Last month The Human league finished off one of their most successful tours to date in terms of reviews, as the Dare 2007 Tour ended on the 21st December in Stockholm. Not at least thanks to Rob Sinclair, who was the mastermind behind the ultra cool stage set up, lightning show and video projections. He took time out from his X-mas holiday to answer some questions from this site.
Interview by Niels Kolling, pictures by Karen, Marcel, Will Scott, Daveniuk, Hans Arne Nakrem and Rob Sinclair
For how long have you been working The Human League and how did it come about?
I've been on every tour since 2003. I started as video / lighting technician and started running the whole show in 2004.
What is your own career path in becoming a sought after video and lightning designer? On your www.virb.com profile you describe yourself as "a trumped up roadie", so is it all selftaught?
Sought after? That would be nice.
I trained as an electrician, made the tea for a lighting company, went freelance a few years later, toured as a technician, toured operating other people's shows and now seem to be getting more design work - which is great.
There's no formal training for what I do but I've been fortunate to work with some fantastic people who have been really helpful and inspirational.
How much knowledge did you have of their music before you started working with them? Would you label yourself a fan or more a casual listener?
I would probably have described myself as a casual fan. I grew up with The Human League's music, as everyone my age did, but I probably only knew the hits.
The band started using video screens in a lesser scale back in 2003. But it really has evolved on the last couple of tours as Philip Oakey wanted a similar feel to the famous Philip Adrian Wright slides back in the late 70's/early 80's. Did Wrights work inspire you in any way?
Very much so, I've always been aware of his legacy and have tried to continue on in his style.
I'm not sure how many people noticed but we used some of Adrian's old slides during 'Open Your Heart' as a way of bridging the old and the new (Oh - and many thanks to Stig (Olsen – Human League’s graphic designer) for sending them to me!).
Preparing for a Human League tour, how closely do you work with the band? Is it a collaboration or do you have total freedom?
It's a collaboration.
I had a long meeting with Philip in September and we talked about Dare, the sort of band The Human League were when they made it and about Britain in the early 80's.
From this came the 'Dare' shaped screens and the whole rectangular look of the stage, the stark lighting at the start of the show, the Sound Of The Crowd projections of Thatcher era politicians and lots of other stuff. Hopefully we set the scene quite well.
Listening to a live rendition of the Dare album 20 nights in a row sounds like a wet dream to a Human League fan, but can you enjoy the music while you're working all the lights and video projections?
The key to doing my job passably well is to immerse yourself in the band's music - which means that I see each song as a series of cues that need to be hit rather than as something to listen to and enjoy. It's a bit of a shame really.
Any of the Dare songs for the 2007 tour that caused you problems? Was it easier or more difficult to come up with ideas when you had to do it for an entire album?
I always find Don’t You Want Me quite difficult.
It's such an angry and bitter song but it seems that it would be a shame to break up the party atmosphere with 'serious' graphics. The casino stuff that I used this year was fine and looked pretty but still not quite right, I thought. Maybe I'll crack it next time.
One of the most impressive features was the cool Chroma-Q(tm) Color Web video wall backdrop used on the 2005 Synth City Tour. As I understand that was quite cutting edge at the time? Will it ever make a comeback or do you always move on?
I think we were the first tour to use the Chroma Web and it came very close to the wire.
The panels were still somewhere in China on their way from the manufacturer a couple of days before the first show – the Fed Ex tracking web site got some serious use.
We've pretty much 'done' the web but I'm hoping that we'll be able to use higher resolution LED screens in the near future. I'm always on the lookout for new technology but we operate on a fairly tight budget so have to be fairly tricky about how we do things.
How is life on a bus while touring with the League? Having met you, it seems like you're a closeknit group that get on well. Any secrets you can share. Like who stinks up the tour bus or who is the party animal?
I couldn't possibly comment.
Favourite Human League tour design?
I think this year's design worked out quite well and I'd hate to think that we hadn't bettered the previous show.
Favourite video projection for a specific Human League song?
I have lots of fun every year with 'Being Boiled' as it always ends up having changed completely during the tour, always following the theme of the promise of dreadful things. I was particularly happy this year to be able to drop in parts of A Clockwork Orange which is one of my favourite films.
The Love Action Love Hearts are fun as well, especially as they were copied by one of the tribute bands which made me smile.
Favourite Human League album?
Dare. The classic sounds of my childhood.
Favourite Human League song?
Seconds or Being Boiled. It's all about those bass frequencies.
You've worked with more rock oriented acts like Keane. Does it make any difference in your approach when you work with an all electronic band like the Human League?
Find out what the band want and really get to know their music. It's the same for anybody.
According to persistent rumours, on the Dare 2007 Tour it was on purpose that an egg and a mug would appear on the video screen situated right over the head of close shaven, onstage live engineer David Beevers?
That was a happy coincidence.
Future plans for Rob Sinclair, besides a Human League tour to promote their new album in 2008 ;-)?
We have a confused old roadie saying of 'not counting your chickens until you're on the bus' so, although I'm talking to people about some exciting stuff, I can't say what, yet.