You can Run, but you can't hide — They're back again, Run DMC live at Hammersmith. Old Fogey Jim Betteridge covers his ears
BAND: RUN DMC
VENUE: Hammersmith Odeon
DATE: September 13, 1986
I was once invaded by some strange alien virus and for days suffered a raging fever with a temperature of 104. It was sometime in my late teens and I was just opening up to the vague possibility of me being plugged into technology as well as music, and somewhere in that aberrated state the two areas became horribly confused. For about 48 hours I was more or less delirious, and I somehow lost my sense of how things really are, falling into a world of frenetic circular thought that hammered on and on without rest, without meaning, with a malevolent mechanistic insistence. I tried to work out a Blues scale on my calculator, struggled with the cube root of Cmin7 and became obsessed with the height of an octave. Until finally I burned out and emerged into the blissful stillness of my normal waking state.
Why do I bring this up at the beginning of a PA Column? Because my nightmare has found form in the everyday. Because an art form has come into being based on the mindless and fruitless obsession with mechanistic details: who's gonna do what, with what, to whom, when, why, how and which way up it's gonna be. But the crux of the whole thing is no-one ain't doing nothing, nowhere, with anyone, they're just making a lot of noise not doing it, drawing crude lineees around the lack of content. All pretence with no foundation.
It's stunning how similar to Heavy Metal it is. Where our HM heroes might tell tales of Burning up the Night, or Rock'n'Rolling Through with no concern for lyrical or musical content or communicating the actual nature of what they are alluding to (my experience suggests that generally they actually mean drinking lots of alcohol, smoking lots of dope, watching the telly and telling fart jokes), our Hip Hop counterparts go crashing on even less tunefully in insupportable self-praise, claiming to hold such unlikely positions as the 'King of Rock' or 'The One and Only':
'Gonna rock around the clock
you can't say I'm not
and in case you forgot
I'm the King of Rock.'
I mean, what's to forget? But, and here's the clever bit, they make it rhyme! Brilliant! They make the words at the end of each line end in sort of the same sound! It's extremely clever, I wonder how they manage to do it. I suppose it helps that the combination of the words doesn't necessarily have to embody any trace of meaning. It appears that meaning is now to be found in the act of stringing together lines that end in vaguely similar syllables. There's also a connection between the HM and HH genres in their mutual obsession with everyone (with the marked exception of their Royal Selves), being 'Mother Fuckers', and ritualised use of the words 'Shit' and 'Fuck'. This must surely be the musical equivalent of anal humour. It can be funny for a few minutes, but then you need to relax a little or it becomes like clubbing yourself over the head. Fundamentally unpleasant.
Speaking of which, I went to see RUN DMC at Hammersmith Odeon the other night. I couldn't find anyone to go with me and so when I picked up the tickets from the box office I gave one of them to this bloke who was having a hard time accepting they were sold out. In what I assume to be an effort to express gratitude, he started talking to me. I gave him my full attention. The words were English, the accent was a familiar London one, but there was no sense in it. I furrowed my brow in concentration and listened intently to the man's utterances — but nothing. Pure babble from the sick bed. It was just a random conglomeration of word-like noises that tumbled forth painfully for about nine seconds before he sprang off awkwardly into the crowd leaving me with a strange sense of being present in a Zombie film, surrounded by half-conscious one-time-humans who had long forgotten that once these noises actually meant something.
And so we all gathered in the auditorium to be fed more of the same in ritual form, accompanied by obscure disco instrumentals and the scratching of deejay, or emcee, or whatever — Jam Master J. A couple of chords over a repeating bass drum and snare pattern with precious little relief. Tedious stuff.
As PA Columns go there isn't a lot to say about the gear on stage: a couple of Technics turntables and three Nady radio mikes for RUN DMC and the man behind the Technics. The system was supplied by Roadstar, and was almost identical to the one that graced the same stage a couple of years back for a Eurythmics concert. That, as I commented excitedly at the time, was a great concert and a really excellent sound. Interesting, then, to come face to face with Roadstar engineer Spike under such different circumstances. He looked a little strained as he related to me the difficulties he'd had with the tour.
The band's engineer, though seemingly a nice enough bloke, was a little inexperienced as far as live sound goes. He had been the band's driver back in the States and when they heard that he'd had some studio engineering experience they asked him to join them on the road, and he's been with them ever since. All through the concert Spike was rather unceremoniously barging into tweak eq's and restore an almost reasonable gain structure in the desk. This was the worst sound I'd heard at the Hammersmith Odeon, and it's extremely unlikely that the fault lay with the system that had performed so well with the Eurythmics. Part of the problem was that the performers were showing a definite lack of mike technique, cupping the bulb of the mikes in their hands and then bellowing full force into the resultant enclosures. The distortion was dreadful and wasn't helped by the tendency to want everything to be ear splittingly toppy. Jam Master J had his own preamp/mixer for his desk and was also apparently a bit keen on the old HF controls. Add to this the continual screeching and whistle blowing of the crowd and your eardrums start to go unstable.
The FOH desk was a Midas Pro5 32:8:2, going through a stereo 1/3 octave Klark Teknik graphic and three-way BSS crossovers to drive Yamaha power amps. At stage level the system consisted of:
4 2x15 'W' bins (JBL) to 250Hz
4 2x12 flares (ATC) to 1.6kHz
3 2" JBL compression drivers on a combination of 2350 radials and crinkle plates to 3.4kHz
4 1" JBL compression drivers with 2370 90°x40°bi-radials
8 JBL bullets (passively crossed over)
In addition there was a flown central cluster consisting of four 2x15 W bins and four of Roadstar's new all-in-one mid-high cabinets containing:
2x12 JBL with 44° wooden flare
1 2" JBL compression driver with a 2370 90°x40° bi-radial
1 JBL2345 with a 2370 90°x70° radial
2 JBL bullets (passively crossed over)
The auxiliary rack contained a Yamaha REV-7, a Roland SRV2000, a couple of Drawmer gates, a pair of two-channel dbx 160 limiters and a stereo Klark Teknik graphic for overall system correction.
For five minutes it was an interesting confrontation, then it was boring, then... a girl in front of me was eating a short scale ice cream, in Cmin7, cubed. Oh no!
Feature by Jim Betteridge
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