by David Fowler
For all its glory as an annual music festival, the Vans Warped Tour is a great measure of trends in live music. This past summer was kind to the keyboard, which found its way onto almost every stage and into almost every genre.
I spent the summer on the road with Warped playing keys in my band Echo Movement. The tour was its unusual self: a thriving community of inventive musicians, each with a unique take on technology, performance, and often life itself. I was a proud daily witness to millions of notes, lots of sampling and some interesting vocals, but my ears were fixed on the synths and the creative people behind them.
Here’s a look at the keyboardists and their gear onstage at Warped Tour 2012. Scroll past the slideshow for descriptions of the rigs and quotes from the artists!
Scott Vandrey (a.k.a. Blaze) – Ballyhoo!
Nord Electro 2.
“For our style of music (rock/reggae/alternative), the Electro 2 has all the sounds I really need and they all sound fantastic. The B3 and Leslie emulators are top notch in a small package, the acoustic piano sounds great, and I use the Wurly a lot as well. Eventually I’ll probably utilize the MIDI functionality with my MacBook Pro that I already have set up for my turntable rig to gain a little more versatility as far as lead sounds.”
Miranda Miller – Cherri Bomb
“The keyboard I use onstage is really awesome for finding, creating, and experimenting with different sounds. It’s really easy to use once you program your sounds into all the banks on the keyboard, which makes it useful for live shows. Those are my two priorities: amazing sounds and accessibility.”
David Fowler – Echo Movement
Nord Electro 3, Korg Triton LE, Quik Lok two-tier keyboard stand, custom pedal board with Ernie Ball Jr., Boss DD5 (delay), two M-Audio SP-1 sustain pedals.
“The Electro 3 is brilliant for its B-3, Farfisa, and Clavinet. I use an insert cable to wire the Ernie Ball as an expression pedal. It controls the wah feature on the Nord’s Clav, which is topped with the built-in Twin amp modeling. The Triton is great for its bright piano, which is both a staple in reggae and necessary to cut through a seven-piece band. I fabricated my pedal board from sheet metal, which sits on top of the ground bars of my keyboard stand. That way, the entire rig can be picked up as one piece. I wire everything offstage and get a friendly hand to help carry it up, making my stage setup and breakdown time under one minute.”
Timothy Oshai Madrid – Funeral Party
First generation MicroKorg, MicroKorg XL (both run through a Moogerfooger), Korg Kaoss Pad, and Vintage Time Machine pedal, an On-Stage double-tier stand, and a vintage metal power-tool case to house/disguise the pedals, which doubles as a flight case once the show is over.
“My setup was originally determined by availability. The first MicroKorg I used belonged to Chad Elliott, Funeral Party’s singer, but he threw it and destroyed it because it deleted his patches. We came up on another somewhere, and I added the MicroKorg XL to the setup. I began fiddling with different pedals I borrowed from our bass player. I use the Kaoss pad to create sweeps and white noise, and to trigger loops and samples. I strive for technical economy, which matters greatly, especially when you’re playing festivals. No one likes to be that guy.”
Bill Prokopow – I Fight Dragons
Alesis Q49 controlling Chipsounds Standalone VST, RockBand game guitar (as MIDI controller), NES Advantage Pad, NES Standard Controllers, NES Power Pad, Super NES, MacBook Pro running VLC Player, Steim junXion, Native Instruments Battery 3, and Plogue Chipsounds and a custom built control center.
“The IFD Control Center 2.0 was created out of the desire to use old video game hardware to play the 8-bit sounds that are featured on our recordings. All the controllers (NES, NES Advantage, Power Pad, SNES, RockBand guitar) are converted to USB inputs, where they enter the computer as HID devices. Using Steim’s "junXion", each controller button is mapped to a MIDI note, which then passes to Battery to trigger the samples taken from the recordings. Actual keyboard parts are routed into Chipsounds, a great program that emulates a host of old video game sound chips.
After a few years of experimentation, my main instrument has come to be the RockBand guitar. By utilizing some simple programming to take note of where the “pickup” switch on the guitar is, I’ve increased the available buttons on the guitar from 7 to 21, in that there are three different pickup positions possible, so switching between different pickups I can make the buttons control different sounds on the fly.”
Jamie Oliver – Lost Prophets
Vestax VCI-300 and VFX-1. Akai APC-20 with M-Audio ProFire 610 interface, a 61-key semi-weighted MIDI controller, 15" MacBook Pro running Ableton Live, Reason and Serato Itch.
"Having moved gradually from 100 percent hardware Vestax turntables and an Akai MPC2000 XL over the past 12 years, I’ve opted to reduce the weight and size of my live performance to add freedom and flexibility for fly-in shows. All my gear fits into current check baggage limitations. Also, resampling from Pro Tools has allowed me to reduce the pressure on my computer’s CPU. For the most part, my setup is just a glorified Akai MPC and almost entirely sample-based. And the technological progress by Vestax has given me the ability to continue to be creative with turntable techniques."
Josh Balz – Motionless In White
Roland Fantom-G6, Proline keyboard stand
“I’ve used a few different keyboards throughout the band’s career, and the G6 just fits me well. It has programming capabilities, and I think the best part is, I can create my own sound from scratch so I can have patches that no one else has. I’m thinking about bringing a second rig out on the next tour for more MIDI things, but for now the G6 is all I need. P.S. to Roland– you should make the 61 keys weighted!”
Kamryn Cunningham – Oh No Fiasco
Yamaha MO8, Nord Lead 2X
“I use my MO8 because it’s a smaller stage version of the Motif, and I have to have weighted keys, considering I’m a real-piano-feel kind of guy. It still gives me full capability of MIDI as well as a more toned-down editing/mixing system. It’s older, but gets the job done. I use the Nord Lead 2X for the more arpeggiated ‘electronic’ sound. Also, I love [virtual] analog. When you turn a knob, stuff changes, no ‘files’ involved. After all, who doesn’t love turning knobs?”
Phil Ferguson – Skip the Foreplay
M-Audio Oxygen 69, Native Instruments Maschine, Roland Fantom-G8
“I used the Oxygen 69 as a simple MIDI controller at Warped, but I threw it off the stage after the last song of the last show, so that might be the last time I can use it. I plug it through the Maschine controller, where my patches are set and I could easily change sound during a live show. I also use my G8 when I need more classic sounds, such as piano. The G8 is the best one I have used for the realistic play of it. I use a custom made stand to have all my gear the way I want.”
Spencer Garn – The Constellations
Nord Electro 2
“I’ve used the Electro 2 since about 2006. It has been trustworthy and that’s why I brought it on Warped Tour. I keep it in a hard gig case and use an Ernie Ball Jr. as a volume pedal inline between the keyboard and the amp. It’s a simple, quick setup. I stand while playing, and keep the Nord on top of the hard case on top of the keyboard stand. No throne equals less gear.”
Ikaika Antone – The Green
M-Audio Key Rig 61, Roland Fantom-G6, Ultimate Apex stand, custom pedal board with Boss RV-5 (reverb), Boss/Roland RE-20 (Space Echo), Voodoo Lab Pedal Power Supply Plus 2, M-Audio SP-1 sustain, Roland DP-2 sustain.
“I’m pretty stoked with my setup. The Roland Fantom G6 makes splitting and sampling super easy. Our bass player B.W. recorded live horns in the studio and we were able to sample them right to a performance patch on the Fantom. It’s amazing! It even has harmonies. It makes my job easier and I have my own horn samples that no one else has.”
Matthew McEwan – Tomorrow’s Bad Seeds
MicroKorg, Korg M50, Yamaha Sampler, all linked into a Korg Kaoss Pad. Everything is kept live in a Gator case.
“I built and put this rig together before the Warped Tour, because I knew the importance of an easy setup, and the tour etiquette of making sure all bands get their fair share of change-over time. Having the least amount of cables to wire each day of the tour seemed most efficient. I use this setup to play synth parts such as pads, and also to cue samples, and I’m able to manipulate synth patches with the Kaossillator. Hopefully I can add to this station to make a synthesizer and keyboard live dub station."
Eric Scullin – Troy Harley
Roland Gaia SH-01, Mogami cables, Proline stand
“I play the Gaia with Troy Harley because it’s the perfect synth for his set. It’s an expressive digital synth that’s reliable and has everything I need, from aggressive synth bass tones with a lot of depth, to haunting chime bell tones. It’s solid, has a good interface, and since I’m switching between keys and guitar a lot, the small size and easy setup make it great for the road.”
Nathan Cogan – Taking Back Sunday
Nord Electro 3, On-Stage Pro Double X Stand
“For Warped 2012, I primarily used the Nord Electro 3. The organ and piano sounds on this board are both unmatched by any other keyboard I’ve played live. There’s an amazing amount of tonal flexibility, which you can quickly and easily adjust with the press of a few buttons. This is a huge plus when I am also playing guitar and don’t have time to fumble through a bunch of presets in the middle of a song. It really is a great instrument.”