An enforced holiday - yes, I overdid it once again - has meant that I had some spare time on my hands and, rather than sit watching TV for a week, I decided to see if I could make some progress with a couple of SkinMechanix projects.
Principally, I wanted to play around with some new sounds and mastering techniques, for no other reason than because I wanted to see where they would lead, if anywhere. This was also the first project where I decided to really get to grips with Logic's automation functions, and that worked out very well indeed.
The end result was a short promo movie for Sirens. I'm very pleased with the result and I hope you like it to. The piano sound was a free gift from Christian Henson of Spitfire Audio. The remaining sounds are mostly Omnisphere patches, tweaked and tickled to perfection.
The movie footage was taken from a session we put together for the Ramones 4 concert but ultimately ended up not being used because we ran out of time.
The next step is to try and build some momentum into the project, to ensure that this small step doesn't just go nowhere in particular.
Progress? What's that?
I'd love to report that we've made fantastic progress on the new SkinMechanix album, Sirens, but, alas, I haven't. I've managed to find a few breaks in the schedule, enough to work on some new ideas, but truthfully, the project has stalled. Why? The hiatus is mainly because I've been flat out busy with the day job, infection Music. After years and years of struggling, we finally feel like we're there. Want to know more? Wait and see. Then you'll realise exactly why infection Music has my full attention. I'm utterly convinced that the hard work will pay dividends.
I haven't been completely idle. I've spent some time trying to figure out the feel and colour of Sirens, which includes layering up atmospheres, remixing a couple of tracks with new instrumentation, learning to use a couple of new plug-ins like Izotope's excellent Neutron.
In other words, it's the same-old, same-old. Work... It's just so bloody frustrating.
Okay, so... Where do we go? It's not all bad news. We finally managed to get a track onto BBC North East Introducing. That felt terrific. A major step forward.
Right now, I have a very brief window - around two weeks - between major jobs and the plan is to book some studio time. At the moment, Blast Studios in Shieldfield are our preferred venue. Why not do the tracks here? Simple. I'm still not convinced that the acoustics in this studio are right. I did manage to clear a load of crap out of the studio last week - stuff that's been accumulating steadily for six months, maybe more. That in itself will probably make a difference to the acoustics.
Update: File under How Weird is that?
Just as I uploaded this minor missive, local radio station NE1 FM played Tension by SkinMechanixM. Thanks, Jon! :)
Just a short announcement of no particular consequence.
SkinMechanix have decided to pause all promotional and performance related activities for the next six months.
After a series of long and extensive discussions with our management, Thinking Metal, we've decided that we need to concentrate on new material, a new sound and a new image. This is vital if the SkinMechanix project is to keep going. Simply put, we're not getting anywhere in this current guise. The constant effort to interest promoters and audiences alike is draining our resources to the point where it's just no fun anymore. We're a bit sick of being ignored, frankly. Fucking sick, actually.
We're also starting to realise that we can't really do this on our own anymore. We need help. Help with writing. Help with promotion. Help with management. So, anyone interested?
Ten years ago, we found ourselves in an identical situation. Our audience had gone. T-Bass was on its arse, SkinMechanix was out of ideas and Ion's fantastic new album, Future Forever, had tanked spectacularly. Then, as now, we took a break, found a whole new scene and the adventure resumed. This will be no different.
So, hang fire, folks. We'll be back.
Another busy few weeks pushing away at the new SkinMechanix album. I finally have a working title, Sirens, which is something of a major relief. The title has served up a set of mental images to play with and an overall theme to explore. Soundwise, I also have a rough framework for the album, a roadmap detailing where Sirens needs to go from here in terms of sound design, as well as the look and feel of the finished article. Similarly, this is a major weight off my mind.
Sadly, some of the tracks composed at the start of this project no longer fit in with that scheme but rather than throw them away I've decided to release them as a side-project, provisionally entitled Guitarzan. Most of these pieces have their roots in the early guitar experiments dating to 2016, as I was finding my feet with the new software packages, and whilst they're perfectly good tracks they just don't fit in with the master plan. Hence, another side project.
We started shooting a video for Sirens but ran out of time and opportunities. We'll start again as soon as the schedule clears a little.
I'll post a few new updates as and when something of interest appears. I really just wanted to let you all know that we're still alive and still hard at work.
I knew that this gig would be a bit of a challenge right from the start. There were several unrelated factors involved.
Firstly, I was testing a lot of new technology. Our existing live mixer was quite literally falling to bits. Having weathered around forty gigs since 2003 I knew with an absolute certainty that, sooner or later, it would die the death and probably at the worst possible moment too. Likewise, with most of my sounds coming from the computer these days, I decided that having to dismantle and transport my beloved iMac to every gig was a risk I no longer wanted to take. It’s just asking for trouble of the expensive variety, trouble that usually comes in the form of broken screens and knackered discs.
To address these issues, I added a Soundcraft Signature 12 mixer and a reconditioned Mini Mac to the rig. Bit of a risk but hey ho, that’s life. The gamble paid off because the two items worked wonderfully, both in isolation and in tandem. Neat, slick and very professional, the MiniMac and the Soundcraft mixer just came up in a matter of seconds, connected themselves and worked flawlessly throughout to set.
Furthermore, I convinced myself that our setup time, typically around an hour, had become a major barrier to doing more gigs. I borrowed a trick from Kraftwerk in that most of the computer hardware was bolted to a base board before we left the house and, as a result, our set-up time for the entire rig was just twenty minutes instead of an hour plus. That was a major win. In fact, we were up and ready to sound check before everyone else, which has to be an absolute first!
Secondly, I wanted to test out a whole raft of new songs. Tension, which is one of my new personal favourites, was nearly dropped from the set at the last minute because it sounded thin and under-developed. However, thanks entirely to a visitation from the Great God of Metal last weekend, we were left humbled and amazed by the new parts that just seemed to spring forth from nowhere. Surging atmospheres, huge chugging guitars and a melody that left me weak at the knees and in need of a Chocolate Hob-Nob. This is why I love music. You never know what might happen next.
Passengers was written just a week or so ago and came out of an extended session with Omnisphere. I love it because it’s a challenge to play live but equally very satisfying when it does work.
Sirens, which is the title track of the new album, was an older track which had just been given a fresh lick of paint. We were going to showcase the new video for this track but, sadly, ran out of time. Jenny and I also hastily improvised a set of lyrics, which was our first foray into vocal territory. Half-whispered/half sung, they add a strange and unusual dimension to the new SkinMechanix sound. "Vocals, eh?” I hear you instrumental purists mutter to yourselves... Look. It’s music. That’s all. We go where the music and the inspiration takes us.
On to the gig.
With the sound check sorted, we had to park the kit away at the side of the stage. That’s not unusual. However, moving it back into position just prior to the performance proved difficult. Somehow, my beloved EX5 keyboard slipped off its stand and hit the floor with a resounding slam. Thankfully, Yamaha used to build remarkably sturdy instruments back in 1999 and the EX5 was left without a scratch.
The performance was actually quite enjoyable, which is something of a new concept for me and one I’m not entirely used to. I put a lot of effort into rehearsals and practice sessions, particularly those tracks with difficult timing (Tension, Falling) and that seems to have paid off. I also put the tougher tracks like Tension and Space boy right at the start so that I was still fresh and full of bollocks, and not at the end when my energy is starting to flag. I also added “Wow!” right at the end because this track has consistently proven to lift an audience on every occasion we’ve played it in recent years.
However... by then… (and this is the tough bit) ... most of the audience had walked away.
We saw this last year when the headline act of the day were left playing to an almost empty hall and I thought that this was pretty rubbish actually. No wonder they looked less than pleased throughout their set although I felt that their response - to cut their set in half - was a little less than professional. Hence, the whole festival finished early by about thirty minutes. More so, our set had been cut short so that the whole event could stay on track and... suddenly there was half an hour to kill. That was last year. This year was no different.
I decided to soldier on.
Playing to a near-empty hall is no fun. There’s little or no reaction from the crowd because most of the punters aren’t familiar with the music. They don’t know where one piece starts and another ends. Also, there’s little or no energy to feed off. No communication and you need that energy or the gig is just flat. Finally, there’s no wow factor. Nobody to enjoy the spectacle. Like last year, I put a huge amount of effort into the visuals but my sympathies especially go out to Jenny, who put a massive amount of time, effort and expense into assembling an amazing costume only for maybe a handful of people to see it.
We did invite a lot of friends over social media but that fell to the curse of Twitter and Facebook. My theory goes like this. A Facebook invite requires little investment to put together and costs nothing to send. From experience, if something has no obvious intrinsic value then it’s just worthless junk and will be discarded in the same casual manner with which it was conceived and distributed. It should therefore come as no surprise that most of the message’s recipients simply disregarded the contents as one would disregard a chunk of worthless spam. Punters won't invest in something if the artist didn’t really invest in it in the first instance.
Consequently, we won’t send any more invitations out through Facebook or Twitter again, and those avenues will be converted to information-only outlets.
It’s not all down to problems with Facebook. Mark and Tracy, the organisers, spent a small fortune on publicising the event via fliers and advertising, and actually paid for the hire of the hall out of their own pockets. There was no lack of effort on the part of the organisers and frankly, they deserved better after months of effort.
We were especially saddened that only one of our immediate friends turned up (Thanks, Jane!). For the others? I guess the lure of the Metro Centre or the beach or the footie was just too powerful. Thanks guys. Goes both ways. Remember that.
In review, we enjoyed ourselves. Jules took some rather excellent photographs and Jenny’s dancing was, as ever, a show-stopper. Just a massive shame that so few people stayed to enjoy it.
What happens next? We keep going. This is what live performance is all about. Some gigs are crap, some are okay, and some are superb. This was okay.
As for me, I’m not hanging on to the negative vibes. Life is too short for that.
But I will state, quite openly and honestly, that one or two of my fellow musicians had best tread careful when they nag me to come to their own concerts. My response might not be what they were hoping for. :)
SkinMechanix are Headlining the day's events at the Never Mind the Ramones festival at Gateshead's Library on Saturday 19th August 2017.
The line-up includes poetry, folk music, the fabulous One Dollar Zombies and, of course, us. We're on at around 3 pm.
This has been a difficult concert to prepare for. We're all working full time and so connecting up schedules has not been easy.
In addition, we've been trialing a lot of new technology essentially to make the rig smaller and more compact. This has not been without issue. More so, some of the tracks are very recent too, one of which isn't even a week old and it's receiving its first live performance.
This is going to be a challenge.
SkinMechanix would have kicked off their Summer 2017 concert series with a small, private concert somewhere in Jesmond, Newcastle.
Sadly, the set was cancelled at short notice. No reason was given and no apology tendered. All we know is that someone, somewhere booked another entertainer without telling the entertainment team and we were, so to speak, given the Royal Order of the Bladder.
Hey ho... Such things happen in this line of work. Chin up and what have you...
SkinMechanix are delighted to announce that they will be appearing at the forthcoming Never Mind the Ramones IV all-day festival at Gateshead Central Library on Saturday August 19th 2017.