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“The mixing desk is an instrument”: Rick Smith’s new L500 takes centre stage

"It’s an instrument. It’s absolutely an instrument right at the heart of the stage…”

Dance pioneers Underworld have chosen a Solid State Logic L500 console as the latest ‘instrument’ for their live tours. The L500 joins one half of the band, Rick Smith, on stage, allowing him to combine “old-school dub mixing techniques with the best in performance technology”.

Last year was the 20th anniversary of the release of Underworld’s groundbreaking third album, dubnobasswithmyheadman – a milestone celebrated with a remastered release of the album (half-speed mastered by Miles Showell at Abbey Road) and a European tour which saw Smith use the L500 for the first time.

When playing live, Smith (pictured) uses a wide variety of dynamic mixing techniques – cuts, solos, automation snapshots, faders, effects, etc. – and says of the mixing desk: “It’s an instrument. It’s absolutely an instrument right at the heart of the stage…”

On his use of the L500, he says: “There are new ways of working with dub, and with arrangements, that are possible with this console. You’ve literally got seconds and everything has to happen so fast – very different from front of house. The [L500] is just an extraordinary thing, and extraordinary for what I know we’re going to do with it over the next couple of years as well… we’ve just started.”

The console has a number of operating options, including the main touch screen, fader tile encoders and the channel control tile. Smith chooses to work with “all of the above”, noting that the experience can be different for everybody: “What’s wonderful is that one has the choice to be able to operate in whatever way pleases you.”

“I’ve always had a craving for touchscreen on stage in all sorts of areas,” he continues, “so I find that quite straightforward. I’d say sometimes it’s really nice to turn to a rotary encoder when you’re working with a compressor or EQ or an effect; other times it’s absolutely beautiful to tap a button and draw, pinch, extend, you know…? These are quite nice words to use when you’re talking about EQ.”

Smith says he spends anywhere between six months and a year preparing for Underworld live shows, and so was “as careful in choosing the console as any professional touring musician would be in choosing their instrument”: “The mixing desk is an instrument, and is at the heart of what Underworld can and can’t do on stage. It was tricky because I knew I was looking for a console that was going to sit in a performance aspect on stage as opposed to purely front of house.

“Very quickly it became [obvious] – everything about [the L500] started to slot into place: the capabilities of it, the idea of SSL… It made me feel confident about something that I knew would take me some time to explore.

“There was real joy when we started to use it. Everything we plugged in, I felt it just sounded better…

“It’s taken me probably about seven or eight years to make any fundamental change to our live set-up, and here is this thing which is at the heart of it now… The potential of it is as important to me as what we are actually doing right now.”

Smith is now exploring using the L500 in his studio set-up.

View SSL’s full interview with Rick Smith in the video below.