wild tuning instability that has sadly knocked it out of the early stages of this endurance event. A quick change of MIDI channels later and the Waldorf Pulse steps in to take over bassline duties from the Minitaur.
Arpeggios make up a significant and central part of the Vile's sound and although normally handled by a Juno 6, the need to program another synth between songs (Martin already does the Leipzig-SK, MS20, SH101, Dark Energy and Dominion) is pushing things to breaking. To try and ease this slightly, Martin recently acquired a Juno 60 to aid with the patch recall. Unfortunately, as with many of these ancient beasts, the Juno has issues.. And these issues are with the arpeggiator. An examination reveals broken tracks and no ability to arpeggiate beyond 1 octave.
We are indeed down to our last Juno. But Germany is waiting.
Next stop Hamburg..