This Friday’s LIVE showcase pays homage to the skill in crafting trance; an exclusive chat with headliner Chicane reveals that this is in fact a combination of keyboards, samplers and technical prowess. Intrigued? All will be revealed…
Fittingly, we catch Chicane, aka Nick Bracegirdle, whilst in the studio. A privilege, as we hear that he rarely goes into depth regarding ‘live’ proceedings. Although we started out slightly worried that our questions may hit a brick wall, any fears are soon alleviated, with Chicane only too eager to inform! Maybe sitting in the very environment concerned has put him ‘in the zone!’
And from his enthusiasm, it’s obvious that Chicane is itching for Friday to come. “I only ever play London twice a year, so it’s great to return to my home town. Ministry is always an amazing show, with such a legendary sound system.” True, but it’s not just our mammoth Martin Audio subs which will make Friday stand out - it’s all about the ‘live’ aspect, which differs to a normal DJ scenario in several ways.
Nick elaborates there are three tiers of the live band, depending on the venue and available space. “It’s quite a modular set up, with the full band being six to seven people on stage. It’s about as live as you can take dance music! Live drums, guitar, percussions, bass, keys, vocalists and sometimes additional pieces like saxophone or electric guitar. With seven people, it becomes complex, with thought needed about how each part co-exists. The second version is a three piece. This is percussion, keys, DJ equipment and vocalist. Finally a condensed version of this forms the third and final tier.” Do these multiple configurations mean Chicane plays a different role for each? Apparently not, as he explains: “Whichever the configuration, my role tends to stay the same. I’m playing all the lead lines, like the piano in ‘Poppiholla’ along with the strings and pads.”
On asking about the technical setup, things start to get...a bit technical! But taking care to explain each part, a picture slowly emerges of how our legendary Box DJ booth will be kitted out. Nick’s passion enough to defy any critic who might define DJing as merely ‘pressing play’:
Roland JP 8000 - Synthesiser: Keyboard instrument used to generate and modify electronic sounds.
“It's a good synth which enables warm pad sounds. Also use it as a MIDI controller to play a host of software synths [see below].”
Vanguard - Software Synthesiser: Also known as ‘soft synths,’ they are plug-ins which fulfil the same role as dedicated hardware. Chicane brings these on his laptop when playing live.
Nord – Keyboard: “I use this heavily with a couple of Roland SH-101 units.”
Tying the above together, Nick relates it to the Poppiholla piano. “Instead of a live piano, I’ll instead trigger the original sample through the soft synth on my laptop. So there’s a lot going on with the computer, which you won’t get to see.”
Such an array of technology means that the equivalent of the dreaded ‘blue screen’ would be a disaster - so it’s no surprise that these pieces have been chosen for reliability. “Equipment that’s versatile but reliable is essential, so it doesn’t f**k up. The last thing I need is to load stuff, then having to pray it functions correctly.” We then voice a perceived concern, that the sheer number of controls could be quite daunting. Like when a fledgling DJ first sets eyes on a Pioneer DJM 2000. But it seems the pros can also relate: “It can be daunting to look at all the buttons. The first thing that comes to mind is if I hit the wrong one, it’s a world of pain!”
The main advantage of this technology is the on-the-fly manipulation which becomes possible, enabling a more innovative approach to DJ sets through editing tracks or sampling new elements. But as the saying goes, ‘don’t mess with the classics.’ And that definitely applies to Chicane himself, whose every release can legitimately be given anthem status. ‘Don’t Give Up’ featuring Bryan Adams is amongst the elite few to have achieved commercial success - whilst still retaining its appeal amongst trance fans. But even this No.1 hit isn’t exempt from tweaking:“I tend to modify tracks all the time. For example there’s a very specific version of ‘Don’t Give Up’ which I’m bringing to The Gallery. In fact it's totally different to the one I played in Prague a couple of weeks ago. I’m always making changes, adding things to keep things fresh.”
This forward-thinking ethos has to be balanced with demand from fans, though; there are certain vocal elements that Chicane die-hards will expect in any set. And on Friday, this responsibility falls to an actual vocalist. But there is seemingly little challenge in integrating her into the routine: “I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge at all. As a lot of attention will be on the singer, in some regards it takes the pressure off me. I’ve been using singers for sixteen years now working live - so as long as they’re singing in time and in tune, it’s all good!”
Momentarily moving away from the live domain, we enquire how Chicane’s vocal arrangements are conceived. Impressively, the initial concept is all his own: “I’ll demo up some vocals initially by myself. Then I will bring someone in, and tell them this is how it should go.” It’s interesting to learn that location is no hindrance in today’s age of the internet. “We’ll then work together to refine using Skype if they’re in a different location. It’s not uncommon to make a track without ever physically sitting in the studio. Communication skills are very important, being able to get ideas across without meeting face to face.”
Time sadly drawing to a close, we briefly touch on the future. With artists now commonly experimenting in the ‘Trance 2.0’ era, some feel they are neglecting the sound for which they became famous. Whilst Chicane appreciates such merits, there is thankfully no risk of him abandoning his love for the melodic and uplifting. “These attributes can span different genres, dipping in and out of today’s current sound. But they’ll always be core to me. They are what I do and who I am…”
And we wouldn't want it any other way! Roll on Friday night LIVE...
CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS FOR THE GALLERY LIVE 22.02.2013