Moonshine OveramericaCOULD 30,000 KIDS BE WRONG?Back in 1997, Moonshine Music president Steve Levy noticed that the DJs and artists on his label were almost constantly traveling all over the world to perform. Recognizing that interest in electronic dance music was increasing substantially in the United States, Levy realized he could promote his acts and label simultaneously by putting his artists out on tour together. The result was the Moonshine Overamerica tour.
For the last four years, the Moonshine Overamerica tour has been an overwhelming success. This year's Listen.com-sponsored tour visited 22 locations in the U.S. and Canada in five weeks, and every show sold out. Unlike conventional rock tours, where the talent lineup generally remains the same from beginning to end, each Moonshine show featured a slightly different roster, consisting of three to eight acts. In total, 14 artists participated in the tour, with the band Cirrus and DJ Carl Cox logging the most miles. D:Fuse, Micro, Dave Aude, Dieselboy, John Kelley, Keoki and DJ Dara performed at least eight shows each, and Christopher Lawrence, AK1200, Charles Feelgood, Misstress Barbara and Frankie Bones also took part.
By far the biggest show of the tour was the concluding stop at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Here, the Moonshine Overamerica show was just one component of the Monster Massive, a huge event featuring five separate areas and a wide range of DJs from all over the world. More than 30,000 die-hard ravers and dance music fans attended the event, enduring three- to five-hour waits in line to get in, extensive searches and the rather heavy-handed presence of the LAPD. Once inside, fans with enough stamina could dance until 6 a.m. the following morning.
The Moonshine artists - John Kelley, Cirrus, Carl Cox, Christopher Lawrence and Misstress Barbara - performed in a large "circus" tent set up in the Sports Arena's parking lot. The tent's sound system, which the Monster Massive promoters rented from an L.A. sound company, consisted of two stacks, each consisting of nine Cerwin Vega speaker cabinets - a combination of Prostax PS-215B and PS-15 SII enclosures - driven by an array of QSC power amps. Because Cirrus was on the bill along with the lineup of DJs, the sound company also provided a 32-channel Behringer Eurodesk MX3282A mixer for FOH.
"We don't tour with our own sound system, although I would like to," says Cirrus' FOH engineer Ken DeSantis. "Because this tour consists primarily of DJs, either the venue or the promoter is responsible for getting the equipment that we need and setting it up by the time that we get there. The clubs and theaters we've played at usually have their own in-house systems that are dialed in, but we've also played at several unusual locations, such as in big, open fields, abandoned warehouses with concrete walls and floors, or in a tent, like we did in L.A. As a result, I get to know the sound companies in every town pretty well."
Cirrus provides the promoters with a rider that spells out their requirements in detail. "I request a touring-quality board with at least 32 channels, such as a Yamaha PM4000 or a Crest, Midas or even a good-old Soundcraft mixer," says DeSantis. "We also require a full monitor rig that includes a separate console, stage wedges and side-fill monitors. We require more than a normal DJ does. Since most event promoters aren't used to working with live bands, I have to do a lot of groundwork ahead of time to make sure that they understand what we need.
"The main problem is trying to educate promoters and DJs as to what the band's special requirements are. A lot of times my rider looks like Japanese to them. They don't understand what the different types of mics are for or why we need effects processors or EQs for each channel or even why we need a monitor board. They also don't understand that we need to do a soundcheck when we get there and that there's a lot of work involved before we're ready to go. It's not like setting up a couple turntables and a DJ mixer."
Cirrus does not travel with a monitor engineer, and they usually ask the sound company to provide someone to run the band's monitors. However, the sound company failed to provide a separate monitor rig for the L.A. show, so DeSantis ended up running Cirrus' monitor mix and FOH simultaneously. To make matters even more difficult, the mixing console was set up on the side of the stage, because the sound company wasn't allowed to run the snake cable across the floor area in the tent due to the hazard of dancers in the audience tripping over it.
"I had to do a lot of the FOH mixing that night through headphones," says DeSantis. "That's not what I prefer to do, but I used to do that a lot in the band's early days, so I'm used to it. Anyway, it ended up sounding pretty good. The whole show was pretty much a seat-of-your-pants ordeal. We got into L.A. late, so we couldn't change the setup, and because we were in a tent, they wouldn't let us turn the sound system up to full volume for very long while we were doing soundcheck."
Although the requirements for DJs on the tour were not as extensive as Cirrus', they had a different set of challenges to contend with. In addition to providing the house sound system, the promoters were also responsible for supplying a DJ rig of two to three turntables, a DJ mixer and side-fill monitors. While the DJs could count on finding industry-standard Technics SL-1200 MkII turntables in the rig, they often encountered a different mixer and monitor setup every night.
"The biggest challenge is getting accustomed to the monitors," says Christopher Lawrence, a DJ who specializes in trance and progressive house music. "DJs don't get soundchecks because generally we don't need them. All the sound company needs to do is hook up the turntables to the mixer, and as long as they've got a clean stereo signal coming from the mixer to the sound system, that's all we need. However, you only have about three minutes before the last guy's record ends to get accustomed to the monitors and how the sound on the floor will affect you. You don't have a lot of time to get your shit together."
Unlike a live band's performance, where the resulting sound is a collaborative effort between the performers, monitor engineer and FOH engineer, DJs act as a combination of all three. As a result, they have three sound sources to contend with simultaneously: the main house system, the side-fills onstage or in the booth and the headphone mix while they're cueing up records.
"I always turn the monitors up really loud," says Lawrence. "There's often a delay between the music coming out on the dance floor and what I hear in the monitors or over my headphones. You have to stay really focused while you're mixing - all it takes is one split second to lose your focus, and you could end up listening to the wrong set of hi-hats when you're trying to cue up the next record. All of a sudden you're cueing up off the sound from the dance floor, and all hell breaks loose!
"The optimal monitoring systems for DJs is having monitor speakers on the left and right side," he continues. "The mixer should have separate volume controls for the monitors, and what would be nice, but you rarely ever get, is having separate EQ controls for the monitors. A lot of venues that aren't used to working with DJs just give you a couple of crappy monitors. They don't realize that when you're mixing records, it's really important to be able to hear the bass, mids and highs. Different records have different-sounding kick drums, and unless you can hear the sound distinctly, you won't be able to make the records blend together. A lot of times promoters provide monitors that sound really shrill or distorted, and that makes it extremely difficult to mix, because you have no idea what the records really sound like."
Every DJ brings his or her own set of preferred headphones. Lawrence uses a pair of discontinued Sony MDR-V6 headphones, which he prefers for their excellent frequency response and ability to provide a clean, undistorted signal at loud volumes. "A lot of headphones designed for DJs have really heavy bass," he says. "When you turn up the volume, that bass just becomes a big farty sound, and you can't hear the records clearly. The bass response in the MDR-V6 isn't too heavy, and the midrange is really clear."
The biggest variable that DJs on the Moonshine Overamerica tour faced was the mixer. For the Los Angeles event, the sound company provided a Rane MP2016, a 6-channel mixer based on the legendary, discontinued UREI 1620. Lawrence says that most DJs require a mixer with a minimum of three channels, 3-band EQ for each channel (not just the master outputs), gain controls for each channel, a prefader level meter for matching the gain of a cued record to one that's playing, output meters, and separate volume controls for the monitor outputs and headphones.
"Sometimes I'll be mixing on a different mixer every night for a month," says Lawrence. "There are a lot of good models out there, like the Pioneer DJM-500, the Allen & Heath Xone mixers and some of the top-of-the-line Vestax mixers. I actually prefer Numark mixers over a lot of the other mixers out there, but you don't always have a choice. Some promoters think that DJs can get by with any old mixer with two input channels and a crossfader, but a lot of mixers have crappy components that distort the signal no matter what. They think we're just playing records, but there's a bit more to it than that."