Through 15 years of existence, UK-based rock band The Darkness—Justin Hawkins (lead vocals and guitar), Dan Hawkins (guitar and vocals), Frankie Poullain (bass and vocals) and Rufus Tiger Taylor (drums, who joined in June 2015)—has maintained a reputation for staging charismatic live shows infused with nonstop energy, audience interaction and a degree of spontaneity.
Mix caught the band in Seattle at the Neptune Theatre in mid-October and spoke with veteran front-of-house engineer Andy Shillito, who has worked with The Darkness since early 2003, first as a monitor engineer, then moving to FOH.
During this recent North American leg, the band and crew relied on house-provided sound reinforcement, including P.A. systems, consoles (seeing mostly Avid and Soundcraft Vi Series boards), microphones and monitors. “We are carrying some lights and five vocal mics,” Shillito says. “For club shows I find it just as quick and easy to work with what is already there as it is to bring in a whole new system.
“We have two guitar techs, a rhythm section tech and an LD,” Shillito continues. “They are all excellent and experienced and work as a team. Things happen fast on a Darkness stage—so timing, awareness of everyone else, and confidence is everything. I EQ the monitors and supervise the stage audio environment before addressing the FOH situation. Although this sounds time-consuming, it’s actually extremely beneficial as I have control of, and—more importantly—complete knowledge of where any sound is originating from and behaving as it enters the room, venue or festival site.”
According to Shillito, the key to mixing The Darkness live is getting the instruments and the vocals “to sit together nicely. It takes me about half of the first song to get the mix where I want it. I never fight the crowd noise with volume; it creates too many issues and doesn’t sound nice. I mix at around 104 dB.” Shillito sends Justin Hawkins’ vocal through a BSS DPR-901 Mk 1 dynamic equalizer into a dbx 160. “I like to hear my compressors so I like his vocal to have attitude,” Shilito notes.
Shillito says that where he places guitars in the mix “depends on the size of show, but Justin’s is always up the middle and Dan’s is slightly panned when the situation requires. I don’t apply any effects—great musicians [are] giving me great sounds. I just make sure the right things are heard and that it all sits nicely.”