AIRTEL PLAZA HOTEL, LOS ANGELES WAS THE VENUE FOR THE RECENT AXE-FEST II.
A VERY SPECIAL REPORTER WAS THERE.
WHO THE HECK IS YEK
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
LA AMP-SHOW 2013
Axe-Fest is - more or less - part of the yearly L.A. Amp Show at the same hotel, where many manufacturers of guitar amplifiers and other guitar-related stuff show their products. It all happens in a standalone tower of the hotel, where volume level restrictions do not apply. Luckily earplugs were handed out for free at the entrance! Especially required when passing by the Bogner Amplification room.
Walking down the corridors, rock tones from various amplifiers were blasting from the hotel rooms at both sides. Mass-market or boutique, they were all present. It was fun to be able to see top builders such as Dave Friedman and Reinhold Bogner in person. And to listen to several great professional players, trying and testing all the available gear. It’s clear that Gear Acquisition Syndrome does not stop when you’ve made it to Pro level. It’s also clear that for some reason most players still prefer to play Van Halen riffs and nothing else.
Born out of an initiative by Fractal Audio forum members, Fractal Audio Systems (FAS) has joined forces to help organize the event in 2012 and 2013. Lasting for a full two days, Axe-Fest consists of short individual and band performances, tutorials, hardware and software demonstrations, a seminar-like presentation by Cliff Chase, and, yes, give-aways! Of course everything is focused on the Axe-Fx II and other Fractal Audio hardware and software products. Matrix Amplification was co-sponsoring the event. And Mission Engineering was present with their cool pedals and accessories.
CLIFF CHASE HIMSELF
Fractal Audio was present at two locations. There was a hotel room where Cliff Chase resided, introducing and demonstrating the Axe-Fx to passers-by, in the same manner other manufacturers do business at the Amp Show. And then there was the large event room, booked exclusively for Axe-Fest by Fractal Audio, where Matt, aka Admin M@, aka M@, hosted most of the party, assisted by several people (Fractal Audio and forum members).
A GOOD DAY STARTS WITH MARK DAY
There were a lot of performances on day one. Mark Day kicked it all off, showing off his trademark 80s high-gain tone (Friedman HBE model), playing 80s hard-rock tunes through the Matrix sound system. Judas Priest, Journey, Van Halen (of course). He said he hadn’t performed live for a long time but he played it all of course effortlessly. Needless to add that we all enjoyed his famous face expressions in the process.
CLIFF'S INSTANT PRESETS FOR SUPERTALENT
And it only got better. During the entire Amp Show Andy Wood was present somewhere. A player who combines fantastic blue-grass skills, with modern soulful shredding. A shredder AND mandolin-player, yes, we witnessed it being true. Cliff dialed in the few presets he used just prior to his performance, learning us a lesson to not overthink stuff too much.
14 STRING GUITAR & EXTRA-TERRESTRIALS
The talented Felix Martin then demonstrated his multi-stringed guitar playing, and the out-of-this-world players of Animals As Leaders rounded up the afternoon. The playing technique of these guys is mind-blowing, nothing less. The number of notes they put out as well. I thought my head would explode at times with sheer admiration and musical overload.
APPLAUSE FOR MR AXE-EDIT
Inbetween, Matt Picone and lead programmer Michael Pickens introduced Axe-Edit 3.02 and Cab-Lab 1.0. Still a beta at the time, Cab-Lab has now been released. Michael got some well-deserved rounds of applause for his Axe-Edit programming.
SCOTT PETERSON SHOWS HOW IT'S DONE
In the afternoon Scott Peterson did a live version of his recent videos, dialing in a preset on the spot, explaining his personal preferences for grid layout and block settings. The next demonstration was about programming and using the MFC-101 foot controller, in combination with expression pedals from Mission Engineering. We were able to pick up some great practical tips in the process and the MFC-101 Mark III was announced.
SECOND DAY IS FRACTAL ARTIST DAY
The second day featured performances by two of what I would call “Fractal” artists. Cooper Carter, the genius behind SoloAWeek, performed a couple of his own songs. I particularly liked the fact that he also sang, which is a welcome variation on all the instrumental chaos going on at the Amp Show all day. Followed by young Sean Ashe, who also played an original, written by himself. Both are exceptional players, covering different ground.
SANTIAGO & WOOD STEAL THE MOMENT
For me, the gig at the end of the day by James Santiago and his friends, an entire band, was the musical highlight of the event. Very tasteful fusion, real songs, real musicianship. James was accompanied by musicians from the Zappa plays Zappa band and Bush. Andy Wood also joined on stage, delivering a ripping improvised solo which impressed me even more than he did the day before. And, I almost forgot to add, there were four or five Axe-Fx II units being played on the stage.
THE MASTER'S SPEECH
And speaking of highlights, attendees were delighted to get a presentation by Cliff about the Amp block parameters. Cliff explained many of the more obscure controls in a clear and concise way. The information provided was not new in many cases (read the wiki) but the presentation made it all come together. Often the audience dislikes a presentation which exceeds its planned time, but in this case we loved it and took in all provided info, even containing some “classified” stuff.
1000 FRFR-MATRIX WATTS
In the afternoon Matrix demonstrated their brand new (and very loud) FR 2x12 cabinet, as well as a prototype of a white power amplifier with internal DSP, both of which met with plenty of enthusiasm among the audience.
VIRTUAL FRIENDS BECOME REAL PEOPLE
And the best thing on a personal note was meeting a lot of people I only knew in the virtual world previously. Forum members, beta team 'colleagues', Fractal Audio employees, Axe-Fx-playing musicians. It’s not the same as internet dating for obvious reasons, duh, but it was a blast to be able to really speak and hang out with them. I can confirm that these are real people, very very nice people. I had loads of fun.
TRY IT FOR YOURSELF
In short: if you have the opportunity to visit Axe-Fest next year, it’s recommended! Or visit a local Axe-Fest. Happening soon if you’re near Germany or in just a few days if your're near the Netherlands on 30th November (or here) at the Wisselord Studios in Hilversum.
For more information, pictures, reports and a summary of Cliff’s presentation, check out the Axe-Fest II thread at the Fractal Audio forum and thanks to everyone who’s helped organize Axe-Fest, especially the volunteers!
Alexander van Engelen (Yek)