Andy C’s triumphant return to The SSE Arena, Wembley

Creatives involved in the return of Andy C’s All Night dance spectacular reflect on transforming Wembley’s SSE Arena into an all-out, all-night rave that went on to the early hours of the morning.

Although the concept of an all-night rave is nothing new in dance music subculture, few DJs have taken the concept to mainstream events spaces in the UK. In 2018, Andy C sought to break this tradition with an all-night event at Wembley’s SSE Arena. Following its success, it is perhaps no surprise that the DJ and his team would return to blow the roof off the venue again. 

Uniting under the banner of Andy C All Night, most of the creative team from 2018 were brought back to provide revellers an even greater dance experience. Co-Designer and Video Director, Simon Harris of Observatory led the visual charge, alongside newcomer to the fold, Production Designer, Matt Pitman of Pixel Mappers. This latest project represented a reunion for Harris and 80six’s Dan Hamill, who was closely involved during the very beginning of the creative process. The two have a long history working on Andy C shows, dating back to the autumn of 2011 for the Alive Tour. 

“It’s amazing to see how Andy shows have evolved over the past decade,” enthused Hamill, reflecting on previous shows he and Harris had worked on together. 

As well as providing his creative input, All Night saw 80six supply the video elements for the Wembley show, along with lighting supplier Lights Control Rigging (LCR) and Premier Production, which provided lasers and SFX. 

Harris described the goals of the project. “Although conversations started in spring, we really began to nail down the design at the end of the summer 2021,” he began. “Dan and I had already began to have some conversations with Scott, Andy C’s manager, where the main mission was to ensure it was bigger and brighter than the 2018 rendition,” stated Harris. 

Pitman explained what it was like coming into this established camp. “Andy C is heralded as a legend in the drum ’n’ bass scene, so curating visuals to reflect that epicness was something we took very seriously,” he asserted. 

For a number of years in several stage designs for Andy C, there has been a running theme of triangles along with creating the letter ‘A’ in the stage design, which the creative team doubled down on this time round. “For this project, you don’t get the standard budget with a regular Wembley show as dance events have strict rules in place,” Harris said. “The seated area around for example is set up as a chill out area or reserved for VIPs, so you don’t get the same number of ticket sales.” 

This meant the visual team had to be budget conscious and, as Harris explained, “get the most out of the kit we had at our disposal”. 

Pitman highlighted the issue of putting on a show of this nature in 2021 off the back of the industry being dormant for a year-and-a-half. “It was certainly a challenge staging an event of this size, at this point in the industry,” he stated. “Inflation and added event costs meant that we had to work really hard with our suppliers to find the right compromises and work abounds.” 

He praised the support of suppliers 80six and LCR for helping find a solution. “Pixel Mappers has been incredibly lucky to have been one of the few design companies to have been challenged with delivering large-scale live shows numerous times in 2020/21. Ultimately, our approach to working under these current difficult circumstances is the same as prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Namely, be patient with your clients, be grateful to your suppliers and look after your employees.” 

“When it came to the design, Andy C had specific requests, namely the inclusion of “CO2, lasers and big lights,” Harris noted. “We went back and forth when it came to the design of the video and lights until we had a set up that rivalled the 2018 design.” 

The video infrastructure was made up of ROE Visual MC7 LED panels, controlled by Green Hippo media servers. “The MC7 was the ideal product for this project as we’re very confident with using it in the touring frames – it’s quick and easy to deploy and even at 7mm, it works well in the indoor environment,” 80six’s Ben Annibal commented. 

“Wembley has a rather strict 24-hour turnaround policy where you have to be in and out in your allotted time,” he stated, explaining how this meant that a design that was simple enough to load in and out was always at the forefront of his and Pitman’s minds.

The choice of Green Hippo as the production’s media servers came down to the style of performance the team were putting together. “On this show, we are essentially busking and VJing on the fly for hours,” he stated. “You need to have all the options available at your fingertips and be able to change colours and effects to ensure it keeps looking good for several hours.” 

Harris and Video Operator, Nigel Sadler made use of a plethora of archival content that had been collected over the years working with Andy C. The only part of the show that was choreographed was the intro section, which Harris joked was only given to them days before the show. “Everything else is done live and comes down to knowing the music and experience working in the genre,” he remarked. 

Along with the content, both Sadler and Harris had a small camera package to incorporate into the visual palette. This included two Blackmagic Design Mini Cameras and a robo camera for a reverse shot. “The real advantage of just using remote cameras as opposed to manned pit cameras was that we didn’t need a full PPU package to handle the camera inputs,” said Harris. “With this style of show, I questioned the need for IMAG, but as we are in a big venue, you need to give some people close-ups of what is going on. However, it’s not the priority. At the end of the day, people come here to dance, so it’s better to spend more money on GLP JDC1s and CO2 jets.” 

On the subject of JDC1s, this rig had a lot of them – 62 to be precise – which covered the entire truss structure. “Covering the trusses in JDC1 was a solid idea,” enthused Pitman, who recalled the time Andy C set eyes on the design and was very impressed. “I love how much this design looks like a Flux Capacitor,” Pitman noted. “That part of the design could’ve carried the whole show.” 

Harris was also complementary of the JDC1s. “The row of JDC1s on the back of the rig behind the rear LED screen was a work of genius and the amazing silhouette look they created looked phenomenal.” 

Discussing the other two main workhorses on the rig was LCR’s Rob Watson. “Along with the JDC1s, we had Martin by Harman MAC Auras and Claypaky Mythos,” he listed. “Mythos had the flexibility to provide lots of beam looks along with some textures with the gobos. As this was nine hours of non-stop music, it was essential to have as many tools as possible to play with.” He also explained how the Auras were able to provide ‘nice eye candy moments’.

LCR provided two MA Lighting grandMA2s, a main and a back up, for Lighting Director, Tim Fawkes and Lighting Programmer, Olly Martin to control the visuals. 

While it is commonplace for dance music events to have two DJs join forces on the decks, during Andy C, this collaboration culture was also seen on the lighting desk. “For almost the entire show, the two of them were operating on the same console,” enthused Harris. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They were just bouncing off each other.” 

Harris discussed that this collaborative nature extended throughout FOH with all the visual departments. “We’ve shied away from comms as it’s not that kind of show,” said Harris. “For this type of performance to work, you need everyone in the zone enjoying themselves and bouncing off each other at FOH,” he said. 

Pitman believes ‘bringing every department together’ was key to the show’s success. “Andy’s shows are hugely spirited and that feeling carries down,” he stated. “Everyone was so excited for the show, the collected enthusiasm brought everyone and their combined ideas together.” 

To close, Pitman gave his thoughts on the show: “It was such a privilege to be a part of. I’ve been an Andy C fan for a long time and I’m also really proud to have been a part of a team that enjoyed their work this much. Everyone loved being at that show and massive thanks to 80six and LCR who made it possible.”

This article originally appeared in issue #267 of TPi, which you can read here.