Crystal Ignite, Kvlts of Vice, and Mechanical Embrace at the Bald Faced Stag, 16/3/18

This blog was written for one of my uni assignments. See my previous blog entry for details. Without further ado…

Last night I returned to the Stag, for another round of heavy, guitar-based music. My main motivation for going was to see Mechanical Embrace. A while back, they’d been thinking about getting a female singer-growler like me on to complete the band, along the lines of something like The Agonist, and so I’d met up with them to talk about possibly auditioning. Only thing was, after listening to their demos, the producer in me became convinced that what they really needed was a male vocalist.
The other thing about this band, is that when they were looking for a drummer, I immediately suggested my friend Brad, who’s previously played in… more bands than I can recall, but my favourites being the now folded Acid Nymph and Foundry Road. So being friends already with the drummer, bassist, and one of the guitarists meant I was able to get some cool insights about why they made certain choices, the most notable on the night being the use of electronic drums (which I’m still a bit dubious about, to be honest).

So it was really cool to see the evolution of this band, having followed them from such an early stage, through to tonight’s performance. It’ll be interesting to see them continue. There are of course some kinks that need ironing out, as is the case for all emerging bands finding their feet, but the foundations are pretty damn solid. I won’t go into the exact details of what they could improve, but in general the notes I took related to the handling of audio type issues, and a couple of minor points relating to confidence. Other than that, it’s a tight performance. Not even a slipped guitar strap is gonna get in the way.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to see them again in another three weeks time, alongside some other bands I was following before depression stopped me going out. It’s not a lot of time for things to change much, but it is the same venue, and I imagine familiarity with the space will help. And I mention that, because one thing I’ve noticed about the Bald Faced Stag both this time and last time, is that the bass frequencies get out of control really fast. A band like Mechanical Embrace appears to be disadvantaged by the sound of this venue, because they use a low, drop A tuning, with two growly guitars. Contrast that with the next band, Kvlts of Vice:
These guys are an entertaining bunch! They’re well rehearsed, with a good sense of humour, they rock out on stage, and even though they’re not really my style, I found their set quite enjoyable. Can we just admire this synchronised headbanging for a moment?

And of the three bands that played last night, they easily had the best sound. At first I thought the contrast might be because they had acoustic drums, which did make a big impact, but I soon realised it was probably more to do with the bass frequencies being much more under control. (Sorry that the videos don’t properly show this, my phone decided it didn’t want to record bass frequencies anymore.) Some of this would be the bassist having his amp at a more reasonable level on stage, but it also helps that he was playing what appeared to be a standard 4-string, in a genre which does not rely so heavily on the lowest string. I did notice that the guitar sounded a bit more bassy than I thought it should, but with there being only one of him, and not so downtuned, it didn’t seem to affect the sound.
Contrast that with the final band, headliners Crystal Ignite. Compared to Mechanical Embrace, these guys are more hard rock than heavy metal, so I’m pretty certain they aren’t using the super low-tuned guitars, and yet they had possibly the worst bass problems of the night. This was particularly the case for the song they played just before I had to leave, about 40mins into their set, when the bass cut out and needed a quick rejig, returning with such a vengeance that I was not upset about having to escape to the bus. But what’s most interesting to me about that incident is that in the brief moments without that bass, the mix was absolutely fantastic! Still excessively loud, even with Class 5 earplugs, but balanced almost to perfection.

And it just made me remember a lot of my previous studies both in my composition degree, and my further studies into audio engineering. I couldn’t help but wonder about which factors were contributing the most to the problems I was noticing. It’s undoubtedly going to be a combination of factors, but apart from the previously mentioned possibilities about downtuning, number of guitars, and errors with amp settings, other factors could be sound engineer issues, venue equipment problems (someone was telling me they have subs under the stage now), and even the shape of the room. The room possibility interests me a lot – it’s a very box shaped room, with a height that seems similar to the width, and if it is a bit too square shaped, that could be causing issues for standing waves. I certainly noticed that moving around the room changed my listening experience a great deal. Although the face full of bass I received when approaching the barrier was more to do with speaker and amp placement than room shape.

In any case, I guess what I’m learning/relearning here is that the venue can totally influence your sound. Because it also reminded me of when I went to see Amelia Arsenic play at Hermann’s (Sydney Uni). I’ve never been a fan of that venue, but I came to understand why when Amelia brought a guitarist on board to play with her. To be blunt, it kinda destroyed her mix for me. I still enjoyed the show, but the sound just wasn’t what it should’ve been. This was made even more obvious when Snvff played later in the night, featuring only vocals, electronics, and drums. To my surprise, their sound was flawless. And that’s when I realised that every other time I’d been there, I’d seen bands with guitars, and for whatever reason, that venue just didn’t play nicely with them. Hopefully it’s changed (or my memory of past experiences could be wrong), but I realise now that the only way I’m going to know is if I go back and see more shows there. Anywhere I plan to play a gig someday, I should go experience being in the audience, so that I know what to expect, and can hopefully learn to make the best sonic decisions to work with the space.

Back to Crystal Ignite though…
Hurrah, finally one of the bands last night had a female member! And as the front person! And she seems incredibly passionate, particularly in her rant song about the environment, though I did scratch my head over a couple of comments she made in that speech… Anyway, as excited as I am to see talented women getting up there and doing their thing in the midst of this male-dominated subculture, I can’t help but linger on a few things that bothered me, other than the bass problems.

1. As I mentioned last time, I really do feel that bands should have a bit of consistency in their on-stage outfits. Sadly, this band is lacking that. They were also less unified in their on-stage action, compared to Kvlts.

2. As event organisers, I felt they shouldn’t have kept pushing the start times back in the hopes of more people turning up (particularly given the venue is probably experiencing boycotts after the promoter scandal). Mechanical Embrace had already started 15 mins late. And then the changeover time between Kvlts and Crystal felt excessively long. Audiences don’t wanna have to stand around waiting. Indeed, I had to leave in time to get my two buses home, and by pushing back the times, I wasn’t able to enjoy as much music as I could have.

3. It was distressing to see mic cupping even outside the growlier genres where it’s an established but unfortunate stereotype. Her general mic technique was also a bit strange, pulling away on certain notes so that they disappeared into the mix. I suspect that with her incredible background as the singer of Bellusira, she may have learned that for a particular kind of stage, given they played some very big gigs when they were active. But in the comparatively smaller space of the Stag it seemed unnecessary, and at times, detrimental. She was also the only singer to seem to have a lot of feedback problems, whether that’s to do with her technique, or the mic just being far too loud.

4. It may also have had to do with her use of in ear monitors, which in this size of venue are also kinda unnecessary and another layer of things that can (and did) go wrong.

5. I was not impressed with the way they handled talking to the sound and lighting engineer. Of course, if things aren’t right, you need to say something, but don’t call the engineer “buddy” (unless you already have that relationship), try to learn their name before you go on, and don’t sound like you’re blaming them. In the case of the in ear monitors, she made it sound like it was the engineer’s fault, only to have an audience member point out that her end had become unplugged during her energetic dancing – no apology given to the engineer. Add in the calls to have an audience member take over the lights, and I was just mortified. You’ve gotta have some respect for the technical staff who are making your performance possible, no matter how big a star you think you are. Having been on both ends of this relationship, it’s one of those things that really gives me an eye twitch.

To end on a positive note, however, one thing I did like that I didn’t see other bands doing was running the end of one song into another. Sometimes you do need to pause between songs to allow for guitar tuning changes and so on, but if you can keep the flow going, it really helps to keep up the energy. That’s especially true for singers like me who are never sure what to say between songs! And it also helps stop you from having to resort to the stereotypes that get mocked in YouTube videos…

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