I took about 5 weeks this spring on hiatus from work as Retronyms' Associate Design Director and joined up with Australian EBM project AngelTheory to do a North American tour. We were the traveling support act for Seattle-based future pop outfit Assemblage 23, touring the country in a cargo van and hitting 30 cities/dates. This video montage that Charles published is a good introduction to AngelTheory and our experiences on the road. The AngelTheory blog and YouTube channel also have more videos and content to take a look at.
The basic set-up of the show, since we were preparing from afar with little practice time, was running backing track playback and then me playing synths over top, while Charles did vocals and worked the crowd. To do this I was originally considering Ableton Live with which I'm reasonably comfortable as a tool, but at the last minute I made the decision to go with Propellerhead Record which combined both audio tracks for easy playback (linearly) as well as the Reason instrument devices with which I was already very familiar. It made it easier to playback with prepared and rehearsed gaps without the need to toggle between apps to change instruments or trigger audio -- this was crucial as I was running it all on a new MacBook Pro and wanted to avoid any mishaps or crashes.
The scene we toured within is one that I used to be a part of in the 90s -- vaguely affiliated with goth-industrial culture with some crossover into other areas of electronic music. So in a way this was stepping back in time for me into a scene I'd more or less abandoned, and it was interesting to see how it had changed and how much it had also stayed the same. The fashion show will always be a part of that scene -- inevitably there are at least a few (if not many) people who show up with the goal of being seen in full regalia more than listening to the music. But for each of those people so keen on the image of it all there was at least one or two people who came as they were so to speak -- casual clothes and there as either curious onlookers or genuine fans of the bands.
The shows ranged from wildly successful to lukewarm. Los Angeles in particular had an impressive turnout around 800 at Das Bunker. Most of the larger cities such as New York City, Chicago, San Francisco and Orlando had a substantial crowd (probably between 300-500) but others had a much smaller turnout. Numbers of attendance were not necessarily corresponding to the crowd's energy level; in San Francisco, for instance, our response from the crowd far exceeded that of L.A., even though it was a crowd less than half the size probably.
It was an interesting experience seeing a lot of areas of the U.S. I'd never been to, especially the southwest desert states like New Mexico and Arizona. I hadn't spent any time in the central south, either -- Texas and Oklahoma for instance. However, that said, despite the wild cultural difference between various places (comparing for instance, just a few days apart, our experiences in Raleigh and Philadelphia), because this scene is somewhat insular and based around a particular look or style or sensibility, there was often that common thread at each show... we weren't showing up to play some random themed bar or event, these were all very targeted shows to a fan base that ought to be receptive.
I met a lot of nice people along the way and also played with some great local acts. Ctrl out of Austin were quite good synth/dance-pop and Alter Der Ruine in Tuscon made really excellent up-tempo electronic party jams (for lack of a better description). Having taken a long time off from the more typical industrial-dance genre personally, it began somewhat novel and fun to hear screaming electro-industrial music again, but after a month of loud PA systems and pummeling music I could safely go without ever hearing another one of those tracks. There is only so much processed screaming and 140 bpm pounding drums I can handle and I think I hit my limit about 2 weeks in.
Something else I gleaned from the experience is that it is a strange balance of stress and tedium to travel so much and play so many gigs. I now fully understand how full-time touring acts end up with significant substance abuse problems. I am not trying to be cheeky by saying this, either... it is such a drawn-out process of scrambling to get on the road, sitting tediously in a van for several hours driving, scrambling to get into a venue and soundcheck, then tediously waiting for hours to start, performing (the highlight of the night), then waiting for the night to wrap up, then scrambling back to the motel with all of our gear, etc... there is a science to it that we mastered within a week and that made the stress end of it minimized, but the tedium of all the driving and waiting was persistent.
The guys I traveled with were wonderful company, though, and made the experience really special for me. When you have 5 people in close quarters 24/7 practically, getting along is crucial and we had a very good, easy chemistry. Charles (AngelTheory) and I go way back, but the Assemblage 23 crew and I had never met before, and so it was refreshing that we all hit it off so well. They are continuing the final stretch of the tour in my absence (with Paul from A23 filling in on synth duties for me) so check the schedule at http://www.assemblage23.com and check them out if they are in your hometown over the next week+!