Britannia Row and The Smile tour L-Acoustics L2 for UK headline shows

The English experimental rock band develop a big sound with a small footprint.

Made up of Radiohead's Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, keys, bass,) and Jonny Greenwood (bass, guitar, keys)alongside Tom Skinner (drums, keys, vocals, modular), The Smile are a band that knows good audio.

“As one might imagine, this band are heavily invested in their sound. There is a lot of sonic language on the records, and they expect this to translate to the live shows,” begins Britannia Row Productions’ Simon Hodge, who pulls double duty as both Production Manager and FOH Engineer.

“I’m very busy while mixing this show – spinning in a lot of live tape echoes, delays, spring reverbs and all manner of things. Everything is analogue in the FX rack [apart from a Bricasti M7] so there are no pre-sets. I spent some time in the studio at the start of the tour with my FOH set-up and had the band listening to make sure that we were on the same page.”

Armed with a DiGiCo Quantum 338, Simon has over 100 inputs for the core band and another 40 when they play with an Orchestra - high numbers for a three-piece!

“I have a Waves L2 across the record mix which sounds awesome. And I’m using some unusual gear including the Great British Spring -a real 4ft long old school spring reverb, a TC 1128delay, the Gamechanger ‘Light’ spring reverb, a Galaxy Tape Echo and perhaps most unusually, an Euro rack set-up incorporating a Rossum Electro-Music Panharmonium,” he explains.

The latter being a sound design tool that allows the user to analyse the spectral content of any audio signal. The band also employs some interesting microphones including Audio-Technica AE6100 hypercardioid dynamicvocal mic, a Neumannu47 FET collector’s mic on kick, lots of AKG C 414 XLS condenser mics and Electro-Voice RE20’s.

With an intimate knowledge of what the band’s live shows require, Simon made the decision to de-centralise monitor world this year, as facilitated by Britannia Row Account Executive, Dave Compton.

He continues: “We pushed fibre boxes out onto the stage and had small stage racks with SD Mini Racks, with D40 amps distributed on stage to try and keep copper cabling to a minimum. This was a great success, and it saves on both time and weight/volume.

“It’s interesting working with this band – the fact that they are fully invested in and connected with their sound makes it such a pleasure to mix. I love their music too, so I feel like I’m in a good place to be the one mixing it!” he adds.

As part of their headline UK tour in March, which saw PA go into Manchester Apollo and the Brighton Centre, the band played a highly anticipated London gig at Alexandra Palace, where the tour’s biggest system was required. Britannia Row’s Head of Engineering - Event Support, Josh Lloyd, designed the PA system, which comprised just two boxes of L2 over a single L2D per side for the main hangs and a single L2D for each delay.

Josh comments: “The L2 is a cardioid box, and it sounds great. It helps to get rejection on stage, and keeps it clean as the band uses a lot of open mics. The PA design may seem minimal – the band even noticed how small the system was – but the L2 performs beyond its size and weight, making it a flexible choice. There was no spill off the back of the box at all, and the band were happy.”

Simon furthers: “I have been an L-Acoustics fan since Christian Heil’s early line array boxes in the ‘90s through to mixing Robbie Williams in stadia with the K1 for many years. When Josh first told me about the L2, with my Production Manager hat on I was particularly interested to see how it would save on rigging time and truck space!

“However, as an engineer, I was absolutely blown away by how it sounds. The forward rejection is amazing, and I have never heard such control at lower frequencies. The Smile has quite a complex sonic foot print in the low mid and bass, so to have directional control in that area is hugely helpful.

“The Smile’s Studio Producer, Sam Petts-Davies, came to the Alexandra Palace gig and said it sounded awesome. I was speechless myself at how good it sounded – ‘Ally Pally’ is such a tricky environment to mix in, but I described our gig as sounding like an outdoor show….  which is a huge thing to say.”

Monitor Engineer Daniel Scheiman joins the conversation: “Everyone in the band plays multiple instruments very well and tends to move around the whole stage during the show. This means that every performance is busy for me, and we have a lot of movement in the mixes.”

To get the optimum results, Daniel also chooses DiGiCo, mixing on a robust Quantum 7.

“The band uses a mixture of IEMs and wedges. Jonny relies entirely on wedge mixes through d&b audio technik M4’s, while Thom and Tom choose ShurePSM1000 IEMs. In total, with tech mixes, we run eight in-ear mixes, seven wedge mixes, and a sub. In addition to these mixes, there are a few FX sends returning to the stage from the monitor console, as well as some returns from Simon at front of house.

“Very clear expectations were established for these shows. The crew and equipment from Britannia Row have been fantastic. Everything arrived exactly as expected, and it’s been a pleasure to work on,” adds Daniel.

Simon agrees, concluding: “As a Production Manager, I can say that Britannia Row did a great job for us and were always supportive and efficient at pre-empting our needs - if we do experience a technical failure, Britannia Row can deploy gear locally from wherever we are in the world. Ultimately, we felt very looked after, and it was easy to tie into Britannia Row for all our radio and RF licensing needs.”

Taking in Germany, Italy, Greece and many more countries this summer, The Smile will play their ‘Live in Europe, 2024’ tour from June onwards.

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