Octave One is comprised of Detroit natives Lenny and Lawrence Burden, with occasional appearances from their other three brothers, Lorne, Lynell, and Lance Burden. Originally, the group was a production collaboration between all five brothers, while Lawrence Burden handled the DJing and travelling. This set up quickly grew to a live set—within a matter of two weeks, actually. "We put a tour together for 430 West, it was comprised of six dates in the United States and we were paying out of pocket. We spent all our money on this tour because we thought it was important to break into the US and get people to come out to our shows. At this point, it was sometime in the 90s and we were all travelling to Europe for our bookings. We were hoping this would show people in the US what we were all about," explains Lenny.
It was on this tour that one of their live acts dropped out for another gig overseas and in keeping with their desire to maintain at least one live act on the tour, they hustled to get themselves up to par in a short period of time. "Lawrence was on the decks at the time and I had two weeks to put this live set together," says Lenny. "I finally jump on stage and I'm trying to reach across all this stuff because I wanted it to be like our studio. I was a solo act for maybe two minutes and Lawrence jumped on the mixer and helped me out." To this day, they work in this same fashion—with Lenny on the noise and sound creation, and Lawrence on the final arrangement. Collaboration on music has been a constant for the Burden brothers. All of their music, including their new album Burn It Down, has been a joint effort over several years between the family.
Unlike most live acts today, Octave One's live sets are comprised entirely of hardware. The duo brings together all the gear you see in the photos below to create their innovative performances.
For them, it's a sense of comfort with their own gear, as well as having the right equipment for their specific sound at each show. With all this technology, there are always repairs to be made, especially when travelling so frequently. Lenny says that many of the repairs they're faced with are a result of clumsy airlines. "We bring everything to our shows other that the keyboard controller and the mixer, so certain things we try to put in our carry on. Everything you see is ours down to the cables and stands, and we've customized them to look like this."
Since the Burden brothers were kids, their parents enrolled all five of them in piano classes. From there, their natural interest in music inspired them to pursue different instruments in high school. Lawrence chose the saxophone, while Lenny played a variety of horns, including the French horn, and the drums. "That's why a lot of other live sets don't look this way—we've created the stands to look like this, so they mimic a drum kit," explains Lenny.
The stands aren't the only pieces they have customized for their live rig. Nearly all the synths and drum machines are tailored to Octave One specifically and can't be done by a professional, they do it themselves. The photo above shows a custom Shruthi in the top left and on the far right an Akai MPC 1000. Lenny gives us the play-by-play. "This is the master clock, master sequencer, and where the notes come from," he says. "It triggers the synths' master clock and also the clock for the drum machine. It's also its own drum machine, and plays samples. It really feeds to everything else you see on our setup." Everything else is synthesizers, which they plug into the Warpcore—a device Lenny created himself. All of this technical knowledge didn't appear out of thin air, either. "I went to Randolf Technical High School in Detroit. I remember everything from high school and it's just another reason why this career is so great for us. So many things that we can adapt to this career like making custom synths and all the stands which we made," he explains.
Octave One has been working on their new album, Burn It Down, for nearly three years, but it was thanks to persistent fans that the record took full fruition. "We knew these were nice tracks, but when that Boiler Room came out, everyone was like, 'What's this track? Anyone have this track?' And once they couldn't find it, that's when they started ripping off YouTube," says Lawrence.
They realized that this wasn't the way they intended their record to be heard, especially with such an off-the-cuff live performance. "Even though that moment [Boiler Room] was a special experience, we were only reacting off the crowd at that moment. It wasn't necessarily how we wanted people to hear our album."
This might be the only time that grovelling online for track ID's and pilfering YouTube rips prompts an artist to dish out the originals. So don't get any ideas. But be it 30 people at a sweaty Boiler Room show or thousands at a festival stage, Octave One consistently dedicates themselves to providing an exceptional and state-of-the-art experience for audience members.
If you ever get the chance to attend one of their highly energetic shows, be sure to opt for the in-person venture and save the YouTube streams for later.