The Friendly Fires recently performed a riotous â€˜homecoming' gig in their native St. Albans, turning the austere civic centre of Alban Arena into a party venue. The show was sold out within a week, and with just an 850 capacity (1,150 standing) FOH sound engineer Richard â€˜Bars' Barling would have been grateful for
the compact footprint of the Soundcraft Vi6 digital desk through which to mix the band as would Colm 'Meado' Meade down in Monitor City. The two Vi6's were supplied by SSE Audio Group, which has supported the band since Bars' introduction to the rental company by sound engineer Rampton. Harman's UK distributor, Sound Technology Ltd., sold the Vi6's to SSE Audio Group.
It was an emotional return for the trio, led by Ed Macfarlane, and their rare brand of dance-oriented music with an indie pop feel, featuring tracks from their eponymous, Barclaycard Mercury Prize-nominated 2008 debut album.
The band mix up the dynamics within a â€˜retro disco' lighting stage environment created by Mark Video — swapping instruments and ensuring Bars would need to call on the versatility and rapid access of the Vi6's surface.
Delphic were the support band on this occasion — but along the way Bars has led many support band engineers around the desk, demonstrating just how easy the Vi6 mixing system is to come to terms with.
“Previously we couldn't have taken the support band's show file — as you could only isolate on a scene. But with the V3.0 software, we can now load up the show file and the desk's isolate button works; I can save all the masters and the other engineer can load up his own file easily.”
Like a number of sound engineers, his first exposure was to the prototype version of the desk at the Mean Fiddler three years ago. “Although it didn't have the Lexicon and BSS FX loaded on at that time, I was urged by the resident engineer to try it out and could see then how easy it was to understand after just a ten minute run through. Instantly I could also hear how good the preamps were — and wherever I have used this desk since I have known I could depend on that warm preamp sound.”
Working extensively at Vi6's in venues such as KOKO and the O2 Academies, he progressively got hooked on the Soundcraft platform.
“The FX are great,” he says. “The gates are accurate, the reverbs fantastic and the compression is great — really transparent. I have three reverbs going on — including a Drum Plate and Vocal Plate — a long tap delay and sax delay.”
Bars also works extensively with stereo groups. “I find using stereo compression on groups on other digital desks a pain because you have to cycle through pages to get to the compressor parameters; in fact on some digital desks you can't actually do stereo group compression at all.
“I also love how there is a graphic and parametric EQ on all outputs of the Vi6 and I save loads of time not having to programme everything.”
With the Friendly Fires the standard channel list is around 28 inputs — but this can rise to 35 when they get into their Brazilian vibe (with carnival dancers and percussionists). All the backing tracks are run off a Pioneer CDJ — but Bars hopes to convert to hard disk in the future.
The Vi6 has been configured for fast response and maximum access, with features like the Gang function and Copy & Paste proving a huge benefit to the engineer. “I have copied all my input channels into the library so I can easily move them around anywhere on the desk.”
AES-EBU dual/split inputs and channel sharing are other advantages, saving a lot of the surface space, as is his use of board's last screen. “I can select what I want from the eight banks of faders; I have all my channels on the first layer and FX on the second layer down but by touching the last screen can flip my FX up with my channels. You can then see what every channel is doing at a glance without filtering through layers.”
Richard Barling has been working with Friendly Fires since coming across the band while mixing Fear of Flying (now White Lies) and a one-off with the Noisettes during a War Child benefit at KOKO just over two years ago. A few weeks later he was recommended to the band.
A feature of the next production tour will be the multitracking of every show. “I have already done a recording with the 64-channel optical MADI out on the Local Rack and it's so easy.” He will also be using Virtual Soundcheck having seen it used successfully by another band during the Lollapalooza festival in the States.
Lead singer, Ed Macfarlane, says: 'It puts my mind at ease knowing that Bars has the ability to attain a great sound efficiently and rapidly — especially in festival situations. The Vi6 gives him the freedom to be creative with effects without wasting time scrolling through menus. It has become an essential part of our live show.'
And Richard Barling sums up by saying, “I'm so happy with this desk that it's the only console on my Friendly Fires tech rider. It just seems to make me mix so much better.”