I hope that this doesn’t turn into a regular feature of the blog, but after having my ears bruised once again and leaving a gig early once again due to bad sound I feel like I need to a) have a rant and b) say something because this is not okay people!
Sound is the most important part of music, therefore it needs to be treated with more respect than anything else when it comes to shows. If you paid out for a 4* hotel and extra bottle of JD for the artist but your soundman is on a training scheme from the local college, you have seriously mashed up principles (I’m not saying this simply to have a go, I’m sure most promoters have been there. I’m saying it because it’s a situation that needs correcting).
I’ve already mentioned how hard it is to get soundmen that understand Hip-hop and can create good sound for an MC. Last night I got to Lakota in time to catch Four Owls and Problem Child, everybody I heard sounded either too muddy, too quiet or too tinny (that’s aside from the serious lack of bass in Problem Child’s set but that’s another issue for another time). So at least there was consistency I guess, because not even one MC sounded clear and punchy.
Now most bad soundmen will simply shrug and blame MCs for sounding muddy, “they don’t know how to hold the mic!” is the general excuse, and to be fair they have a point. I’d say around 90% of MCs cup the mic and shout straight into it, but this is partly due to the fact that they’re over compensating, because the sound is so bad and they can’t hear themselves properly (for the record the best way to hold a mic far as know, is holding it directly under the ball and rapping just over the top of it but close enough to be heard clearly – I’m sure there’s some angle advice in there some place too but it’s been a while since I was a rapper).
Just as with DJs redlighting, you can’t just shrug and accept that’s what they do – presuming they turn up to soundcheck then work with them at getting the best sound possible. If that means giving a couple of pointers then do that respectfully and a lot of the time they will listen. If they don’t then be the bigger man and do the best you can with what you have.
One of the reasons this irks me so much is I like going to see acts live, but rarely do I see a Hip-hop show I enjoy. It’s bad enough that most rappers have no concept of stage etiquette or showmanship (and I was probably just as guilty of this back in the day to be fair).
Where as any good band has a constant and natural feel for what the rest of their band members are doing, most Hip-hop groups seem to just stumble about stage and hope for the best. When you get up to Wu Tang level with so many members this can get seriously sloppy. I think the best Hip-hop act I ever saw that tackled this perfectly was Saian Supa Crew from France but there have been others. I saw The Pharcyde live again recently and they had a pretty tight, fun and interactive stage show. But if you put all these wrong factors together, nearly every Hip-hop show is a just a bunch of guys up on stage shouting incomprehensible stuff into microphones, it could be anyone up there really.
Sometimes this kind of works. I saw Heems at Start The Bus recently and he didn’t seem to know how to do anything. He spent the first 10 minutes wrestling with two microphones, one of which was set up as an echo mic and was just used to roar into like a Street Fighter character every now and then. He even admitted, “I’ve been rapping for 4 years and I still don’t know how to use a microphone.” Then after a further 5 minutes in a semi-soundcheck (he admitted to never turning up to soundchecks either) he skipped through a bunch of (Paypal paid for) beats on his laptop (occasionally aided by his highly stoned girlfriend) until he found ones he wanted to rap over.
To be fair, Start The Bus is hardly prized for it’s sound and Heems has a tendency to kind of slur through raps (the bouncer wouldn’t let him into the club at first because he said he was ‘too drunk’ – Heems was adamant that ‘hadn’t even happened yet’) but he still sounded clearer than most rappers live. Plus I have to admit to enjoying most of the show, I guess a lot of charisma, a strong voice and an ear for a killer beat goes a long way. It’s kind of like in painting, some artists obsess over the tiniest detail whilst others can pretty much throw paint at a canvas and it looks good. Eventually it got a little weary though and I left before the end.
On the opposite end of the scale almost was Dizraeli & The Small Gods, who I’d seen the night before. Now despite the fact that to label them as a Hip-hop band would be a little misleading, these guys know how to do a live show. You can tell they’re used to jamming a lot and everybody was exceptionally tight. Dizraeli seems to be one of those artists who obsesses over his craft, partly I would guess because he’s not a ‘natural’ rapper in say the Heems sense, but there’s no doubt that his lyrics are poignant and poetical and his delivery is tight! Every syllable is crystal clear and perfectly pronounced (albeit with a strong West Country twang) and when he actually forgets his lyrics at one point (getting caught up in the magic of the moment by all accounts) for the ‘first time in 10 years’ you can see him internally kicking himself. For the record this simply humanises the show more and is in no way detrimental to the overall performance.
I may have gone a little off track here, but what both of these performances prove is that rappers can sound good live. It doesn’t even have to be that hard but if the rapper make that extra bit of effort too then everyone’s happy. So massive props to both: the soundman at the Heems for working well with what he had; and the Dizraeli shows for respecting the quality of the act. But for all you Soundmen who are making do with sloppy sound, please sort it out! Just for me, because I’ve given up drinking and I’m too sober not to notice these things and let them affect me.