Wizard of Oz, pt.2: The Crash

Posted on Feb 19th, 2008 in Behind The Scenes > Live by Mr. Goldbar

Following my last post about Good Vibrations, we’re now on the 2nd and final weekend of the Australian traveling festival. On the agenda: Sydney and the far-away Perth. People had been hyping up this Sydney show for the whole week. This would be the bigger, badder, deffer show of the bunch. We got there, scoped out the grounds as we rode around in our buggy and saw the masses of people undulating in the huge park… yep, this was gonna be a good one.

After a quick fix of pumpkin ravioli in the catering tent, it was time for the A-Trak & Kid Sister variety hour (and a half). We got to our stage and caught the end of Radioclit’s fast-thumping world rhythms. Looking at that crowd I thought: our last show in Brisbane was good, but it wasn’t that big. Here we had a tent of 2500 kids just ready to throw down. I started DJing and simply had fun with it. I spent some time preparing new sets before this tour and it felt like it was all meshing that day. My favorite part was getting the most crowd response for my “Stronger” remix. I feel like I haven’t been producing electro (or whatever you want to call this) for very long and like anyone I play some pretty strong jams in my sets… so for one of my tracks to stand out, that’s a nice feeling right there! My man Jesse was in Australia a few months back and told me he kept hearing DJs play that track. I believe him now!

So anyway, I played for an hour and then Kid Sister came on for the last half hour. She couldn’t fly out a hype man for this trip so our homie Tittsworth was nice enough to help her out during these shows. My man had never been on hype duties before and he held it down real proper! After our set, we were escorted over to a VIP press area to film a live interview with MTV.

As soon as that was done, I had to go put on my space suit and it was time for the Kanye show, which was a shoo-in as always.
Here’s Joi in her suit:

On Sunday we flew to Perth (I like to pronounce it “Pehth”) for the last show of the tour. All the other cities had been 1 to 2 hours within each other, but Perth is way on the other side of the country, across the proverbial Outback, That flight was closer to 5 hours, but I think I slept the whole way. Kanye travels with a videographer and that day I stole him to come film my set, so I got some pretty good footage of Perth. The show went well, aside from getting my Jordans all dusty. (Why did I wear them to a festival?) Strangely, it’s the Kanye set that took an unusual turn for me. Listen to this tale….

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these Kanye performances are really elaborate. I run 2 programs on my computer at once (Ableton Live and Serato), there’s a live band and we have really specific cues to catch on every song. These shows require sound checks, and on 2 of the 4 Australian shows there was none. This was one of those. I got up to the stage and tested out my gear. Everything seemed fine. The show started. There were sound problems right from the jump. There was no track in Kanye’s monitors. He was basically rapping “Good Morning” to guitars and keyboards on stage. I knew the problem wasn’t coming from me because I had the music in my in-ears. The monitor engineer fixed that problem and we got through the song. On the next one, I started getting the flashing red “USB” indicator on Serato, which means the connection is dropping out. In other words the computer is having trouble communicating with the mixer. However the tracks play off Ableton Live so it didn’t affect any of the sound coming out. No one knew I had this problem yet. I just couldn’t use Serato which I mostly use to scratch over the tracks, but I also use for important transitions between songs, and some of those were just a few minutes away. I had to fix it. I tried playing with the USB cord and noticed that when I held one of the ends in place it made the warning light stop flashing. So I signaled our stage tech and asked for a new USB cable pronto. At that point we were performing “Through the Wire”. I remember hearing a glitch in the music while I was troubleshooting, but I was doing too many things at once to know what caused it. I just remember Kanye looking back at me like “what’s going on?” and I was rewiring these USB cables on stage. The thing is, there are no breaks between songs during the first half hour or so of the show, so I had to unplug the Serato USB while Ableton Live was playing the music. I honestly don’t remember when it happened but at one point while I was swapping cables, the track dropped out completely. I wondered if the sound guys had muted me when they saw that I was rewiring stuff, because I could see Ableton was still playing. (This would be a good time to remind you that there are, oh I don’t know, maybe 20,000 people watching this show.) Luckily the band picked up and played the whole “Through the Wire” track. Luckily it’s a song that lends itself to that! So the show kept going. Meanwhile I’m staring at my computer which looks like it’s playing, but I’m not sure if there’s sound coming out. Then I get an OS X pop-up that says that the program “Live” has unexpectedly quit. Shit, both Serato and Ableton’s programs are called Live! It must be Serato though. “Though The Wire” is almost over, the next song is “Get Em High” and the band definitely can’t play that one, but I can’t get any sound out of Ableton. So I relaunch Serato, pull up the track on there and catch the cue right on time. Phew! Kanye’s rapping, nothing’s interrupted. At that point I’m thinking, I need to restart this computer to use Ableton! Right then I remembered my saving grace. On the night before my departure to Australia, I had copied the whole show on my other laptop as a back-up. And that laptop was right there in my backpack. Were the files on my DJ drive? No, there’s no Ableton stuff on there. Maybe they’re on my production drive? No wait, I remember now, I had kept it simple and left everything on the internal drive. As this is happening I’m still trying to follow Kanye’s verses and mute the music at all the usual spots! Now I’ve got my 2nd laptop ready to go, but the transition into “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” is too tight to make a switch. I run that track off Serato again and I walk over to Adam the band leader and signal that I need a quick break before the next song. That next one is “I Wonder” and I need to be back on Ableton for that one. But during “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” I always drop the track completely for the 3rd verse while Kanye raps to the live keyboards and tympani. So when we get to that part, I swap out the computers, plug the controllers back in, check everything on headphones and when we get to the final chorus I bring the track back in on Ableton. Hallelujah! It worked.

I kept the rest of the show going on my backup computer. We still had a good hour to go! I didn’t have any more problems after that. It just happened to be an unresponsive crowd (by Kanye standards) so the whole show felt tense.

Normally it would be nice to get a good night’s sleep after that and forget it ever happened, but we actually had to go leave for the airport at 3:45am for the long journey home. I still can’t believe that happened. At least we kept it together and didn’t stop the show. None of that “please bear with us, we’re having technical problems” crap. Afterwards I got all these myspace messages talking about how good our set was in Perth. If you only knew!!

Time to go home…