Beautiful Feelings for Skan PA Hire & The Chemical Brothers

35 years after DJ visionaries Ed Simons and Tom Rowlands formed, and 18 years after their audio crew began working with Skan, The Chemical Brothers visited UK arenas in support of new album, ‘For That Beautiful Feeling’. Their 10th studio release made another huge impact on electronic music, receiving a nomination for ‘Best Dance/Electronic Music Album’ at the 2024 GRAMMYS and winning Rolling Stone UK’s ‘Album of the Year‘ in 2023.

Production Manager Toby Dennis and Tour Manager James Baseley choose vendors that set their tours up for success. Baseley comments: “Using Skan is a choice based on their understanding of us as a client, and delivering the service that we require whilst remaining flexible with our needs. Their quality of service, staff and equipment makes them a stand-out company amongst many other remarkable audio suppliers. Our use of legacy equipment that is not prevalent in other suppliers, and the level at which Skan maintains and backs it up, is second to none.”

As has been requested since their collaboration began, audio engineers Shan Hira (FOH) and Ian Barton (Monitors) are both using their favourite analogue mixing desk, the Midas XL4.

For Hira, it’s a console he’s grown to know intuitively over the 24 years he’s been bringing the Chems’ big beat sounds to live audiences. He begins: “It’s an absolute pleasure to mix FOH for The Chemical Brothers, they have written so many great songs and their live interpretation of these songs turns the show into an amazing audio-visual experience, which is always a privilege to be involved in. We’ve been working with Skan since 2005 and it’s been great ever since.

“My objective with their shows is to present their songs in the best possible light. The mix from the stage is different for every show, so the same thing does not necessarily happen at the same time each night. I track what the band is doing and use the options in my FX racks to enhance what I am getting from the stage. After all these years, there is a lot of trust within that, so they leave me to do what I think is the right thing.”

Hira specified a selection of gear across three racks. Housing both classic and retro units, the dynamic rack includes XTA C2 Compressors, XTA D2 Compressors, XTAS Graphic EQ and a Waves Maxx BCL Mastering Limiter / Compressor.

He continues: “For the two effects racks, there are some units from Skan, the band owns some, and I’ve brought some of my own too; I have an Eventide H7600 Ultra Harmonizer Effects System, Deltalab Timeline 2048, Lexicon PCM 70 Digital Effects Processor, vintage Korg SDE 3000 Digital Delay, Electrospace Spanner surround panner, Line 6 Filter, Lexicon 480 for digital reverb, Roland SRE 555 Chorus Echo, MXR Digital Delay System 2, MXR Pitch Transposer, MXR Flanger, Bel Flanger, Boss Re 20 and a Boss Re 202.”

Skan’s Scott Essen, Audio Crew Chief and System Designer, has been working with this team for years and knows the key to harnessing their renowned live output.

“The Chemical Brothers’ sound is all about making it loud yet comfortable, being impactful in a way that moves people. For the crowd, it's all about feeling the sound and moving them in the right way. For me, that means getting the sub and fill choices right. We do quite consciously ensure the people in the pit get a full experience while ensuring those out on the edges still feel that low end and get a nice presence of the top end. Essentially, we design the sound system to be as seamless and effective as possible.”

The PA system is d&b audiotechnik; GSL for main hangs, KSL for side and rear hangs, flown J SUBs, stacked SL-SUBs and V10p for front fills. On stage, side fills comprise boxes of KSL with SL-SUBs, rave fills of V12 tops & V-SUBS used by the production team. There is also a scattering of M2 wedges and B6 SUBs on stage.

Essen says the flown subs and the way they've been meticulously tuned is for chest impact rather than floor wallow: “We’re moving air, and it’s very visceral. Arenas are notoriously bad for controlling low end, so once that's tight, we're laughing,” he explains.

“The PA preference for Shan and myself is always d&b, and that works with this band because it gives a controlled, tighter, punchier thump than some systems offer. The Midas analogue choices are all about being hands-on and making it ergonomic with the mix while sounding brilliant. Throughout our time together, I’ve stripped Shan's desk at least three times - taken every channel strip out and had it down to the bare bones, serviced and rebuilt it. That kind of sums up the two halves of what this production represents, there’s a comfort zone of old, analogue gear mixed with elements of the latest cutting-edge audio technology. This show is exceptional because it’s the perfect mould of those two things, and it works beautifully for everyone.”

Monitor Engineer and fellow Midas XL4 fan Ian Barton joins the conversation: “The XL4 is just the best thing in the world! It weighs half a tonne, but I'm so lucky to be able to take it everywhere!”

Barton explains that a lot of fine-tuning goes into his monitor mixes in his ‘triangle of trust’ between himself, Hira and Chemical Brothers’ Tom Rowlands. He adds: “I've got Ed who plays different synths, and some satellite speakers dotted around the stage, so I overlay whatever the sound is. There are 24 analogue keyboards running at any one time, but mixing it is completely second nature at this point.”

Barton also has Lab.gruppen amplification on his own L-Acoustics speakers - 2 x ARCs, 2 x dVSub, 2 x 108 and 4 x 108P.

When it comes to their audio supplier, Barton advocates that “Skan is the one,” for expertly maintaining their desks and bespoke requests over the years. “They're a stand-alone company,” he confirms. “The cleanliness of the gear and the way it's all put together for us, well it's more than just nice… it’s an important part of how the show works.”