AUDIO: Into the Void

We’ve generally been of the opinion, at odds with much of the wider a cappella community, that we want to sound exactly like we do on stage on our recordings. However, many of us have being doing this for a long time – for me it’s been 12 years, and In the Smoke has now been going for almost 8 years (a good chunk of us have been there from the beginning) and in that time have recorded 4 CDs.

So, we thought, why not give a more technological approach a try? This time we recorded people’s voices one at a time, carefully edited and tidied up each layer of the texture, and spent a good bit of time mixing it – with all of the production toys such as EQ, reverb, compression and a teeny-tiny touch of autotune (but only for creative effect of course).

Some things to note:

  • This is Nine Inch Nails – we deliberately didn’t go for an ABBA classic for this – we wanted the music to be intricately constructed and a little dark, to help fire our imaginations
  • At the time of writing there are 17 people in In the Smoke, and all of their voices feature – it’s going to sound dense (and intense) at times!

The song starts with an gradually building and thickening intro, which cleverly moves from 3 to 4 in a bar, then it kicks into 2 verses, punctuated with the refrain ‘tried to save myself…’, which pervades the texture throughout in one way or another.

Then into the second half it breaks down to some quiet sustained chords before swelling into a chaotic, cacophonous section which hurtles towards the final iteration of the refrain.

You won’t get Pentatonix recording a version of this – we deliberately set out to try to make something that people haven’t heard before, so open your ears, strap on your headphones, crank up the volume, and enjoy.

– Michael

CAMPAIGN: Tell us what you want (what you really, really want)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past month, it won’t have escaped you that we’re doing a gig – a Summer Extravaganza, to be precise – THIS Friday 31 July at the Greenwood Theatre in London Bridge (get your tickets here!).

Whilst the programme for this one has already been arranged, rehearsed, memorised, and (almost) polished, the ream of new songs we’ll be airing has left us wondering what our audience (that’s you) would most love to see us perform next.

And that’s where you come in. We want to hear your suggestions, thoughts, feedback and general banter – good or bad: what have you enjoyed seeing us do before; what would you like us to do more, or less, of? Send us a tweet or post to our Facebook page, using the hashtag #WhatIWant, and you could see your message hilariously worked into one of our skits, live on stage…

Get involved:

Bee-bops, jazz hands and yodelling: Shirley and Teddy on a memorable Voice Festival weekend

Last weekend, the great and the good of the amateur a cappella world descended on Birmingham for the fabulous Voice Festival UK (VFUK). This annual celebration of the bee-bops of barbershop, sh-dams of show choirs and dv-pffff of vocal percussion is now in its seventh year and continues to grow. Members of In the Smoke have been involved in VFUK’s university groups competition since the festival began, as ushers, running workshops and generally helping out.

As VFUK’s success grew, new categories were created for non-student groups like us as well as school-based groups, widening VFUK’s reach to include singers from primary school-age to retirement…

This year, the community competition saw four shortlisted groups battle it out for the title of Community Champions 2015. They were: Gem Connection, Just Voices, The Beatroots and us.

Drawing lots put In the Smoke at the top of the programme: with nothing to lose, we socked it to ’em!

A twelve-minute medley of musical theatre numbers arranged by our own Michael Humphrey was our 2015 offering. It was a tricky arrangement demanding vocal precision alongside a good deal of hamming it up. From ‘Send in the Clowns’ to ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ (yes, the yodelling one from The Sound of Music), it was an emotional roller-coaster!

It went down a storm and set the tone for a fantastic programme of a cappella showcasing. Our rivals treated us to arrangements of barbershop standards, recent pop hits and even a vocal arrangement of Pachelbel’s Canon.

The judges were suitably impressed by the variety and effort that all the groups had put in to their performances and praised the attention to detail and general high standard of presentation.

When the verdict was given, we were delighted to be named as this year’s winners. A special award was also given to Michael for his outstanding arrangement.Community Champions 2015

Prizes aside, a fabulous weekend was had by all! Those of us who were around for the whole weekend enjoyed the workshops and were amazed at the high standard of the university groups competing – we especially loved the tongue-in-cheek self-reference of the song that one group wrote all about being in an a cappella group: ‘Who even listens to a cappella?’. It was definitely deserving of the Ward Swingle Award for Originality that it earned for Choral Stimulation!

All in all, it was great to meet new groups, share ideas and perform in front of fellow a ca-enthusiasts – thanks, Voice Festival!

What good is sitting alone in your room… when you could be at the Voice Festival 2015?

Just one rehearsal left before we head up to Birmingham to compete in the Voice Festival 2015. *Gulp*

We gave some of our London-based friends a sneak peek of our set on Thursday 2 April – thank you to everyone who came along and let us know what you thought! And for anyone who missed it, here’s a little teaser…

Looking forward to seeing some of you (and meeting lots of fellow a cappella-yellers) at the Festival Weekend. Everyone else, keep your fingers crossed for us – we’ll let you know how we get on!

Voice Festival UK preparations are under way…

IMG_4200With only a month to go until the Voice Festival Community Competition in Birmingham on 12 April,  we are busily* preparing our highly secret 12-minute set. The ideas for the set ranged far and wide, from offering to do requests (a bit too much like a tightrope act without a safety net – or, frankly, a tightrope), to some sort of Gabarek/Hilliard-esque mashing of Renaissance polyphony and the latest tchoons.

What we’re actually preparing is (of course) a highly guarded secret**, but we can tell you this for now:

  • Lizzie plays a sorrowful amnesiac
  • James wishes to be visited by circus performers
  • Tom G and Daz carry fossil fuel
  • Rachel will always have someone with her – even if she wants to go for a windy or rainy stroll in the country

Hope to see you on 2 April in London, and/or on 12 April in Birmingham.

* Within the confines of our normal weekly 2-hour rehearsals, plus a bit of solo notelearning.  We wouldn’t want you to think we were trying too hard ….
** Not actually that highly guarded. You can come along to our 2 April preview gig if you want to see how it will go (see blog posts below).

GIG: Voice Festival special sneak preview – 2 April 2015

In April, we will be heading up to Birmingham to take part in the Community Competition Final of the brilliant Voice Festival UK. Rehearsals are well under way – but we’re not giving away too much yet…

In the Smoke

But fear not, Londoners! Before we go, we’re going to be staging a one-off sneak preview premiere of our set (along with a few other cracking arrangements).

Come along to the Tea House Theatre, Vauxhall Walk, at 8pm on Thursday 2 April for a relaxed evening of a cappella, drinks and cake.

Entry is free. What better way could there be to kick off the Easter weekend?!

Christmas Gig! (And Aca-alternativity)

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re doing a Christmas gig and Aca-alternativity on Friday 28 November. But because we’ve got the travel bug (we were in Bristol last weekend, after all…), we’re branching out – to Peckham!

Not familiar with the area? Fear not: In the Smoke has put together a handy video guide to some of Peckham’s finest eating and drinking establishments for before or after the gig.

So gather up your friends, don your favourite Christmas jumper (optional), pick your dining location of choice and get ready to enjoy an evening of festive delectation…

GIG: 15 November – Joint gig with Original Sing in Bristol

We Smokies are busy rehearsing for our next gig, which is something a little different: a joint gig with Bristol-based a cappella group Original Sing. We’re equally excited about dusting off some existing repertoire as we are about airing some new arrangements, as well as performing a joint number with this jolly nice bunch.

Saturday 15 November, Folk House, Bristol. Tickets £10 from the Folk House or 0117 926 2987 (50p booking fee if you pay by card). We’d love to see you there!

Attention basses: we need you!

It’s that time again: In the Smoke is auditioning, specifically for basses.

It’s a two-stage process:

  • The first round is digital auditions, where we ask you to send us audio/video files of you singing. It doesn’t have to be new or professionally shot, and we don’t need you to be singing solo, but we need to know you’re in there and ideally be able to hear you in the group/block.
  • The second round is live auditions on Tuesday 21 and Tuesday 28 October, at which we’ll run some quick exercises (range, dynamics etc), ask you to sing a short bit of unaccompanied solo (verse & chorus), then involve you in a normal bit of rehearsal with us.

We need your digital audition by Sunday 19 October, so get your skates on.

To submit your digital audition, or for any more information, email us at

Let’s do this!