Inside Look | An Evening with Andrew W.K.

Most of us attend an SWSXW showcase to see the musical act. Sometimes we want to check out the venue or the promoter, but rarely do we go to appreciate all the effort put forth behind the scenes. James Duvall, a sound engineer from Austin, Texas, is working to change all that and help people see how much concerts rely on the people supporting the performing artist.

“I’m the timekeeper… a lot of times it really boils down to the sound guy,” James tells me within minutes of sitting down with him, and this certainly was the case at the Pure Volume showcase during SXSW 2010. The showcase was being held at Coppertank in downtown Austin, and everything had been running smoothly the entire night. All of the artists were making it on stage at their scheduled time, the atmosphere in the audience was perfect and everybody was drunk and ready to dance. It was 2:00 a.m. and Travis from Gym Class Heroes was doing a rare DJ set, and Andrew W.K. was scheduled to take the stage at 3:00. During his DJ set Travis invited the audience up onto the stage to dance with him to keep the vibe strong, which led to one of James Duvall’s craziest and most memorable experiences as a sound engineer yet. As the audience swarmed the stage, a rather large male happened to make his way to the very middle and while jumping around erratically, the stage buckled in the middle and collapsed.

For many people this would mean that the show was over, but not for James. Immediately after realizing what had happened, he climbed the stage and told Travis that everybody had to get off immediately. Travis had not even realized what had happened, and without delay ended his set and left the venue. Instantly all eyes were turned to James, and the future of the night was resting in his hands. Andrew W.K.’s crew didn’t even believe that there was a solution to the broken stage predicament, but within 30 minutes James managed not only to fix the stage and rewire the entire PA system, but also to save the entire night.

Immediately after getting on stage, James ordered the audience to “get the fuck out of here” and move aside, making all eyes and. simultaneously, all the audiences rage focus on him. Not only that, but everybody else who was working alongside James that night was staring at him waiting for him to answer their question, what do we do? Fortunately, James had a brilliant idea. He moved all the equipment off the stage and to the floor within just a couple of feet of the stage and rewired all of the PA systems and monitors to work from there. He instructed the next act and Andrew W.K.’s band to play from the floor, leaving only the drummer on the stage. A barricade was set up around the band and, miraculously, the show continued.

By the end of the night the atmosphere of the audience had tripled in energy and everybody was more than happy, all thanks to James. He says that he couldn’t have done it without the help of the recording crew from Bay Area Tone Records, who were at his side the whole time he was working to keep the show alive.

“I’m not just a sound guy, I’m a creative engineer,” James says. He is the man at shows you don’t want to piss off, the man who can fix any problem and the man who works to keep the audience happy without their even knowing he is there. He currently runs his own company, Creative Engineering and Solutions, and plans to open up a studio, The Vine, with his close friend and studio engineer Eli Smith.

-Emily Zipp, KnuckleRumbler