TPi’s Ste Durham catches up with Theis Romme of Victory Tour Production to find out how the company managed to provide lighting, audio, video and staging elements for one of the most talked-about live acts of the moment.
It may seem naïve to utter such a statement in the year 2016 but, when it comes to live concert touring, chances are you really haven’t seen or heard anything quite like Japan’s BABYMETAL. For the uninitiated, the group is essentially an extreme metal band fronted by three teenage girls, singing anthemic, EDM-tinged J-pop (mostly in Japanese) as part of a theatrical stage show – complete with its own mythology and narrative. Think Slayer and Pendulum teaming up to serve as the backing band for a satanic version of the Powerpuff Girls. Still with me? Good.
As you’d expect with a fusion as ambitious as BABYMETAL, the corresponding production is equally as crazed – complete with inch-perfect dance routines, dramatic set pieces, and enough pyrotechnics to raise the eyebrows of even the most gig-weary Rammstein fan.
In order to kick off their 2016 world tour in style, BABYMETAL held a one-off show at Wembley’s SSE Arena that required international collaboration between UK-based production management company, Touring Solutions; Danish supplier Victory Tour Production; and the band’s Japanese crew.
Double Double Duty
Victory was brought in to provide audio, lighting, video and some staging elements for the band’s Wembley show, having forged relationships with some of the crew while supplying Denmark’s Volbeat – a band with whom BABYMETAL share both PM and FOH Engineer.
Project Manager of audio at Victory and occasional Volbeat System Tech, Theis Romme, picked up the story: “It was a huge production for a one-off gig – to me it felt more like a TV show than a concert during the build up. Everything had to be perfect, which wasn’t easy when you consider that we had no production rehearsals all together in Europe.
“The Japanese style of doing things is quite different. When they came in they were measuring everything and moving fixtures if they were so much as a centimetre out of place.”
The full production rehearsals took place in Japan with an identical setup to the one that was to be built in The SSE Arena, which allowed the crew to programme everything down to the letter. Romme continued: “There were a lot of emails back and forth. We went through eight different lighting renders during pre-production, but ended up with something that was really impressive and worked for all of the parties involved. We then had a week at our warehouse in Denmark for our guys to prepare.”
After being recommended by the band’s live album producer, FOH Engineer Mads Mikkelsen quickly adapted to BABYMETAL’s distinct style with a run of German club shows in August of 2015, closely followed by Reading and Leeds festival appearances.
He commented: “Victory have been great to work with. The fact that they could supply the PA system I wanted was the biggest thing for me. I’ve worked with them before, with Theis having acted as my system tech on Volbeat. With both of those things in mind it was an obvious choice.”
The system that Mikkelsen requested comprised of 12 Meyer Sound LEO-M per side for the main hangs, along with four Meyer Sound LYON-W per side hung underneath. Side fills consisted of 10 Meyer Sound LYON-M per side and nine Meyer Sound 1100-LFC subwoofers were flown on each side for bass reinforcement.
Mikkelsen said: “When I’m given a choice, I will always go for this system. The throw of the LEO system is incredible and the high-end resolution is unmatched by anything, in my opinion. Quite a long throw was necessary due to the absence of delays in the arena – even FOH was 60 metres away because of the stage thrust.”
Mikkelsen decided to fly the majority of the subwoofers to ensure that he could stay on top of the low end, particularly in the higher seated areas, and avoid the sound becoming too “muddy or boomy”.
He continued: “There’s a lot going on in the mix, including additional backing tracks, samples and harmonies. It’s quite a balancing act to keep the heavy metal sounding powerful but keep those candy-like vocals as the focal point. I tend to do a lot of cross-compressing and keying the vocals into different parts of the music, always making sure they are on top of all the other instrumentation.
“My primary concern is that the main vocalist, Su-Metal, is always loud, clear and crisp. The two other girls use headsets as they do a lot of singing and dancing, so I really have to cut a lot out of it in order to combat feedback and make sure they’re not picking up too much snare drum or guitars from the stage.”
The Meyer Sound system was controlled by a DiGiCo SD10 with Optocore and Waves software from FOH, with the corresponding DiGiCo SD rack, while the Japanese monitor engineer opted for a Yamaha PM5D-RH.
“I’m a DiGiCo guy and I prep files on my own SD8 in the office so the SD10 was an obvious choice. It’s the most flexible board there is in my opinion, and the sound quality is exceptional,” he said.
A combination of Shure, Audix, and Sennheiser microphones were selected, using a Shure Axient wireless system.
Mikkelsen added: “I thought the show was really fun – every time I mix them I’m so impressed with the girls and the band. The Japanese are extremely professional and everything is rehearsed down to the letter. Even though Wembley is a challenging venue, particularly being situated at 60 metres from the system, the band is a joy to mix. Victory provided exactly the rig I wanted, as well as a good solution for the subs.”
Bringing The Eye Candy
Victory also supplied lighting according to the Japanese crew’s exact specifications, including the procurement of two PRG V676 consoles from the company’s Hamburg office.
Romme commented: “The band’s LD had worked for PRG in Japan and was familiar with that particular desk, so he was very happy that we could supply it. At the end of the day, if it works for him, then it works for us.”
Victory provided 45 Clay Paky Alpha Beam 700’s, 19 Clay Paky Sharpys, 19 Clay Paky Mythos, 117 GLP impression X4 Bars, 32 Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Washes, 14 Martin by Harman Atomic 3000 Strobes, eight James Thomas Engineering 4-lite blinders, 35 8-lite blinders and six Robert Juliat Cyrano 2500W HMI followspots.
As well as the lighting crew, BABYMETAL brought an entire video department with them for the Wembley show, due to the fact that the show was being recorded for an upcoming DVD project. This team also created the visual content in Japan, leaving Victory to supply the screens and electronics. This consisted of 112 GLUX 10.4mm panels (50cm by 100cm), 77 KTL Flyer 18mm panels (115.2cm by 57.6cm), three Folsom Image Pro II Video Scalers, two Barco Multiformat Encore switchers, a Barco Encore LC Control Panel and a Grass Valley T2 recorder.
The panels were arranged as one central video wall and two side IMAG screens, showing a combination of content, camera shots and song introduction videos. As well as having cameras present to record the show for the band themselves, three broadcast trucks were at the venue to stream the footage directly to thousands of BABYMETAL fans watching on a big screen in Japan.
Romme said: “We had 18 crew on site for rigging and maintenance, and we also hired some local riggers to help. They did drawings and took care of the necessary agreements with the venue, while we provided steel and hoists.” This included a mixture of Prolyte and Litec trussing, with CM Lodestar and Kinesys hoists.
The final part of Victory’s contribution to the madness that was BABYMETAL’s Wembley show was a selection of staging elements, including stage lifts and a rail dolly track. “The stage was built in the room, and involved a big catwalk that went out to a round, rotating B stage. We provided lifts that allowed the performers to emerge from under the stage and a rail track so that they could get from the catwalk to main stage quickly,” explained Romme.
These pieces added even more variety to a stage that was already bustling set with bespoke set features, video, and pyrotechnics.
Although providing so much gear for a one-off gig was a huge undertaking for Victory, the success of the BABYMETAL show meant that the crew could look back on it as another job well done. Romme concluded: “It felt to me like some of the huge TV events I have done in Denmark except that we only had one day to build it! It was hard work but it turned out really well and was great fun to be involved with.” No doubt The One, as their fans are affectionatly known, would agree…
Photos: Amuse Inc