Robb Allan On The Road with Massive Attack
A veteran of over 30 years of live mixing around the globe, Robb Allan has worked with the likes of Coldplay, Lisa Stansfield, Manic Street Preachers and Natalie Imbruglia. He's currently out on summer tour with Massive Attack, where we caught up with him on a short break to talk about his ever-changing use of Oxford plugins.
Tell us about this current gig
It's a festival tour with Massive Attack. We headlined the second stage at Glastonbury recently, and we're headlining medium-sized festivals around Europe all summer. The great thing about this tour is that we've been going great distances. We were in Iceland, way up to the north. Our last gig was in Lebanon, way down to the south. It's a European tour, but we've been as far into the length of Europe as you can go.
What console are you mixing on?
I use the new Avid S3L, that came out in 2013.
I actually work for Avid and was part of the design team on the console. Its great to get it out on the road and use it in a real world situation.
What Sonnox plugins are you using on the tour?
Well, we've got like 58 channels from the stage, including two drummers - an acoustic drum kit, an electric drum kit. There's bass guitar, electric guitar, keyboards and a few vocalists. It's quite a busy show. I've got eight channels of playback and I'm using the Inflator (Harmonic Exciter Plugin) across those channels. It provides a warmth, a kind of vibe without compressing it, that pushes it out of the mix a bit. It helps, and it makes the tracks seem a little bit louder but without volume. I'm not sure exactly what it does, but it works! It does exactly what I need it to do. I've also been using the Reverb. I use that on the drums and the vocals. It's actually my favourite reverb.
On the vocals, what kind of settings are you using?
It's not a preset. They are just settings that I've been working on myself. What's interesting is that the Reverb settings change every song. With Massive Attack's music, there are many different dynamics and sounds. In some songs the snare drum has to sound one way, then it goes in a completely different direction. Each song has its own kind of reverb, which I've just kind of manually constructed. What I love is being able to control the early reflections in the reverb tail. That's the one place where I go to make the major changes to each setting.
So the show must be on timecode...
Yes, the code comes from the playback operator. He's almost like the conductor - he makes sure everybody's ready. There are nine people in the band and they're all on in-ear monitors. As soon as he hits play - that will give clicks and cues to the band. But it also sends LTC up the multicore to my console, which is triggering my snapshots. So you might have ten different scenes in a song. Some of those will trigger changes to the reverb and so on. I've got it pretty programmed by this time in the tour.
What other Sonnox plugins are you using?
Beyond Reverb and Inflator, I'm running Dynamics on bass guitar. But I'm also using the TransMod for some parallel compression on the drums. On acoustic drums, I have them going straight in but also through a group with the TransMod across it. How I use it depends on how I want the acoustic drums to fit in the song. I could use the TransMod to make them a little more pumping, or I could just dull them out a little bit so they sit back in the track.
That's pre-programmed - and it was all done in the production rehearsal. It's a great tool because with TransMod I can make them punchier, or I can make them sit in tight. It depends on what I have to do that specific point in the show. Sometimes, I don't use it at all, and sometimes I'll have quite a lot of TransMod in there. It gives me a really interesting pallet in terms of making the acoustic drum kit work in the show. It's really important to make the electronic drums and acoustic drums seem seamless, and TransMod helps me do that.
Sonnox plugins add sonic ammunition to each Massive Attack live show. Band and audience alike benefit from a sharper, edgier, more powerful sound. They might not be able to put their fingers on what it is that's 'spicing' up the mix, but they'd definitely miss it if it weren't there...
Interview and editorial provided by Rich Tozzoli