A-Trak Glows in the Dark

Posted on Dec 11th, 2007 in Live by A-Trak

WARNING: THIS IS A LONG POST!

Time to dust off the ol’ pad and pen. It’s the return of Alain Blogovitch. Web-Trak 2.0. Did ya miss me? I know, I know, my online chronicles took a severe dip in 2007. But I just finished the European leg of the Glow In The Dark tour with K-Dub and I simply had to let the ink pour. It’s now or never. Walk with me.

We’ve done a couple of Kanye shows since the new album dropped, but the official tour only started with this run. Whole new show, new band, new set, new stage design, new lights, new visuals, new catering. Nu rave? Almost, with all the neon-ness.

I'm being abducted!

Every show we did in the last 2 years was basically an extension of the Touch The Sky tour, so we’d been looking forward to reinventing the whole shebang-a-bang for a while. Kanye hired a new artistic director from the UK and for weeks he’d been showing me renditions of what this crazy stage was going to look like, with the crystals and the 14 foot-high costumes for the orchestra and the giant elbow pads and the illuminated jackets. They told us we were going to rehearse in Sheffield, actually between Sheffield and Leeds, in fact closer to Glasshoughton and Castleford, in the general vicinity of bum-fudge nowhere, England. This was where the stage was being built. We had 5 days to come up with this whole new show. So we flew there, and basically… on the evening of our arrival we got the tragic news about Ms West. Out of respect for Kanye’s privacy I’m not going to speak on this too much. I’ll just say that we all miss her tremendously and that I admire the strength that Kanye displayed in the last few weeks. He decided to keep working, so we toiled away for 15 hours a day preparing for these shows, and truth be told we never even ran through the whole set from beginning to end. We spent what little time we had just coming up with the material in segments and before you knew it it was time to head out to Paris for the first concert.

Here’s a few pics from the rehearsals.
Visuals.
Going over the set list.
This is actually a lighting rig:
This controls lights!

I made a pit stop in London for the Fool’s Gold vs Get Familiar party at Fabric. Shout out to Shaun, Graeme and Belinda for making this thing happen. Seriously, the line-up was so good that it was just impossible to catch all the acts. There was a line around the block, Kid Sister rocked it in her blue tights and that show yielded yet another picture of me on Mehdi’s shoulders. Isn’t that what DJ’ing is all about? That party ended at 5am, and at 7:30 I was on the Eurostar riding back to Paris. If you know anything about France, you know that it’s constantly crippled by strikes. City of Lights? More like City of Strikes! (Sorry.) This time there was no public transportation. Not to say that we really ride to these Kanye shows on the subway, but I’m just pointing out that the city was a mess, I was on an all-nighter and we were doing our first show without having ever ran through the whole thing. So, to be honest I have no idea how that show went. Apparently it was good. But what I remember most from that performance, aside from “Hey Mama” of course, is really feeling like I was fighting just to pull the whole thing off. That’s the only way I can describe it. Combat. It’s a really intricate set, I’m using new gear and even though there’s a whole band with us, 90% of the cues depend on me.

I mentioned a band. There’s drums, guitar, bass, a ton of keyboards, vocoder AND talkbox and a stripped down string section. In typical Kanye fashion, during most of the set these guys are there to accent the tracks that I’m playing. Most of the time they’re holding back, despite the state-of-the-art gear. I mean, the drummer had a gong, 2 timpani, cungas and every percussion doodad imaginable, plus a drum set worthy of Spinal Tap. When’s the last time you saw a gong at a rap show? But I digress. Call me selfish but I was mostly excited about my new set-up. Instead of running the show simply on Serato with 2 turntables, I was running both Serato and Ableton Live on my laptop. I had the Akai MPD-24 controller for Ableton (the one that looks like an MPC) and the Rane 57 mixer for Serato with — gasp — only one turntable! Oh and a Kaos Pad for effects. The tracks now run on Ableton so everything is all cued up and color coded, and it’s all assigned to pads so I never have to touch the keyboard for either program. I’m also using the Akai joint to control filters, beat repeaters, time stretchers and other effects, and triggering the Daft Punk vocoder samples and Chris Martin’s chooped up hook. I use Serato for my scratches of course, for some other vocal hooks (often running through distortion) and a couple of transitions.

The new set-up!!
gong.

Anyway that was the Paris show. We were graced with the rare presence of those shiny robots that Kanye sampled and a few delegates of the Ed Banger Crüe. After the show we all went to dinner and Busy P put me on to some sort of almond syrup while Kanye tried to remember Guy-Man’s name. And at the wee hours of the morning we got on the tour bus and headed to Brussels. I woke up at 4pm in the bus, got out and seriously thought I had traveled through a wormhole to the set of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video. That’s just because the backstage area of this venue was all cement walls covered in old graffiti. The Brussels show went a lot smoother, from our point of view. And from that point on… we entered the tour bubble. The shows got tighter, we worked out the kinks at sound checks and we spent 2 and a half weeks on a tour bus performing practically every night. On one hand I was thrilled to finally have this new set to perform and to feel challenged again. On the other hand it felt like I was stationed away in the army. When you’re sleeping half your night in a hotel room and the other half in a bus, and your only time to communicate with the outside world is at these venues between sound check and dinner and the shows, it really feels like you’re on another planet. But as always with these Kanye tours the performances are just bonkers. Pardon the cheese but it really feels like I’m part of the best show on earth when I’m up there. And to be able to add my personal touch to this show, to put my little stamp on it, especially with the new set-up, is why I do this.

Look at this “before & after” shot:
Before
After.

Most of the 10 shows that followed Brussels are a bit of a blur now in my head. They were all in the UK and Ireland. I do remember some highlights. London was at the famed O2 Arena (the old Millenium Dome), and that show was on Thanksgiving so we had a little group dinner with everyone before the show. We ate turkey. It was cute. I’m Canadian so it’s all strange to me. I also remember that the monitor board exploded that afternoon. Our show in Bournemouth was right by the beach. That’s another strange awakening right there, when you walk off the bus and you’re like “water?”.

Right outside the Bournemouth venue.

A few cities later we put the whole bus on a ferry to go to Dublin and played in a circus tent. Boy that was cold.

The ferry to Ireland
Dublin circus tent
Cold in Dublin
Home of Guiness!

Jay-Z came to the show in Manchester and came out on stage right after “Big Brother”. Our tour manager held up a piece of paper on the side of the stage for me to read: “Jay-Z after Big Brother – PSA – Encore”. After the show Hovi has some kind words for me, something like “they told me you’re good, but tonight I really saw it.” And then I was like “aw man Jigga, you’re swell! Put ‘er there, pal!” Maybe I didn’t say that last part but he did say his.

Kanye & Jay-Z:
Kanye and Jay-Z!

Finally we had a rare day off in Glasgow, the last city, and the whole tour party did the only logical thing: we went bowling. My score was a respectable 66.

Scottish Frosty
Arcade!
Common bowling:
Common blowing.

Laugh all you want. I’m back in New York now, but not for long. We’re going to Nigeria on a private jet in 2 days.

Now enjoy a whole bunch of more pictures!

Band meetings:
Band meeting in London
Another band meeting with Kanye
Living in dressing rooms:
Everyday life in the dressing rooms
Backstage living, starring Spanky
Jeff - another late night at the venues!
Another “before & after” shot:
Optimus Prime
Smile for the camera
If the Jetsons had a string section:
What is this, the Jetsons?
String theory
Space Trak:
Space Trak
Quintessential England:
Get your hog roast
Yep this is England
My favorite catering name!
My favorite catering name!
Goodbye Europe…
Goodbye Europe!

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