When Slipknot first em-erged from Middle America in 1998, the press had a field day with the fact that its nine bandmembers, with their surreal rubber masks and industrial coveralls, were from (of all places) Des Moines, Iowa. After all, their music, which has been described as an amalgam of the sounds of traditional metal, death metal, hip hop and L.A.’s exponentially cruel and ruthless school of new metal, definitely gives the finger to heartland sensibilities in a big way. So negative were the vibes from some fellow Iowans that the members of
Slipknot say they came up with the idea of wearing their grisly-homemade getups to maintain anonymity. Presumably the same is true for the alias number assignments 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, which translate respectively (and pathologically, Slipknot likes to add) to DJ Sid Wilson, drummer Joey Jordison, bassist Paul Gray, percussionist Chris Fehn, guitarist James Root, sampler Craig Jones, percussionist Shawn Crahan, guitarist Mic Thompson and vocalist Corey Taylor.
Slipknot’s rise to stardom is a classic Cinderella story, albeit a scarier one. The band (or “the family unit,” as they say) was originally formed in 1995 and quickly found a local following, which eventually led to their first album in 1996, the self-produced and disturbing Mate. Feed. Kill. Repeat. Within a year of the disc’s release, Slipknot was approached by several labels anxious to sign them up. Ultimately, the band inked a deal with Roadrunner Records through producer Ross Robinson’s I Am Records (Korn, Limp Bizkit) and packed off to Indigo Ranch Studios in Los Angeles to record Slipknot in 1997. This sophomore effort, which included “Spit it out,” “Wait and Bleed,” “sic,” “Eyeless,” “Surfacing,” “Scissors” and “Prosthetics” became an overnight success.
Joining the 1999 ozzfest summer line-up put Slipknot over the top. They say it was a dream come true to actually share a gig with two of its all-time favorites and early influences: Black Sabbath and Slayer.
By the time you’ll be reading this, Slipknot will be headlining the Tattoo the Earth tour, which launched on July 15 at Portland Meadows. Joining the band this time around are Sevendust, Coal Chamber, Soulfly, Nashville Pussy and Mudvayne. Self-billed as an “alternative lifestyle festival which combines top hard music bands with world-renowned tattoo artists,” Tattoo the Earth is “a passport to another way of living,” at least according to the tour’s promoter, BeatCo’s Scott Alderman. After covering the U.S., the tour will come to a temporary halt on August 6 at Birmingham, Alabama’s Sloss Furnaces before starting up again in Hasselt, Belgium, on August 25. Slipknot will also appear in England at the Leeds Festival (August 26) and the Reading Festival (August 27).
Slipknot’s sound reinforcement gear is being supplied by Thunder Production Group, the Grand Rapids, Mich., branch of Detroit-based Thunder Audio. Regular industry observers will instantly recognize the name of the Thunder Production Group’s manager, Paul owen. A seasoned veteran with 22 years of experience, Paul owen is probably best known as Metallica’s monitor engineer, a gig that has kept him busy since 1986. A native Englishman from Kingswinford, the 42-year-old audio gearhead and engineer is hardly a stranger to the colonies, having lived in both Minnesota and Florida before taking up residence for his latest gig with Thunder Audio on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan.
“I like Michigan,” he says of his move to the meteorologically malleable Midwest. “There is a distinct spring, summer, fall and winter here. It’s as seasonal as the P.A. business, you might say…This is the first time in my life I haven’t worked as an independent. In the past, I’ve always been the one telling sound companies how to do things. Now I’m on the other side of the fence. It’s a big difference really, but certainly not one outside of my range of experience. over the years, I’ve grown with companies like SSE, so I know how things are put together, packaged and made efficient.”
For the Thunder Production Group, making things efficient for Slipknot was a process, which began in earnest just prior to the band’s departure for Europe not long ago. That’s when Paul owen convinced the band’s FoH engineer, Eddie oertell, that he should try out a Nexo system while abroad. After using an SSE-supplied Nexo rig in the UK, oertell returned Stateside and instantly gave the Thunder Production Group a call to outfit him for the band’s next tour leg, which ran from April 5 to May 28.
Happy to comply with oertell’s urgent request, owen quickly assembled a Nexo rig for Slipknot using 18 stacks per side of the French manufacturer’s M3 mid/high boxes and B1 low/mid enclosures. operable from 175 to 19k Hz, each bi-amped M3 is outfitted with double 10s and a 3-inch horn assembly to produce a 35Degreesx35Degrees pattern. Conversely, a single 15 serves as the heart and soul of each B1. Six double-18 S2 subwoofer systems per side bring up the low-end, while Nexo’s TD controllers manage the task of routing and processing signals. For times when the system is flown, Nexo’s Crossbow hardware is called in.
“The Nexo rig works well for this band on a number of levels,” oertell relates. “First and foremost, you have to realize that there are nine musicians onstage, so you naturally have a fairly intense mix to deal with right there. Add to their sheer numbers the fact that this is aggressive, in-your-face hardcore music with a lot of samples, three drummers and seismically irresponsible amounts of kick drum, and the need for a P.A. which can accurately reproduce this huge wall of sound becomes even more apparent. The Nexo boxes have a way of managing it all from bottom to top. At the low end, we can drop down to 43 Hz with 140dB peaks to really move some air. Then, from the low/ mids, we can cross over all the way up to 19k with virtually the same performance. That’s really the meat of the system right there. I mix at FoH C-weighted between 115 and 118 dB totally distortion free, with no problems, hands down.”
“That’s one of a Nexo rig’s strongest attributes,” owen concurs. “It’s actually faultless from top to bottom. With many systems out there today, the high end and the mids are wonderful, then the low/mids and the subs fall apart. For those of us who’ve found that the flexibility of some line arrays is really not all that wonderful, there is Nexo.”
A total of 29 stage inputs are routed to oertell’s Yamaha PM4000 at FoH. For Slipknot’s headlining tour dates (before the band joined forces with Tattoo the Earth), oertell relied on an inventory of Shure microphones, including SM91, Beta 52 and Beta 58 models for drums and even a number of empty beer kegs in one of the percussion sections. Vocal mics were Beta 58s, and BSS DIs were used for bass, the DJ and the onstage sampler.
For processing, oertell is using the new D2 delay from TC Electronic. “I use it on really long delays,” oertell explains, “like haunting screams and whatnot which need to trail off considerably beyond their normal duration.” other effects devices at FoH include an Eventide H3000 Harmonizer and a Korg flange program for vocals on Slipknot’s hit “Wait and Bleed.” “I bring out accents on that song to duplicate the sound on the album by using a 50/50 mix of the Korg flange program and the H3000,” oertell explains. For drums, oertell’s reverb of choice is a TC Electronic M5000 while on vocals he opts for a Yamaha SPX990. Also in his rack are DN360s from Klark-Teknik and Drawmer gates and compressors.
Working at a Midas XL250, monitor engineer Kevin “Kevo” Moran joined up after Slipknot’s UK tour at the beginning of the year. Supplementing a Spartan assortment of processing, including his own K-T DN360s with Behringer gates and compressors, he serves up an earful to the band each night with the help of Nexo Alpha E Series components for drumfill and sidefill, and custom wedges from the Thunder Production Group.
While touring with Slipknot, oertell has found himself in just about every live sound situation imaginable, from theaters and clubs to festivals and sheds. “This system is very economical, compact and efficient,” he says of the Nexo system. “It has no problems-and I beat the crap out of it. Gear aside, if there’s any secret to mixing this group, it’s that you have to properly blend the two percussion sections with the drums. once I get the percussion to fit into the pocket, I use the drummer to accent it all; it’s sort of a tribal thing. That done, I make sure the guitars are on top, keep the vocals clean, and it’s there. Every element in Slipknot’s sound is aggressive. My job is simply to sort it out and make sure that everyone is heard.”