Synthfest UK 2016 Report
WRITTEN BY: Tony Miln
UPLOADED: 5th Oct 2016
** UPDATE! WE’RE COMING BACK TO SYNTHFEST FOR 2017. BIGGER, BETTER, VINTAGER! The line up & exhibitor list is superb – find out more and book tickets HERE. **
Saturday October 1st was the inaugural Synthfest UK show at the Octagon Centre in Sheffield organised by Sound On Sound magazine as part of the Sensoria festival. Incorporating manufacturer/dealer displays and a modular synth meet, this was a celebration of all things synth, appropriately-located in Synth City.
We headed up the road with a big stack of Soundgas gear to take a stand at our first full-scale show. By Friday night we were all set for the following day with a veritable smorgasbord of sonic delights; our star attractions being the magnificent Maestro USS-1 atop a pile of echoes [Quelle surprise – Ed]; flanked by two classic synths – the pristine Elka Synthex we’re selling on commission (coming to the site in the next few days…), and one of our vintage Minimoogs.
On the morning of the show, the Synthex – which had been on fine form the previous night – got a bad case of stage fright and refused to make a sound for the rest of the day. Not the best of starts, but it proved a good talking point, especially when James Walker lifted the lid and gave an on-stand Synth Repair demonstration.
Right from the start we found ourselves besieged by an enthusiastic crowd eager to check out the sonic and visual delights on the stand. Most asked us whether anything was for sale (many stands at the show were displaying people’s own modular/vintage set-ups), so we figured next year some labels and prices might be a good idea. The Ult-Sound DS-4 Custom drum synth was one of only two pieces not for sale and was widely-admired, but we’ve regretted not having one around every time we’ve sold them in the past, so this one’s staying put. The Hawk HE-2150 open reel echo also drew a lot of attention and sounded as good as it looked.
Our two exclusive products proved very popular – the incredible Clouds Hill Floppy Disc Delay won over more than a few people who marvelled at its unique features and sound. We had a couple of BoredBrain Patchulator 8000 mini patchbays interfacing with our various vintage pieces and on our pedalboard with pedals from Gurus and Dawner Prince, and of course featuring the impressive T-Rex Replicator which we’re delighted to be selling. The Patchulator 8000 is a no-brainer for a modular set-up offering a convenient and compact way to interface between quarter inch jacks and minijacks.
All five of us were kept busy throughout the day with the odd break to quickly to check out the other stands which housed some truly head-turning gear. From massive modular systems with a mind-boggling jungle of multicoloured patch cables to dealers displaying the latest hardware synths via all manner of quirky, unique and inspiring stalls selling/demoing and allowing much hands-on fun. I was inevitably drawn to the University Of Huddersfield’s stand displaying one of their two(!) EMS VCS3s – who said it was Grim Up North?
What I was most excited about, however, was the chance to finally play the new Minimoog Model D which Source Distribution had brought along. Jo and I managed to sneak away from the mayhem of the Soundgas stand for a brief chat with Jonathan Burrows of Source and for me to get a first play with the new Mini. I’ve been very spoilt for Minimoogs, having spent the last few years mostly playing freshly-serviced earlier Minis dating from 1971-1975, most of which have still had their original oscillator boards. The first impression was that the new Model D looks and feels like an original Minimoog: the build quality is reassuringly-solid and familiar. There are immediately-noticeable differences – new switches and knob caps that feel, well, new (duh!). The sound is brighter and (ahem) newer to my ears. And there’s a couple of extra switches that I heard a purist or two decrying, but I feel Moog have carefully trodden the fine line between adding features you’d expect to find in a modern synth and retaining the looks and charm of this stone cold classic.
I found the oscillators weren’t too well calibrated, but this was understandable – this Mini has been travelling and being demoed hard – the room’s windows were wide open at this point with colder air wafting in. All I had to do was nudge the tuning a little more to bring them into line. As I only had a couple of minutes, I recreated a favourite patch, initially finding it a little harsher than on our current vintage Mini (which has a later oscillator card) – this was quickly alleviated by a tad more filter cut off. A couple of further tweaks and I was grinning happily. The journey’s different, but you can reach the same destination with the new Model D, and I feel it is worthy of that hallowed title. Had I not played a whole host of smooth and creamy-sounding well-serviced earlier Minimoogs, it’d be a no-brainer purchase. I’m looking forward to getting a lengthier demo in the near future – we’re talking to Source about becoming Moog dealers so we can sell the new Model D alongside our vintage Minis.
The day passed in a blur, and I barely saw any of the interesting lectures, discussions and demonstrations that I wanted to catch. We had the best time on the Soundgas stand, met so many great people – and discussed music, synths and vintage gear with friends old and new – that I didn’t want the day to end. When we’d packed the gear away, and had a much-needed bite to eat we regrouped for further synth talk over craft beers at the Roco to a 70s/80s soundtrack that reminded us as to why Sheffield is Synthfest’s rightful home. All agreed the show had been a great success and that we’d all be back next year. Thanks to Paul Gilby and the team at Sound On Sound, Sensoria and Synthfest for all their hard work creating such a stunning show, and of course to the many people who travelled from far and wide whether simply to attend, or to show/demo their synths and gear.
Want more Synthfest? There are several video round-ups on Youtube – this one is good.
Tony Miln is the co-founder (& Head Gear Head) of Soundgas. See/hear him in action on Instagram.