TECH-TALK: Roel Van Espen (Vive La Fête)

Posted on 27/11/11

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TECH-TALK: Roel Van Espen (Vive La Fête)
We live in an era where music is produced on computers with programs as ProTools / Logic / Cubase / Reason / Ableton Live / ... Some artists prefer analog synths above digital, some stay their whole career loyal to the same brand. Nowadays keyboards and technology became much more easy to use and cheaper for the masses.

Our interviewer DJ Wildhoney had an exclusive talk for Side-Line with some of the most important musicians of the electronic scene about the gear they use to compose songs and to perform live on stage. From today on we will publish every day a new interview with such bands as The Neon Judgement, Vomito Negro, Wumpscut, Pouppée Fabrikk, Monolith, Vive La Fete, Frozen Plasma, Haujobb, etc. Step with us into the studio of your idols and discover how your favorite tracks were produced and which equipment was used for it! How cool and interesting is that?

Roel Van Espen plays keyboards in Vive La Fête since 2006 and is also active in Raul D'Jam (as Raul de Jamonez), Zuppastar and Elysian. The "French touch electro-rock band" has built a new studio recently and is currently writing on a new album.

SL: How long ago did you buy your first keyboard ever? Which technology did it use and do you still own it?

RVE: The first keyboard I bought was a Korg Polysix, somewhere in the eighties. It was one of the first polyfone synths that were not too expensive in those days. I remember the "Ensemble"-effect was great fun and totally new for me. Those strings... waw! It's a shame I don't have this keyboard anymore... I once didn't turn it off during the night, so the circuits inside melted! In those same years, my brother bought one of the first affordable samplers: an Ensoniq (Mirage, I think). It was a revelation for us: you could sample for even more than one second! My brother bought it second hand, so it had already a lot of nice samples inside. I remember the guitar sample from Yes ("Owner Of A Lonely Heart"), ugly but also kinda cool. I used the sample in almost every song I made in those days. It's a good thing those 4-track tapes are buried deep under the ground now.

SL: Which computer(s) and software do you currently use in your (home)studio?

RVE: I use ProTools. I'm still obliged to do this on a pc, as I use FL Studio as a great plugin within ProTools (for drums, virtual synths, ...). Until now, FL Studio is only available for pc. Hopefully it will be available for Mac soon (they are beta testing it right now), then I can finally switch to Apple. I already use Logic on my Mac, but that's mostly for dj-stuff or as a backing track. For recording purposes, ProTools works fine for me. So why change?

SL: Can you describe all synth gear and hardware you use nowadays? Which piece is the most valuable for you?

RVE: Real synths: some old but cool Casio's, Access Virus, MicroKorg, Roland SH-32, Roland RS-09 (just for one great synth/organ combination sound), Roland Juno-G and Roland Fantom X6. Also great: my Moog Big Briar Etherwave Theremin, but soooo difficult to use... I also have some keyboards I never use anymore, like a Roland D-10, a Yamaha IDontEvenRememberWhatItIs, ... I always experiment with guitar effect-pedals on synths. I have quite a lot of those, going from distortions to talk boxes. Maybe the Casio's are the most valuable for me, but still... In fact, my guitars and basses are more important for me. Virtual synths: I use several Moogs, Oberheims and Kurzweils, Sytrus, Yamaha DX-7 (in fact I hate this one, but still), TS-404, ...

SL: When performing live, which keyboards and software do you use on stage?

RVE: When I'm playing with Vive La Fete, I put all sounds in two Akai samplers that are activated by two MIDI-keyboards. On top of that, I use a Roland Juno-G. The Akai's are very reliable, but quite heavy. We travel a lot by plane, so they are not the best ergonomic solution. Therefore, we are now thinking of changing to Ableton Live. We already bought the software, but I still have to stress-test it and make sure there are no problems with latency and so on. In my other band, Zuppastar, I combine guitars with synths. Most of the time, I use the small, easy-to-transport keyboards like MicroKorg (especially for the vocoder), Casio, ... I'm also going to buy a Nord Lead for using live. When I play guitars, I use Logic as a backingtrack. I used to work with two Fostex D-80 8 tracks, but a small MacBook is much easier.

SL: According to your opinion, which are the most legendary synths ever produced? Some examples: Yamaha DX-7, Korg M1, Roland Juno, Roland Jupiter, Roland D-50, Oberheim OB-8, Moog Minimoog, E-Mu Emulator, Access Virus, Kurzweil K2000, Quasimidi Sirius, ...

RVE: I would say the Minimoog. It's a cliché, but just listen to those great bass sounds!

SL: And which are according to you the biggest synth artists/bands ever?

RVE: New Order, Depeche Mode, Anne Clark, Kraftwerk, Front 242, The Neon Judgement and - oh yeah - Jean-Michel Jarre.

SL: Share with us the worst case scenario that ever happened to you live on stage or in the studio!

RVE: Sampler crashes happen sometimes in very hot an humid clubs, or outside festivals in tropic countries. Humidity is a killer for those things: if my hair is starting to curl, it's time to start up the back-up sampler. But most of the time, the embarrassing moments are a result of myself and not of my gear.

SL: The unavoidable question: do you prefer analog or digital synths more? And what's your opinion about the virtual analog concept?

RVE: I see the mix of digital (the ease) and analog (the warmth) as the best synergetic combination. Use the best of both. We shouldn't be too nostalgic about those old analog dinosaurs. They look and sound absolutely great, but sometimes they are so crappy: detuning most the time, no presets or save-button, heavy, not always reliable, ...

SL: Isn't the digital technology evolving too quick and becoming too complicated for artists nowadays? Today you discover a new instrument and before you have time to explore it completely, an improved (and cheaper) successor is already available...

RVE: In the past, the evolution of technology was a good thing for every musician. When the first synths were born, they were very diffcult to use.
All those cables and stuff! It was totally not easy to create a great sound in 1-2-3. Especially if you didn't know the meaning of e.g. a sawtooth or a VCO (Voltage Controlled Oscillator). Thanks to technological evolution, almost everyone can use synths nowadays. Just push the button and there you go. That's good but also bad, listen to all those "so-called dj's" conquering the world with some Japanese presets. It's not my ambition to follow or discover all those new technologies. I'm happy with the stuff there is. We still use guitars and drums that haven't changed since the sixties, so why bother about the most modern keyboards?

SL: How will the future of creating electronic music look like?

RVE: I'm a big fan of combining styles: rock with new-wave, electro with punk, etc. Hopefully artists will go on with mixing several styles and creating new musical worlds. Electronics will never dissapear, but rock will neither, and that's a good thing!

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New Vive la Fête album 'Produit de Belgique' produced by Jo 'Technotronic' Bogaert
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Vive La Fête to release best of CD '10 Ans de fête'
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