Northumbrian folk experimentalists The Unthanks have been using DPA microphones to great acclaim in their live performances after being introduced to the company’s product range by their engineer, Joel Borkin.
Working under the title jBsound, Borkin is Front of House and Monitor Engineer for various artists around the UK. “We recently used a selection of DPA microphones on The Unthanks’ headline showcase collaboration with Lau at the Celtic Connections festival in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall,” he says. “The microphones were a joy to work with. Nothing comes close to the precision and clarity of DPA: they are a must for this band.”
Well-known for juxtaposing traditional, folkloric storytelling with sonic exploration, The Unthanks are constantly pushing the boundaries of the folk genre. Borkin’s work with the band has seen them performing as a 10-piece ensemble, with all the attendant challenges that such a large setup entails.
“The Unthanks’ organic lineup might incorporate a string quartet, grand piano and full drum kit, and overlaying all this is the band’s distinctive, graceful vocal sound,” Borkin says. “I need microphones that can successfully translate the varying dynamics and orchestral sound of the arrangements, whilst standing up to the decibel levels that are demanded of modern contemporary performances. DPA offers this quality, as well as the perfect mounting solutions for all the various instrumentation we use.”
For capturing The Unthanks’ string quartet performances, Borkin likes to use d:vote™ Instrument Microphones. “They provide the best level before feedback of any mic I’ve used, while also successfully translating the tonal qualities of the strings without the ‘quack’ or excessive harshness often associated with string pickups,” he explains.
“I also use d:vote™ 4099Ts on the trumpet. I tried a whole host of dynamic mic choices but found they shone through as the perfect choice. The clip-on solution allows the player to truly embody the expressiveness of the music, which is hugely important for the musician, whilst the mic itself provides the most natural tonal quality of any other mic I’ve used.”
For piano, Borkin uses a pair of d:dicate™ 4011ER Cardioid Microphones because they offer natural, expressive reproduction and can withstand a huge amount of SPL. They are mounted centrally over the strings, sitting as close together as possible but pointed in opposite directions, so that one microphone focuses on the higher octaves, while the other focuses on the lower.
“Drum and percussion arrangements for The Unthanks usually follow an orchestral or jazz style, so we use d:dicate™ 2011C Microphones as overheads because they are able to reproduce the sound of the entire drum kit in a natural and sonically pleasing way,” he says. “This fits the genre and style of the band perfectly.”
Borkin also singles out the d:facto™ Vocal Microphone as a favourite, citing its ability to successfully reproduce the human singing voice through PA systems as a key reason for choosing it.
“The Unthanks’ two female lead vocalists both have expressive yet delicate singing styles, which means that intelligibility and level before feedback are of the utmost importance,” he says. “With their strong focus on musical narratives, the audience must be able to follow the voices with absolute clarity, whilst ensuring they also sit naturally with the dynamic arrangements of the music. It’s very challenging for our lead vocals to cut through naturally but musically, and the d:facto™ Vocal Microphone offers the perfect solution.”
Borkin has a busy schedule with The Unthanks for the rest of this year, including a collaboration with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and touring Europe. He is also performing FOH duties for Nubiyan Twist, a 12-piece afrobeat/jazz/hip hop band.
“I have used DPA microphones before in my position as a freelance engineer at various concerts and venues, and they have always performed flawlessly,” says Borkin. “When it comes to The Unthanks, I wouldn’t want to use anything else.”
Also check out the gallery of The Unthanks at Scala London here >>