It only takes one word to describe the electronic-funk blend that is Sound Tribe Sector 9: energy.
I caught up with STS9 on a Wednesday night in Urbana, IL, steps from the University of Illinois' campus. The capacity crowd at the Canopy Club started dancing and didn't stop moving for nearly 3 hours - an amazing scene for a band that has worked hard to fill rooms like this one solely on the merit of their live performances.
Sound Tribe Sector 9 (originally only "Sector 9") was founded in 1997 in Snellville, GA, by Hunter Brown (guitar), Jeffree Lerner (percussion), David "Murph" Murphy (bass), David Phipps (keyboards), and Zack Velmer (drums). The band moved to the San Francisco area in 2000, quickly grew a devoted fanbase, and gained a reputation for stellar performances and top-notch musicianship. Their shows wouldn't be possible without some inventive technology - relying heavily on Apple Powerbooks, Digidesign Pro Tools, and sampling software such as Reason to make the live show happen. I sat down with keyboardist David Phipps and percussionist Jeffree Lerner to talk about how STS9's technologically innovative show evolved.
Starting Out ModestlySTS9's keyboardist, David Phipps, said, "The best piece of advice I can give is to grow organically; start out small, and gradually build out on what works best for you. If you've got a computer made anytime in the last 10 years, chances are you'll be able to start creating music right away for free with what you've got."
STS9 started small and has expanded: first, laptops running Reason; then a PC running a Digi 001 interface and Pro Tools. The most recent addition is a Digidesign MBox. Now, each band member (with the exception of drummer Zack Velmer) uses a Powerbook during the live show to add samples, loops, and anything else that comes to mind. They've even found a few unorthodox uses for their laptops, using software to alter the sound of acoustic instruments. Said Phipps, "One thing I'm experimenting with is using Native Instruments Guitar Rig; I'm running a Wurlitzer through it to get some sounds I never imagined I could get.
The band's interest in technological innovation also reaches into their home recording setup. Percussionist Jeffree Lerner said, "We've spent the last couple albums recording our parts on our MBoxes and then editing them together in one Pro Tools LE setup. Unfortunately, we were limited to working within the 32-track limits of Pro Tools LE, which was difficult with as much as we've got going on." The band now owns a 192-track Pro Tools HD system, renting a communal workspace to record in. "What we were lacking for so long was a communal space," says Phipps. "That's one of the biggest challenges of home recording, having a space that can reflect the creative collective of a band. We just now, in the last 8 months, have been able to have that space to work together from the start. But we've still got our individual spaces to start our ideas in."
Continue on to part 2, "Putting It All Together."