Signal Path Podcast: Victor Van Vugt

Marc Young | November 4, 2019

Hear the stories behind the music with the Signal Path podcast. Tapping a global network of musicians, producers, engineers and other sonic innovators, Shure brings you exclusive interviews with the people shaping the world of audio.

For the latest episode of Signal Path, Marc Young visited the Australian producer Victor Van Vugt at his studio in Berlin, Germany. In the podcast, Victor tells how he blagged his professional mixing gig, how a magical phone call led to a tour with The Fall and why Berlin can be a creative black hole for some artists.

Marc Young: You've worked with some incredible artists over the years: Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Beth Orton and more. But I'd like to start back at the very beginning because you have an amazing story of how your career in music started…

Victor Van Vugt: Yeah, I played in a band and we supported another band who had just done their second show. For some reason, the singer asked me if I knew how to mix and for some reason I said yes, as a 16-year-old would. So the first show they asked me to mix for them, they were supporting a larger band. It was a big PA system and I had never seen a mixing desk like that in my life. It was just incredible, but I didn't know anything. 

I told my parents I was going away from school trip, I told my school that I was going with the parents. So, I basically played truant, hitchhiked into town, got into sound check, didn't know anything and went to the mixing desk. The guy who owned the PA was there and I was like, "Oh, well, maybe could you just help me with this? I don't know this particular brand." He immediately clocked it and said, "Look, I tell you what. I'll mix. You watch. How about that?" I guess he did a really great job. It was probably the first time the band had played through a big PA and definitely the first time they'd used a professional mixer, if they were asking some 16-year-old boy to do it in the first place. Immediately after they finished, I ran backstage to get the free beer and the band just said, "Victor, you're a genius! Everyone said it sounds great." Nick Cave and all that lot were backstage, everyone was there. 

Not long after that, the band won a free day in a recording studio and said, "Would you like to come in to the studio and just help us out, just sort of watch out for us?" which I did and they gave me a production credit on it. By this stage, Nick Cave had moved to London and he was sharing an apartment with Barney Hoskyns, who was a really great journalist in the NME. He gave it single of the week in the NME after hearing it, because Nick was playing it. So then I started getting phone calls. 

How old are you then? You're 17 at that point?

Yes. I never really thought I'd make my living out of music. There was no example to think that. By this stage I'd built a little four-track studio in my parents' garage and bands are making the trip all the way out to the suburbs to record there. I was learning a little bit and doing some live sound too and playing in bands, just as a teenager would. But I never thought I'd make a living or doing any of it. 

But then The Moodists got a deal in England and asked me to come with them. I said, "Nah, forget about it." Eventually, a lecturer at film school who I was telling about it told me defer for a year, take one year off and go to London.

And then when I arrived, a few things happened. I was just like literally lying in bed. Jet lagged in this really cheap hotel. And then one of the people that worked there knocked on the door and said, "There's a phone call for Mr. Victor. Mr. Victor. There's a phone call for you." So I went downstairs and there's a wall phone. And it was the manager of The Fall. And he said, "Look, I've heard about you. We doing a gig tomorrow at Reading University and our normal sound engineer can't do it. Would you like to do it?" 

And really, The Fall in those days were my favorite band of all time. They were just like heroes. And, you know, I'm still a kid from the suburbs. So, yes, it just seemed really magical. I couldn't believe it. So the next day, I was on a tour bus sitting next to Marc E. Smith writing.

You eventually ended up in Berlin, before moving away and returning a few years ago. Have you noticed a big difference?

My first impressions were that it hasn't changed a bit. It was still a city of young people from all over the world doing their thing and getting away with it.

Obviously, the city's undergone lots of change, but you feel like the spirit is still there, still intact? 

Yeah. That's being diluted with the rising rents and everything like that. But, it hadn't been as diluted five years ago and I didn't even think that the city had changed that much. It just was more of it.

Listen to the full interview with Victor Van Vugt and subscribe to Signal Path with the podcast provider of your choice below.

Marc Young

With a background in journalism, Marc is an editor for Shure covering anything and everything that has to do with sound. He tries to compensate for his mediocre guitar-playing skills with his writing. He is based in Berlin, one of the best cities in Europe for music.