This summer, UK department store Selfridges has become a venue for a season of exciting music events and collaborations entitled Music Matters. The iconic retailer is providing a platform for artists in its 3,500 sq. ft. Ultralounge, creating the world’s first in-store live music venue.
One of the first artists to perform in the state-of- the-art visual content studio space is British electronic act UNKLE, formed by James Lavelle and Tim Goldsworthy. To help provide content for the visual media being presented at the show, Lavelle has worked alongside TEM (The Experience Machine) whose work includes designing innovative experiences for Jay Z, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
With exclusive access to the event, we managed to grab hold of James and engineer Steve Weston prior to the show to discuss UNKLE’s on-stage gear setup, which they also hope to use for future live performances.
James Lavelle: “What appealed to me about Music Matters is the opportunity for me to work in this installation visually and translate what we’re doing these days as a live band. We’ve wanted to try and take UNKLE to a new place in our live situation, so when this opportunity came along we thought this would be a good way of starting things off, especially with all the other visual technology that’s happening, because it’s expensive to put things like this on.
“I’ve supplied them with all the visuals that relate to UNKLE. Over the last 25 years, there’s been a lot of visual content created, so they’ve been taking a lot of that and reworking it into the show. We gave them a rough mix of what we’re doing, and that mix has a rhythm bed, but we’re able to change a lot of what is going on vocally and add a lot of basslines and keyboards.”
“Music Matters is kind of like UNKLE AI, taking what I’ve done DJ culture-wise and then adding to that. I wanted to use my DJ setup, because that’s kind of important to me, and we’ve started putting the show together using Ableton.
“I’m more responsible for the DJing side of it and Steve’s more responsible for the playing side. The tracks we’re playing are from the history of UNKLE, so it’s a sort of snapshot of stuff. Hopefully this is something we can tour with, but it can also keep changing and morphing - it’s an embryo for something that could grow to become a lot bigger.”
Steve Weston: “The main bulk of it’s in Ableton, so we’re triggering stems from all of the UNKLE tunes, which are then going into James’s mixer so he can do his DJ thing and put samples over the top. And then we’ve got samples going into his Pioneer CDJs and mixer.
Pioneer DJ CDJs
James: “I’m running two CDJs off a USB stick and have loads of weird samples coming through it- it’s more of a tactile thing from my DJ playing role.
“The samples are all going through a Pioneer mixer and I’m also using a lot of the effects from the mixer. If you equate it to a guitarist, the Pioneers are my Gibson – they’re my instrument.”
James: “I like the simplicity of my workstation and the Roland sampling drum pads allow me to use some kicks and get some bottom end. I just like to keep it quite simple and not get overly bogged down in millions of different possibilities, and the SPDSX is great for that.”
Steve: “They’re the best ones to use live really. If you look at pretty much any band on stage that is running electronics, they’ve either got a Roland SPD-SX or a T100, which is a little bit overkill for this because it’s got 16 outputs on the back of it, but the Roland’s so stable.”
Pioneer DJ Toraiz SP-16 and AS-1
James: “I’m also using this new Dave Smith SP-16 Pioneer DJ Sampler, which I’m running a load of sounds through and using a bit like an Akai MPC. It’s got additional rhythms that I can add into the mix and vocal samples that are chopped up MPC-style. It’s full of stuff that I’ve sampled from films and vocal recordings.”
“I’m using the AS-1 analogue synthesizer for running a lot of bassline stuff and filtering. All of this gear just allows you to have a little bit of that DJ jacking vibe. Again, I’m using a lot of the effects off the mixer.
“The only thing I’m missing that I would like to do is to run the AS-1 through an effects unit. Again, I’m just starting to get my head around the possibilities of this setup and finding out what’s best to use.”
Steve: “I’m also using the Toraiz [AS-1] and doing a similar thing. The AS-1 has got the same synth engine as the Prophet 08 that Dave Smith made, except this is mono. It’s got a little ribbon keyboard and we’re sending the MIDI notes out of Ableton into it via a MIDI connection.
“I’ve actually got some samples from the track Lonely Soul going across the bottom and some vocal cut-ups, but the samples are also going through my Moog analogue delay and a Boss reverb pedal, so I can really dub it out and go a bit wild.”
PIoneer DJ Toraiz SP-16 + E-RM Multiclock USB
Steve: “Ableton is god and all the tempos are coming from that. Basically, in Logic, Ableton, and pretty much all of the DAWs, the MIDI clock source is a bit unreliable. So this is a pretty new bit of kit.
“You have a little plugin in your DAW that allows the Multiclock to know what BPM it’s using. Then it spits out four MIDI clocks, so the two DJ samplers and the analogue synth are clocked to Ableton and when the BPM changes within Ableton the samplers change BPM as well. Then I’m using a Moogerfooger analogue delay and an RV-5 digital reverb for additional effects.”
Roland System-8 + Akai MPD32
James: “Roland has just hooked me up with the Roland System 8 - we won’t talk about how. We’re just getting our heads around it, but it’s got a lot of great sounds built into it. It’s wicked, it’s got three synths - and can have four, so there’s the System-8 synth and it also comes loaded with a Jupiter-8 plug in and a Juno-106 plug in.”
Steve: “For this set, I’m using some Juno sounds and an organ sound from the System-8. The Akai MPD32 is a MIDI controller that’s hooked up to Ableton. It’s got some white noise samples and a few from the UNKLE track Heaven, so the way I’ve got the filters set up in Ableton I can get some toned white noise effects.
“Across the front, I’ve MIDI mapped the encoders so I have some filters, a dry to get things sounding more crunchy, reverb/delay, feedback and dry/wet mix, etc. If I push all of those up, the sounds are basically going to go on forever.”
Ableton Push + DJ Tech Tools MIDI Fighter Twister
Steve: “We’re running the Ableton Push just to trigger off some clips. The MIDI Fighter is from a San Francisco company. It’s got 16 rotary encoders, but they’ve got push buttons as well. It works with anything, and I’ve MIDI mapped it in Ableton to do whatever I want it to do. Again, cut-offs, reverbs, delays or even volumes for fading drum loops in or out.”
James. “The set’s still got quite a lot of structure to it; it’s not like an abstract performance where we’re wandering off. We were talking the other day about the fact that we’re doing a one-hour set, but if we were in a club environment it would be nice to be able to dub or extend things out a lot more, but at the moment it’s still song-based. We’ve been touring for a while, so we know what works and what doesn’t, and we don’t want to start going off on crazy tangents.”
Korg MS-20 and Moog Little Phatty
Steve: “I’m actually running the MS-20 and the Little Phatty through a Space Echo. They’re both mono, so I’m just going in left and right and it’s coming out the same.
“The Little Phatty is a great mono synth - Moog is a little bit more sweet-sounding I guess. The Moog has presets as well, so I can flick to different sounds really quickly, whereas the MS-20 has to be reprogrammed and the sound doesn’t change that much throughout the set.”
James. “The MS-20 has been a staple-diet for UNKLE. I’ve been using it since Never, Never, Land, so at least 18 years. It’s just got wicked bass sounds and I’ve always loved Moog for the bass side of things.”