In 1999 - I had the privilege of being part of Underworld’s road crew, on their Beaucoup Fish tour. I worked as a projectionist for the first 3 weeks, but in April they asked me to come out to the US - and mix the show visuals.
They asked me that on a Tuesday, on the Friday I was flying to NYC and I mixed my first show on Saturday.
It was a hell of a ride.
Over a year later when the time came to produce the Everything Everything DVD - I was asked to mix a "live art" mix similar to what we'd had on the screens during the tour.
In the concert footage on the EE DVD, the mix that the incredible director Jono Griffith created is the live footage from Japan and other concerts, overlaid with camera feeds, the lights, the Tomato visuals, and of course the concert audio mix.
So this “live art” mix comes from a different starting point.
I mixed it in a back room of the old Tomato building, off Lexington Street in Soho.
I created it using 3 BetaSP players, 4 monitors and something like a Panasonic MX-70 mixer - and me on some headphones listening to the audio mix that Rick had created for the DVD.
On tour I’d used VHS tapes, as that's what all of our show visuals were on. Some of the tapes were only 3-5 minutes long with outtakes from graphic treatments, some were 90 minutes of compilations of tomato visuals, some were sections used in music videos for the band..
If you ever had to use VHS tapes, you’ll know there’s no timecode on them - so it was problematic knowing where on a tape a certain visual was.
There were a handful of visuals, that I wanted to play if a certain track was played, but the majority of the visuals I played on that tour were a free-jam.
For those visuals I did want, like ‘dirk dancing’ - I’d just have a mental note in my head - “That visual is on Tape X, about halfway through” - and I’d leave myself enough time during the show to fast forward or rewind to that particular section of tape
I had three VHS players, so with some practise I got used to cueing up and scanning three sets of footage, and that combined with the live camera feed gave me 4 streams of video to create the show visuals with.
Over the course of that tour, I got to know that Pelican case of VHS tapes really well.
Now when it came time to do this EE “live art mix”, I wanted to stay true to what I'd done on tour - which was just to free mix, whatever visuals were coming at me off the VHS tapes.
We had to use BetaSP tapes for this mix because they wanted the best quality footage for creating the DVD. Unfortunately the stack of BetaSP tapes didn’t match the set of VHS tapes that I'd used on tour. That is, some of the BetaSP tapes were the same, but some were labelled differently, or contained footage I’d never seen before.
So I had a problem.
We’d only hired the kit for two days, so that’s all the time I had to finish the mix. I had hours of footage from a different set of source tapes. And as a result of these first two issues - I knew I had no way of re-creating what Jono had already done on the completed concert footage section of DVD.
So by circumstance, the “live art” mix was always going to be different. I realised that pretty quickly and set about making it as special as possible.
I spent the first day scanning through the BetaSP tapes to find footage that I knew from the tour, as well as to find any new elements I could use. I made sure I knew where a few of my favourite visuals were on the tapes, and played around with some mixing and transitions, as well as listening to Rick's mix, but ultimately, like the live show itself, I wanted to let the final mix create itself, based on how I was jamming along with the music.
On the second day I mixed one practise take, reviewed it, made some changes and then after some final checks, pressed play on Rick’s mix
I recorded what’s on the EE DVD 'live art mix' in one take - just like I would have done in a concert.
Ultimately for the reasons outlined above, this mix is not what I’d ever have created on tour in an actual concert. As such it has a very different feel to not only any concert from that period of Underworld shows, but also the live footage that features on the concert mix of the EE DVD.
A part of me appreciates that though - and is proud of it being that way.
Because I like to think that I stayed true to the nature of how Rick, Karl and Darren worked on tour - making an experience each night that was of a sum greater than the individual parts, and that reflected an appreciation of the people, the place and circumstance of each night.
A sonic and visual experience that took you on a ride each time, to places somewhat familiar and sometimes challenging and different.
But always with the aim of making you smile, of bringing good vibes, and of being a part of something bigger than just oneself.
I wasn't side of stage or FOH, there were no crowds, there were no lights shining brightly, no smoke machines, no sweat, no sonic sensations. There was none of the visceral, raw energy that comes from doing a live gig, with a band that knew their craft and a crew that had such a relaxed and superbly serene nature - but in a strange way the experience did take me back to those live moments that had been so much fun.
Almost 20 years later, I’m still very proud of this mix, and of being part of the ride.
It still makes me smile, and that's not a bad thing these days.