Two months after he exploded onto the synthwave scene with his Los Angeles EP, retrosynther FM-84 is only a few days away from playing his first live show.
But before Colin “FM-84” Bennett joins Pixel Memory on Friday at the DNA Lounge in San Francisco, I wanted to get a rundown of how Detroit-based Ross “Phaserland” Trinkaus’ recent first gig went down for him.
“[It] really turned out to be my favorite night of 2015 so far,” he said.
It’s not possible for everyone to use a bunch of gear for live performances, but Phaserland brought along a synthesizer and a guitar to augment his show last month at Offworld Arcade in Detroit.
“If you can, try to have a real keyboard with you — and practice,” Trinkaus said. “I think it’s human nature to watch other performers play instruments, so having some version of that will keep the audience engaged.”
Trinkaus wanted some live bass for the event, so he asked his lifelong friend Brian Carney to play bass at the Phaserland show.
“We were in a handful of bands throughout college, and he is pretty much the best bass player I know,” Trinkaus said. “We used to cover the first level of CONTRA (NES) in our old fusion band, The Schematic, and his chops are second to none.”
For his part, FM-84 has his own three-member band planned for his gig. He’ll have his Roland Juno-60, a Korg controller keyboard, and a Mac running Ableton Live. He’ll be backed by an acoustic drummer and an electric guitarist.
“I’ll be playing live keys and triggering parts and samples on the fly,” Bennett said.
A challenge that Trinkaus encountered when playing Offworld was that there was no soundcheck, he said.
“We set up early before the house DJ started his set, so our tweaking audio time was minimal,” he said.
That could have been a major problem for his first live synthwave gig, but it worked out well in the end.
“We had some people tell us to turn up [the volume] for the first song, so I took the master up ‘till we saw heads bobbing,” Trinkaus said.
For synthwave producers looking to go live, Trinkaus offered up a look into the more technical side of his live setup. Like Bennett plans to, Trinkaus used a centralized system.
For starters, he ran everything through Reaper on his Macbook Pro. He used a PreSonus FireStudio with Firewire 400 as his audio interface.
“We balanced the levels back at the studio, and used VST EQs to get decent tone,” Trinkaus said. “I had my MIDI keyboard running [Native Instruments’] FM8, and just switched saved presets to whatever song I was playing. My Mac is from 2008, so I did not want to overload the puppy!”
Working in the background was a .wav file stripped of bass and which had various guitar and keyboard parts removed, depending on what Trinkaus wanted to play live.
Reaper also has the ability to display video, so Trinkaus and Carney edited some retro footage for each song. They then projected it on a screen between them as they played.
“This was all built in the timeline, so once you hit the spacebar, the video was always in sync with the playback audio track,” he said.
Bennett also plans to project cinematic footage in the background to augment the music at his live show, but he’s also got something else in store.
“I’m also hoping to record the entire set live to a vintage reel-to-reel recorder, live on stage, if good quality tape gets delivered in time,” he said. “It’s my first-ever live gig, so I’m sure it won’t be without its faults. But I’m working hard to make it a great audio-visual experience for the audience. It should be a great night.”
Here’s hoping that recording turns out well. It would be great to hear the show. For those looking to see an enjoyable live gig in the meantime, they are in luck: Phaserland shot a video of his show and posted it on YouTube.
As readers will see on the video below, the show worked out well for Phaserland. I didn’t hurt that Synthetix Sunday’s Marko Maric was in town.
“Having [Maric] with me on my first Phaserland gig… playing in an outhouse with two people would have made me happy,” Trinkaus said. “OK, just kidding… but having my first gig in a packed arcade with Marko and George from City Project, let’s just say that it far exceeded my expectations as a whole.”