Swedish House Mafia
August 2012 Issue 156
With pyro, lasers, gas jets and state of the art visuals, Swedish House Mafia’s production in Milton Keynes was a joy to behold. It was a masterpiece sonically too as the crew put their all into a show that was guaranteed to please the energetic crowd. TPi got the exclusive from SHM’s UK finale performance.
To say Milton Keynes ‘rocked’ under the influence of the Swedish House Mafia would be an epic understatement as the leafy green, low rise nirvana of homogenisation staged one of the most seriously groove-tastic dance events of the year. Even the concrete cows would have felt the energy!
An extra frission of anticipation was added when it was announced as the SHM’s final UK gig in this line-up – although we all know it won’t be the last we see and hear of the massive talents of Steve Angello, Sebastian Ingrosso and Axwell as solo artists.
However the pressure was on the SHM, who so upped the ante on high level production values and visual and sonic extravaganzas for DJ shows, taking the concept to new and unparalleled heights of excellence. They needed to close on a seriously spectacular high!
The vibe in the audience was fantastic. People were there to party and have a good time, dressed for fun and funkiness. Even the rain held off although it didn’t stop an already drenched Milton Keynes Bowl quickly becoming the standard summer 2012 UK mudbath. A really stodgy, sticky one at that, but all anyone was interested in was The Show.
Effectively a giant and hugely ambitious one off in a summer action-packed with ‘spectacular’ shows, this was The One to be at in terms of imagination, wow factor and stage-to-audience communication and love.
Equally as enthusiastic was the production team that realised the experience under the auspices of Tour Director, Curly Jobson, and Production Manager, Mark Reuben.
“The key to the success of this show was having Liam Boylan, SJM Event Director, and Roy Morley, Site Manager, and their teams on board. They knew the site and the local politics inside out from having done The Prodigy and Foo Fighters shows there. We couldn’t have asked for it to have gone any better, We had come straight out of a festival run into a few days prepping at LS Live where Mark [Reuben] got all of the structure and lighting ready. HSL, SSE and Screenworks did a terrific job and from the awesome job done by Fraser Young’s stage hands to the wonderful catering supplied by Wendy Deans of Popcorn to the dressing room ambience folks from Lovely Things to the cleaners, it was altogether an amazing experience,” said Jobson.
“Key members of the team that need a mention are Rob Lister, our stage manager, Rachel Grimes, our wonderful production assistant and her side kick Mattie Jobson and Jim Taylor from Headline who stepped in to manage the security as a first show with us.”
Other service companies involved in that played an instrumental part in the event included Radiotek, Silvergray Niteflite, ET, Fly By Nite, Doodsons and Sound Moves.
LIGHTING AND VISUALS
The set used at Milton Keynes - and for the rest of the own-shows SHM will be playing this year, culminating in Stockholm in November - was designed by Baz Halpin for the 2012 Coachella Festival, where they played over two weekends.
It then had to be adapted for different stages and situations, a task involving all core members of the SHM visuals team including Lighting Designer, Ian Tomlinson, Visuals Designer and Live Operator, Sam Hodgkiss, and Randy Mayer from Screenworks in LA, the video production and screen suppliers; plus UK and European lighting and automation providers HSL, special effects specialists BPM and US and UK based All Access, who initially built the set.
The main set elements were four large onstage video pods - configured into two oval shaped concentric rings that slotted neatly inside the other when in the up position. These moved into different formats and looks throughout the set on the 28 axes Kinesys automation system supplied by HSL.
Screenworks’ 15 mm pitch Everbrighten BR15 LED screen panels made up the video pods and also clad the three metre high, 14m wide DJ booth structure. The company was also contracted to supply the cameras and IMAG system, plus two left and right side screens, each measuring five metres high by nine wide - also from BR15 LED.
Content for the onstage screens was run via a Coolux Pandora’s Box media server operated by Sam Hodgkiss at FOH. An eye-catching plethora of effects appeared throughout the set, from bold colour blocking to crazy ambient patterns and texturing to faces, more literal image snapshots and abstracted effects like water and fire.
The visuals set the tone and the scene, supported the music and kept the action and energisation pumping for two hours with constantly new and fresh looks, all of it dramatically different. The majority of the content was created as new specially for the MK show by Hodgkiss. He also radically re-edited some original footage made by Olivier Goulet from Geodezik for Coachella, which was played for specific songs.
Three operated cameras were positioned - one at FOH and two hand-held onstage - with a pole cam to stage left and were worked in conjunctions with three robo-cams dotted around on the overhead trusses onstage and the main video pod. These were mixed by Mike Duque using a Panasonic MX450 switcher outputting directly to the outside screens.
Ian Tomlinson deliberately kept the lighting straightforward and uncomplicated to balance with the video and other effects. It filled in gaps for the camera shots and lit the stage and audience and collaborated in the visual onslaught, the two elements working together with great synergy and understanding.
Blackburn based HSL, one of the busiest and largest lighting rental companies in the UK, has been supplying SHM since they first burst onto the scene and rapidly emerged as a live performance phenomena.
Like the band’s crew, HSL Project Manager, Mike Oates, has seen the show evolve and innovate at every juncture. “It’s been an amazing journey working with SHM and their crew and management team,” commented Oates. “All have such passion and commitment to producing incredible shows for the fans, and they are also all really grounded people. It’s a great vibe and we are very happy to be part of it.”
In addition to all the lighting and automation equipment, for Milton Keynes, HSL also supplied the full production rigging requirements - for lighting, video and PA - which entailed around 70 points, with every millimetre of headroom maximised in the Star Events stage / roof. A trussing mother grid 40ft wide by 16 deep was installed, with most of the weight taken on the downstage section of the stage, which featured a reinforced leg system.
Milton Keynes was also shot for DVD, requiring additional lighting. Sixty Clay Paky Sharpys were mainly attached to the bottom of the video pods, with the rest of the moving lights - 16 Robe LEDWash 600’s, 20 Martin Professional MAC 3’s and 12 Philips Vari-lite VL3500 Washes - scattered across two curved trusses, high and low, each side of stage, and on the PA towers and goal posts either side of stage.
It wasn’t a massive amount of moving lights for the scale of the show, but Tomlinson, has clearly fine-tuned the art of making ‘less is more’ work beautifully and appropriately.
For generics, HSL also supplied 40 Atomic strobes and 40 8-Lite Moles, which together with the moving lights were all run off two High End Systems Road Hog Full Boars (one as a hot back-up).
Cueing - from all departments - is vital for the show to flow visually and sonically - so it’s also essential all the operators know and are into the music. While there are specific cues for certain pieces of music, how the set will unfold is the big unknown, so they have to be alert and ready for some dynamic improvisation, a collective spontaneity that produces amazing harmony.
Another base element of the unique SHM visual chemistry is special effects. This embraces pyro, lasers and gas jets, all coordinated by Adam Murray from BPM SFX & Production based in Rossendale, Lancashire, just down the road from HSL. Like everyone on the SHM production team, Murray’s zeal is barely containable as he recalls his brief: “To make it the best electro dance show on the planet”.
He jointly designs this aspect of the performance with Liam Haswell, and first worked with SHM around six years ago, before their career trajectory went supersonic. SHM believe in a reasonable budget for staging their shows, and Milton Keynes was the biggest single show that BPM has designed for them to date. Around 950 units of pyro were used, spread out onstage, on top of the back of the stage, along the PA goalposts and on six raised cherry pickers backstage, which provided the high aerial batteries, complete with another four positions out on each of the delay towers.
One of the band’s express overall instructions was that they wanted to immerse the entire audience in the show, not just those immediately in front of the stage.
The pyro was fired from two radio ignition Galaxis Pyro Funk controllers, a completely wireless system that massively expands the scope for positioning effects in previously inaccessible or difficult locations.
Other goodies included 24 Stadium Shot streamer machines, 22 confetti blowers and 20 Bubble Monsters. There were also about 300 custom ‘Double Bubbles’, a helium balloon with an internal LED cased inside a 4ft balloon, which were floated out into the audience near the end of the set, the idea being that when the outer balloons burst, they release the twinkling helium balloon floating into the atmosphere.
The three types of liquid flames added another truly stunning dimension to the presentation. The Chameleon is a five fingered effect - for this show in customised SHM blue, yellow and pink to match the dots of the touring logo - which shoots 12 metres into the air.
The Hurricane single coloured effects also reach 15 metres. Thirdly were the awesome Spitfires, currently the biggest single liquid flame effect in Europe, reaching a dizzying altitude of 15 metres! These particular ones were orange coloured and placed on the outer reaches of the stage wings. All are nitrogen powered, entailing a high pressure nitrogen system to be installed and piped out to feed all of the units.
The flame effects are fully DMX controllable and on this occasion, BPM used a specially modified Avolites Pearl console for operation, with integrated safety features. The lasers, an effect definitely enjoying a renaissance of trendiness after about a decade of hiatus, were sparingly used for maximum effect. They comprised eight 35W RGB OPS lasers positioned on the trusses and DJ booth and 16 by 18W lasers which were out around the goal posts, together with four 12W machines on the delay towers. They were controlled by Toby MacKnight who also designed the system, running via Pangolin control.
The atmospherics were further boosted by eight MDG hazers dotted around the site, which, aided by the amiable wind conditions, managed to fill the space between the stage and the FOH position extremely efficiently.
Murray worked with a BPM crew of 16, who started their get in on the Wednesday evening. A big challenge was rigging the sheer volume of special effects onto a stage with automated video elements, and also in fulfilling the desire to include all 65,000 people in the stadium in the action, a feat achieved with some considerable style. As with lighting and video, the SFX are fully integrated into the performance.
Crucial to everyone being able to deliver their cue-perfect gigs is a truly clear sound being mixed by the very smiley Rabbit (Wayne Sargeant) at FOH - we didn’t get into the origins of his nickname in the interview, but I assume that it’s related with his friendliness and talkativity.
West Midlands based SSE supplied the L-Acoustics K1 sound system, which was designed by Nick Pain and Pete Russell, working to Rabbit’s specification.
Rabbit mixed using a Midas Heritage 3000 console - which he loves for its warmth and solid analogue properties – and produced a fabulous, silky, sexy sound that permeated all around the arena with a hugely enveloping effect, even right at the back. The K1 was arranged in main left and right hands of 19 speakers each, with two left and right side hangs and four delays out around the arena.
Under the stage 50 SB28 subs were run in cardioid mode to optimise the bottom end radiating out into the audience, helped by the natural acoustic properties of the amphitheatre scalloped out of the land.
The SHM sound is loud in a big, heavy, warm and bassy sense - a sensory experience rather than ripping heads off - so everyone feels tingly and involved. They like it loud and clear onstage as well, with three large stacks of three L-Acoustics Kara with an SB28 on the bottom, which is now their standard monitor spec, one on either side and one at the back of the booth riser, these are mixed on a Midas PRO6 desk by SHM Monitor Engineer, Carlos Herreros.
The SSE crew’s previous experience with the venue and their extensive knowledge of the system - and also of muddy fields - all contributed to being able to focus and control the output very efficiently, ensuring spillage into the nearby residential areas stayed within the prescribed limits.
All these diverse creative talents and some special and innovatively applied technologies - not to mention the rhythmic magic of three amazing DJs producing some of the very best house music - took dance event production yet again to new and breath-taking heights of atmospheric engineering.
It also proved you don’t have to have the biggest or the most of ‘this or that’ equipment to make the show rock - vision, intelligence and a collective understanding of how to leave an impression making many people happy for all the right reasons - is what it takes. That’s ending on a high note!
Photography: Loo Stickland and Ash Goldie
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