Okay, so you’ve got yourself a sweet name, a set of suitably difficult songs to play and even more difficult to listen to. You’ve gained 94 ‘likes’ on your page, and someone in Kenya has watched your YouTube video?!
You all have – pretty hard to maintain – enthusiasm for the genre, even despite the fact ‘CoLoN99’ commented ‘U r sh1t nd u shud kil urselfs bros lol’.
Congratulations! Level 1 has officially been unlocked.
The set seems all tight and rehearsed. Even that new song that the drummer messes up at the exact same part, every. Fucking. Time. It’s ‘dum-dddd-dum-d-dah-d-dum-d-dee-snare roll triplet, then cymbal trap’. How could you possibly make it any clearer than that?! (Don’t lose sleep over it though, it’ll be alright on the night – you hope). You’ve even printed the set lists off in Tahoma 18. You mean business.
Now to get a gig…
…Anyone?! Math rock band here with a lust for complication. Any other math bands out there?
I’m afraid you are most likely going to have to begin playing with bands that certainly aren’t math. In fact, they might make Coldplay sound like Don Caballero, and their fans (parents/boyfriends/girlfriends) will not enjoy you. Or at least not enjoy the 15 seconds they actually endure before retreating to the bar with their fingers perched in their ears and pint precariously trapped between forearm and chest.
You see, there is a fine line in math between enjoy and endure. You have to fully expect that your first few gigs to basically be rehearsals, but to a disinterested soundman/woman. It’s a fact.
And the venues… Well they might resemble the inside of a Whale’s scrotum, but smaller and smellier.
Chances are at these early gigs, you won’t have yourself a van. So you’ll need to find alternative ways of getting your equipment to the gig. I’ve taken stuff on the bus before, which isn’t fun for anyone involved. Especially if you’ve got a huge amp and about two foot of space down the aisle. Most likely you’ll go in two cars, as we did most often, which makes it especially entertaining as you try to fit an Ampeg 6×12 rig into the back of an old Vauxhall Chevette.
This is where you need to be frugal in what you take, and check with promoters and other bands as to what you can use. There’s no point in taking your entire drum kit and backline, only to use another band’s and leave yours blocking half the back room and, more worryingly, the only fire exit in the venue.
Talking as I did earlier of disinterested soundmen/women – getting the sound right in math rock is imperative. It’s so complicated and intricate that you do not want a messy, shitty sludge pouring through your monitors – if you have any of course. So, if you’re lucky enough to get a sound check and monitors then it is better to be a bit picky at that stage, rather than end up with a wedge that sounds like a bassy blender full of tungsten tip screws the very second you kick into your opening number.
If you’re a guitarist or bassist then stand out front as you sound check – you’ll have a much better idea as to how the audience will hear it. And for the love of Christ, please soundcheck one at a time. Seriously, there’s nothing worse than the trying to check the guitars whilst your drummer does the intro ‘My Sharona’ and your bass player is playing ‘Billie Jean’.
Having given all of that advice, I have, in the past experienced great, clear and spacious sound during sound checks, only to start the gig and it suddenly sounds like a satchel brimming full of actual toss. So perhaps don’t listen to me. I think ‘sound people’ hated me.
“Remember this fact: Nobody in the history of gigging has had an average first gig. It’s either the best thing ever, or soul-shatteringly shite.”
Wear ear plugs! Seriously! I cannot stress this point enough! Your ears are pretty fucking important, and there’s no worse feeling than getting back from a gig with the sound of smoke alarm screaming in your ears, then realising you haven’t put new batteries in yours for years, and that sound is, in fact, irreparable damage taking place. I purchased some slightly more expensive plugs from a music shop, as the foam ones constantly fell out of my ears mid-set and rolled conveniently under the bass drum. Just bear in mind that ear plugs do make things sound pretty different. So requesting more high-end on your guitar, when the audience are practically hearing a dog whistle can become common place.
You’re bound to feel a little nervous. So, I recommend a couple of pints before the gig, but then that’s that I’m afraid. With math rock you need to concentrate like a shitting kitten. Seriously, nobody wants a bass player who can barely stand, and is now stumbling around the stage seeing an eight string, two necked bass beneath them, and has twice kicked into a song that’s not even on the set list. In fact, you’re not entirely sure it even exists?
The difference between a good gig and a proper ‘Hindenburg’ can be approximately two pints of Carling. Be warned.
(You may perhaps be given a rider packed with cases full of beer at gigs later in your journey, as you become more established. This can be an utter unadulterated disaster, and will be covered in the later chapter ‘Touring In Your Math Rock Band’).
There is a high chance that your songs may be considerably faster at gigs. I was pretty guilty of letting adrenaline and excitement get the better of me, and songs suddenly turned from pleasant plods, into expert level Dragonforce on Rock band. Try as hard as you can to stick to the correct tempo that you’ve rehearsed.
Remember this fact: Nobody in the history of gigging has had an average first gig. It’s either the best thing ever, or soul-shatteringly shite. So to help you, you can refer to this section with your own personal experience after your first gig for advice:
A) “Honestly, it was the worst gig ever! I wanted the earth to open up and Satan himself appear and drag me away for a one-on-one appraisal, followed by severe punishment.”
Don’t panic. It takes time, and let’s face it, we are our own worst enemy. So your guitarist was drinking his pint when you did that count in? Who cares? Your drummer fucked up again on that same part we spoke of previously! How can you miss a cymbal trap so spectacularly?! No one probably noticed, and if they did, they actually don’t really care! These people have never heard your stuff before, and yet you’ve heard it a million times! So, guess who spots the mistakes and spends too long ruminating over them?
B) “Seriously mate, it was the best gig ever! The crowd loved it, we were fire innit, and it was so much fun and we played dead well and…”
Woah there captain! I’m so pleased for you. There are not many better feelings than nailing a gig – especially if it’s your first gig ever with a new band! Use this confidence wisely. Get more gigs in as soon as you can. Keep practicing! Don’t rest on your laurels. Plus, it’s worth checking with your other band members as to how they think it went. Trust me, I can’t tell you how many times it appears one of you played well, and yet the others felt they were awful, and vice versa. The Holy Grail is all of you believing you played well. That is rarer than a St. Mirren shiny in a 1994 Panini sticker album.
Things at gigs can, and probably will go wrong: Broken strings, snapped drumsticks, catastrophic amp malfunction, strap breakage, disconnected guitar pedal, spontaneous combustion. I can go on. Have a continuity plan firmly in place: Spare guitar/s tuned ready on stage. Drumsticks in a reachable position. Strap locks firmly on guitars, Spare leads and straps and a fire extinguisher.
“If a band turns up without their breakables then frankly, they shouldn’t really be in a band at all, to be perfectly honest.”
Ok, maybe not a fire extinguisher. The venue should provide them. They probably won’t at the establishment you’re playing though. Oh, and pack gaffer tape! You can fix pretty much anything on this planet with gaffer tape. I’m being deadly serious.
Also, I recommend putting strips of white tape across the tops of your amps so you can write your exact settings for every dial. This is especially vital if you’re lending anyone your stuff. Not doing that can render a sound check pretty pointless, as the sound will be completely different come the actual gig.
Talking of lending stuff: drummers, do not lend, under any circumstances, your breakables! (Cymbals, snare, bass drum pedal). Trust me, they will get broken or damaged. Stick to lending hardware (cymbal stands), but only if you must.
If a band turns up without their breakables then frankly, they shouldn’t really be in a band at all, to be perfectly honest.
Also, guitarists/bass players, keep an eye on bands that are borrowing your amps. Cabs are ok to lend as this relies on them bringing their own heads, but valve amps can be very temperamental, and the last thing you want is someone pushing their shitty sound through at a ridiculous volume and blowing the whole thing up.
Another common issue at gigs can be ‘the kick drum shift’. Playing on a non-carpeted floor can be an absolute nightmare. The little spikes on the kick drum legs are rendered useless, and despite starting the gig tucked in the shadows at the back of the stage, your kick drum will end up halfway between the bar and the toilet after the first song. If you have room in your vehicle then I’d recommend bringing a drum carpet/rug, even if it is a cheap affair from Wilkos (other cheap shops do exist), it avoids constantly chasing your bass drum around the stage, like a huge, round, disobedient puppy.
Please, for the love of buggery, purchase yourself some good chromatic tuner pedals. Boss do their famous white ones, that I’m pretty sure would survive a nuclear blast, underwater, from within. Seriously, I know math rock can be discordant and difficult to listen to a times, but make that a musical choice, and not a catastrophic tuning error. A good song can be rendered totally toss if one, or more, of the guitars is awfully out of tune. Or one of you has forgotten to tune down to drop C# and has taken two minutes to realize.
Drum key! Pack one. It’s useful for tweaking the heads to avoid resonance that you might suddenly have on your drums, that causes the PA to feedback after every single hit. Pretty common with a poorly tuned floor tom. Just don’t tweak anything on a drum kit that isn’t yours. This is very rude.
Once you’ve finished the gig, make sure as a support band that you pack down your equipment as quickly and efficiently as possible. Don’t bugger off out the back and bicker about that 7/4 part you messed up, whilst the guitars feedback like an old dial-up modem in the background, for dramatic effect. If you’re on a four band bill (or more) then time is absolutely of the essence. If the band on before you are packing down then wait for them to finish and vacate the stage before you set foot on there. Don’t stand there unpacking your 24” ride cymbal whilst knocking over the guitarist’s full pint of lager sat next to drum riser.
“The important lesson here is to not become disillusioned by ill-attended gigs in poor venues. You need these. They battle harden you. They prepare you for those gigs to 40 people, much later in your career.”
If your band is instrumental then this is statistically the most likely stage of your career to hear the following phrase:
“Is your singer ill or something?”
Or the classic:
“Your vocalist needed to go up a bit in the mix, I couldn’t hear them?”
As much as it’s very tempting, avoid punching these people in the eye, and simply smile politely. They probably enjoy TOWIE – That’s punishment enough.
Chances are you might have no merch to sell at this stage, or very limited amounts. You probably won’t sell any anyway at your first few gigs. Unless of course Uncle Keith – relation to the guitarist from the main band – fancies reliving his misspent youth, when he was a super fan of The Scorpions. (Ed.- We realize it’s just Scorpions. But that’s a shit name. The Scorpions is better and how everyone refers to them anyway.)
The important lesson here is to not become disillusioned by ill-attended gigs in poor venues. You need these. They battle harden you. They prepare you for those gigs to 40 people, much later in your career. Nobody walks straight into a gig at Wembley Arena. To be fair, no math bands at any point in their career will expect to walk into Wembley Arena and play. Unless of course Little Mix lose their shit and book Delta Sleep to open their next UK tour.
If it makes you feel any better, I once did a catastrophic gig in Telford many years ago with an old band – (we weren’t even that mathy). We went on-stage straight after England had been knocked prematurely and predictably out of a major tournament, and proceeded to be physically threatened by a gaggle of mouthbreathers, who’d positioned themselves menacingly close to the stage, throughout our now much shortened set. And to top the whole experience off, the promoter later accused us of stealing a leather pouffe.
So keep playing and searching for bands in a similar vein. Don’t become disillusioned and stay positive. Even if this seems nigh-on impossible.
Put your feelers out and contact similar sounding bands that perhaps require a tour support nearby. It’s the best way to get on a scene with likeminded promoters and bands, and get yourself heard by those that will enjoy you. Not endure you.
Make sure at the end of the gig that you do an extensive sweep of the venue to make sure you have got absolutely everything. What I’m saying is don’t leave without your pedals, which get picked up by one of the other bands, who then mysteriously never saw them all night.
Oh, and by the way, try not to need the toilet for anything more than urination in these venues. It’ll be like that pipe scene from The Shawshank Redemption.
That was a little too real. I don’t have any zingers for you this week. Next time, it gets real-er, as Daz helps you navigate the minefield that is explaining your band to coworkers. Until then, wash off the feeling of awkwardness and failure with You Slut! on bandcamp.