Having reformed earlier in the year, Faithless has been back on the road for a 20th Anniversary tour, leading up to the release of Faithless 2.0 (an album of guest remixes and new material). In addition to this commitment, the band's vocalist Maxi Jazz is also touring with his new band, Maxi Jazz and the E-Type Boys.
Both tours are being overseen at Front Of House by Mark Kennedy, who has been working with Faithless for 19 years. This summer he has taken the shows to 30 festivals, and still has dates left (plus a few more with Tinie Tempah).
On The Road
Faithless members Sister Bliss, Maxi Jazz, and Rollo Armstrong combine driving electronica and a range of instruments with Maxi's intense, dry vocals to achieve the artful approach to dance music that Faithless is famous for. This is embodied in the band’s big hits, including Insomnia, God is a DJ, and We Come 1.
Live, there are many more people involved. In total, Kennedy takes 56 inputs from the stage including feeds from a large percussion section and standard drum kit, bass guitar, four sets of keyboards, and three vocal mics.
Even after 19 years, the band is still a challenge: "Faithless is difficult," says Kennedy. "...A notoriously tricky mix... Sometimes broadcasters think they can come along and take a split from stage and they'll be fine. That's normally a disaster!"
"Now we only give them a feed from my console. People will walk on and walk off throughout the show. They'll walk off with the radio mic and put it down and start chatting to people off stage, and that's the least of your worries."
"The programming is better now than it's ever been, but Sister Bliss - she likes all of her keyboards to be velocity sensitive, so depending on what mood she's in we can go from a whisper to a scream. You have to be so on the whole thing all of the time."
The Festival Test
According to Kennedy the SSL Live L500 that he now specifies for FOH is the perfect fit on several fronts. First and foremost is the sound: "Festivals are the best place possible to tell what your board sounds like because every other guy has every type of board possible. When you hear the difference between the SSL and the other consoles on a large touring system it's quite incredible how much better it is; the difference is unbelievable."
The L500 is supplied and supported by Britannia Row Productions, with SSL ML 32.32 Stageboxes, and audio transport via SSL’s Blacklight multiplexed MADI core.
The console’s dynamic performance and stereo separation are particular stand-out aspects that Kennedy points to: "In an analogue mixer, with a fader at five or eight dB down, the channel is quiet but doesn't drop out of the mix. With most digital consoles that channel would be gone, but that doesn’t happen with this board, it stays there."
"And the stereo separation is amazing," he continues. "On one recent show we were pushed a long way over to one side of this big festival. You could still hear what was coming out of the left so clearly it was incredible. It really was amazing."
Freedom to Mix
Because the Faithless show is so unpredictable, Kennedy is hands-on from beginning to end. "I use snapshots to get me to the starting point of a song. After that it's mixed freehand."
"One thing I love about the SSL is that I can do two things at the same time. I can be on the right hand side EQ-ing something on the Channel Control Tile while I'm pushing up VCAs with my left hand."
"With the upper and lower banks and the three different tiles I can dial almost a whole show up onto the surface, and then I'm free to do whatever I want without being restricted or having to step through menus."
The L500 has several control options – three Fader Tiles, a large multi-gesture touch screen, and the unique Channel Control Tile with its own high-resolution touch screen and rapid access controls. "The main touch screen is grand," says Kennedy, "But for me the key is the right hand side of the desk - the smaller touch screen and the instant access of the Channel Control Tile. It's so fast. I can jump from my inserts, to my compressor, to my gates, to my header amps... There, now - right now... I don't have to go looking for them."
The final words on the tour's sound go to Rollo Armstrong, Faithless multi-instrumentalist, Producer, and SSL studio console owner: "It sounds so much better than it's ever sounded before. We’re really happy."