It’s sad to think how many albums released in late 2019 to early 2020 never got to have their time in the sun with a supporting touring campaign. Enter Shikari were one those unfortunate groups, having released their latest album, Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible, in April 2020. Famous for their raucous live shows, it comes as little surprise that any chance that came their way to perform, the four-piece jumped at the opportunity. From their headline performance at Download Pilot 2021 to a UK run at the end of the year, they brought a high-energy show to fans who had been starved of live music for such a long time. Even when bassist, Chris Batten had to step away from live duties due to catching COVID-19, the band still took to the stage with the ill member coming in through the PA via a live multitrack recording of a previous show.
With the Ally Pally performance well behind them, some of the key crew spoke to TPi about how the pieces for the band’s elaborate show came together and how the Enter Shikari team stuck to its guns when it came to making the show as environmentally friendly as possible.
NOT RED LIGHTS
Enter Shikari’s long-time Manager, Ian Johnsen spoke of the strange predicament of planning a show in the midst of endless COVID-19 regulations and the ever-present chance of shows being pulled. “There was never a ‘green light’ moment when we knew this show was definitely going to happen – that said, we never saw a red light either, so we just kept working towards the shows and hoped for the best.”
Despite the uncertainty, the camp made a concerted effort to focus on every detail of this production. “There has always been a ‘hands-on’ attitude within this band,” explained Johnsen. “A lot of bands get their hands taken off the wheel after a considerable amount of commercial success, but through each campaign, all the guys have always been interested in the production.”
From singer, Rou Reynolds speaking with the visual team to guitarist, Rory Clewlow creating video content for the tour, Enter Shikari take the term DIY to heart. There seemed to be a feeling of ‘no holds barred’ when it came to the Ally Pally show, with a unique lighting rig, sizeable laser package and projection mapping down the length of the venue to showcase the famed room.
“It was certainly an important show for the band,” began Production Manager, Jamal Chalabi. As a newcomer to the camp, the PM had thought the band might want to save some money, but as he explained, “the band wanted to return with a bang”. Frontman, Rou Reynolds explained as much on stage at Ally Pally, speaking of the importance of human gatherings and that live music was going to be key in reconnecting humanity. “It was for this reason that he and the rest of the band wanted this show to have all the bells and whistles,” explained the PM.
It should be noted at this point that although the band wanted to throw everything at this production, this was done with the caveat of being environmentally conscious. This will come as no surprise to those who have followed Chalabi’s career for the past two years. Leading TPG’s Sustainability Group, he met Reynolds earlier at COP26. “I was introduced to Rou while I was at the event and I must admit I didn’t realise he was the singer of Enter Shikari. We had a deep conversation about touring sustainably.”
A few weeks later, Mandylights put Chalabi’s name forward for the PM job. “When I spoke to the band and Tour Manager, Keith Reynolds about sustainability, there were some easy wins straight away,” stated Chalabi. “Bringing in KB Event as our trucking supplier was a no brainer. With their own tank of HVO at their yard, they could handle the whole tour using their own supply, which presented a huge carbon saving.”
“Over the course of the past two years, KB Event has been working very closely with Jamal as part of the TPG group to investigate and implement more sustainable events,” said KB Event’s Stuart McPherson. “As is often the case, good intentions get lost in the reality of tour budgets and schedules, but we’re fortunate enough to work with some tour managers, production managers and artists who are determined to put these intentions into practice – Jamal being one.”
McPherson went on to express his excitement to be back on the road with Enter Shikari. “The band and their management are leading the way in touring in a more sustainable way,” he enthused. “HVO Biofuel may be more expensive and has a direct impact on tour costs, but it is 100% renewable and shows a 90% reduction in CO2 emissions.”
It’s worth noting HVO Biofuel does not use palm oil in its production. “If we wish to safeguard the future of touring, we have a responsibility to our audiences and to the environment to do it in the most sustainable way,” concluded McPherson.
There were also some other quick wins on the carbon front with catering company, Saucery providing vegetarian meals with no red meat on the menu. There was also no single-use plastic used backstage with everyone on the crew having a personal water bottle. “I’m fully supportive of the band’s wish to be as sustainable as possible,” explained Manager, Ian Johnsen. “That said, it’s always tricky due to the level Enter Shikari exists in. Tickets for their shows are still really affordable compared to some other bands who will charge over £100 for an arena seat. They are often able to go further as they have the budget to do so, but we do what we can and it’s always on the top of our priorities when we start a new project.”
Mandylights, Christie Lights, Adlib, 80six, Observatory London, AC Lasers, Pixeled and Crosslands were also on tour with the band for this run of shows.
“By the time I came on board, most of the suppliers were fixed, although there were certainly some stumbling blocks with a shortfall of equipment available,” stated Chalabi. He also explained that performing in a Victorian building brought the usual issues that you might expect. “As we were going in there in winter, we had to account for snow weight. Outback Riggers were very helpful in the build up to the show, as were the management team at the venue,” he remarked.
Crewing was another issue that had been thrown into flux since COVID-19. Being as COVID-compliant as possible, the PM explained how they changed usual shift patterns, with crew doing blocks of five-hour shifts, meaning bringing in fewer people for longer. “It has the double bonus of being more COVID-19 compliant as well as being more sustainable,” he noted.
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ARGUING WITH THERMOMETERS
“It was a classic case of having the biggest London show as the first date on the run,” chuckled Stage Manager, Harry Ford. “We then went to Manchester’s Victoria Warehouse, followed by a number of smaller venues. As such, we had three different rigs out with us,” he stated. With this being Chalabi’s first time with the band, he wanted to bring on an experienced stage manager who was experienced with complex load-in and outs – somewhat of a specialty for Ford, who was also involved in ensuring the COVID-19 protocols were followed, specifically for the incoming local crew. “A big priority for us was keeping the band as separate as possible and keeping our core crew healthy. I ensured that all our local crew had been tested each day and implemented mask wearing and social distancing where possible,” he commented.
This went as far as rethinking some loading and unloading protocols such as opting to forklift equipment rather than have a large number of crew in a confined space.
Following the band’s Download performance [TPi Issue #263], Mandylights designers, Steve Bewley and Tom Edwards discussed the strange situation they found themselves in. “Although the plan was to go out on the road again at the end of the year, there was still a feeling of unease and a question mark over whether it was even going to happen,” explained Bewley. “Because of this, we found there were a few last-minute changes and things that would have usually been handled over a much longer period.”
Thankfully, Mandylights had already put in several hours in preparation for the set, which provided them with a decent starting point for the Alexandra Palace show. “This performance was very much an evolution of that headline show,” Bewley stated. “We were having to think on our feet as suppliers were changing due to demand and companies’ ability to source the necessary kit.” Eventually the team locked in Christie Lites, which was able to cater for all the lighting needs.
The core component of this show was the diagonal truss lines at the top of the stage made up of Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron 10s. As well as being used architecturally, the design-duo was also excited to make use of the Sceptrons’ ability to take a video input. “All the Sceptrons on stage were video mapped and we had a media server sending content to them,” outlined Bewley.
Also on the rig were 24 Claypaky Xtylos, as well as a number of GLP JDC1s. “We also had some GLP impression X4 Bar 20s for some side and key lighting as well as Martin by Harman MAC Viper Performances,” listed Edwards.
As well as a stunning stage design, the entire room was incorporated into the design, thanks to a large laser rig provided by AC Lasers and video projection on the walls of the venue, done in collaboration between 80six and Observatory. “We wanted to include the whole venue in the look of the show,” explained Bewley. “We had various bits of content that were projected on the walks including one which demonstrated climate change with the melting of ice caps as well as one showing deforestation,” outlined Edwards, while also remarking that they had filmed some content of frontman, Rou Reynolds singing.
Enabling the seamless integration of visual and audio came down to timecode. “It was timecoded to death,” laughed Bewley. “Every element coming out of the music, we worked with the band as they were always working on little touches we could implement.”
According to Edwards, it was a very collaborative experience. “Each side would prompt each other, with us hearing something and suggesting adding a sound effect and in turn the band would point out bits in the track they wanted to highlight,” he reported.
As you might imagine, such an intricately designed show meant plenty of programming hours. “Thankfully, we had made a start in the build up to Download where we put in around 102 hours each in the week leading up to the performance. Using that as a base, we then crafted this show file.”
After the Ally Pally show, the collaboration between band and design team did not end there, with Edwards tagging along for the rest of the tour and continuing to tweak the show file in conjunction with notes from the group.
Mandylights’ investment in Syncronorm Depence² also came into its own in the build up to this show. “We invested heavily in Depence² as it’s streaks ahead of everything else on the market,” stated Bewley. “Especially in the lead up to Ally Pally show, Tom was able to hit the ground running as soon as he got on the site and knew exactly how everything should look.”
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THE PRESSURE’S ON
Providing visual content for the production was Observatory London’s Ben Sheppee. “This was the only show that was held in Alexandra Palace in December and to be involved at all was really quite an honour,” he began.
The team at Observatory have worked with Enter Shikari many times since 2014 and as a result, Sheppee was already familiar with their back catalogue. “They are a great band to work for as they are independent and make a lot of their own decisions. When we talk about art direction, it’s quite a quick conversation as to where we want to take the show,” he explained.
Sheppee reasserted the importance of being environmentally friendly when it came to the production of this show, with the band requesting Observatory to explore the theme in the content. “I’ve already done a number of climate-focused pieces over the years and therefore had some assets I could start working from,” he reported.
To maximise the impact of the projection mapped elements of the show, they only appeared a few times during the band’s set. “Many times, so as it was not having to compete with the large lighting rig, we used the video mapping in the transitions of songs,” stated Sheppee, explaining how the content worked almost as a timeline linking songs.
Driving the content were disguise gx 2c media servers with projection coming from Barco 32K laser projectors, all of which was supplied by 80six. The company also supplied ROE Visual CB5, as well as a package of Blackmagic URSA broadcast cameras and Micro cameras.
“Timescales and the budget were tight but the result was an eye-catching display of graphics produced by the team at Observatory,” commented 80six Project Manager, Ben Annibal. “A full camera package was used to capture the band on stage with individual additional mini cameras for each band member and added camera effects being overlaid on the ROE CB5 portrait IMAGs.
Overseen by AC Lasers’ Daniel Briggs, the laser rig for the Ally Pally show comprised four RTI Nano 30s along with six AC-MFL. “The MFLs were on the diagonal trusses so they fit in with the overall look of the show,” stated Briggs. “Then we had the Nanos upstage shoot over the band for some high-impact sweeping looks.” Briggs went on to explain how it was nice to collaborate with the team and Mandylights once again on this project. “It was a great dynamic working with Tom [Edwards], translating their design intent to looks tuned for laser projection,” he noted.
Like the rest of the visual department, Briggs benefitted from the timecode to ensure looks were as tight as possible. “Rou sat down with Tom one evening and we went through each cue. It makes such a difference when a band really cares about the detail and there is almost less pressure as you are having too much fun collaborating.”
Pixeled was also onboard providing confetti for the production. The company’s Director, Lucy Harrison explained that one of its goals was to ensure its offering was as environmentally friendly as possible. “We offer a 100% eco-friendly confetti system at Pixeled,” she began. “The machines are fired using compressed air and electro-magnets as opposed to CO2 options other productions use. All of the confetti and streamers we fire are fully biodegradable.”
This show and proceeding tour was somewhat of a reunion for the team at Pixeled who have worked with the band since 2018. “Alexandra Palace is always a highlight for the band as well as all the crew,” stated Harrison. “Shikari are incredibly detailed in all aspects of their production and this show in particular has been months in the making to really create the experience they were looking for.”
As well as this Ally Pally show, Pixeled also supplied equipment for the tour, namely four MagicFXStadium Shot machines. “We use all MagicFX equipment, which is one of the leading manufacturers of stage effects equipment in the world and the quality of the equipment really withstands the heavy touring we do.”
For the Ally Pally show this was increased to 10 Stadium shots. On the tour a total of 342kg of multicoloured paper confetti was fired. “There were 1,480 20m steamers and 60kg of confetti in Alexandra Palace alone which has been one of the largest quantities of confetti ever fired in there in a single show,” stated Harrison proudly. “My personal highlight was seeing the band and crowd’s reaction to the very first hit of confetti on the Alexandra Palace show. The guys love it just as much as the audience do. It really does give me chills and just adds another level of dimension to the whole performance.”
OK, TIME FOR PLAN B
Despite the best-laid plans, this latest endeavour, like so many shows at the tail end of 2021, was affected by COVID-19 so much so that bassist, Chris Batten tested positive, meaning he would be unable to perform. With news coming down the line to the core crew, the long-standing audio team put their heads together to work out how they could still make this show happen.
Explaining those days leading up to the show was long-standing FOH Engineer, Andy Russell. “Joe Crouch [Monitor Engineer and Playback Tech] and I put our heads together to come up with a solution,” began Russell. “In the end, Joe took some multitrack recordings I had done previously and sent that through Ableton, which the band uses live for tracks on stage. This then got sent back through the inputs so from my end at FOH it was as if I was mixing Chris live on stage rather than the band just playing along to a left and right stereo mix.”
Russell mused that although this solution was a quick fix to ensure the show could go on, with COVID-19 still very much being present, perhaps having a bank of multitrack recordings of each member of a band is not a bad idea to ensure shows can keep happening even if someone is ill.
Despite these irregularities, it was business as usual in terms of show delivery. Throughout the lockdown, the band kept busy with a number of live stream exploits, which Russell aided in giving advice, especially to drummer, Rob Rolfe when it came to micing up his kit.
“There was always that seed of doubt that Alexandra Palace and the following shows would be pulled but in those types of situations you just have to remain positive. Everyone in this camp loves what we do and has been with them for many years, so we just kept pushing.”
The PA of choice for the Ally Pally gig and some of the larger shows proceeding was a CODA Audio AiRAY system, courtesy of audio supplier, Adlib. Along with the main hangs, Russell selected the SC2-F sub along with SCP subs, complemented by extra elements from the APS and HOPS series of speakers.
CODA Audio has been Russell’s brand of choice for Enter Shikari since their last full campaign where he and the band experimented with quadraphonic mixes. “From the first time I heard CODA, I was blown away not just by how good it sounded but by its technical specifications and the fact it could throw for miles with a super-clean high frequency,” he stated. “The band mixes up a lot of genres in the music and there is a lot of detail going on in both the high and low frequencies of their mixes. The first time we used CODA, there were elements of the mix that came out that I’d never even heard before and I’ve been working with the band since 2006.”
Keeping with tradition, Russell once again looked to Midas for control, opting for a PRO2 console. “Following Ally Pally, we were going into some much smaller rooms so I needed to have a flexible footprint, keeping it under 56 inputs,” he stated. “I also used the original XL8 digital spits – the DL431s – on account of the fact they sound fantastic.”
When it came to outboard gear, Russell explained how he liked to keep to most of the effects ‘in box’ and put far greater focus on other pieces of tech on his raider, namely a Lake Processing LM44 along with his Smaart rig. “I carry my Smaart rig everywhere I go as I’m also a System Engineer. For this tour, for example, it meant that even in the shows when I didn’t have the full CODA system and was using a house PA, I could get it in the best shape for the mix,” he added. “The one thing for me is that no matter where someone is in the venue, the sound should be consistent.”
The band has for a few years adopted Kemper amps, meaning most of the instruments are on DI. For microphones from vocals to drums, Audio-Technica was the brand of choice. “For Rou’s vocals, we’ve got him on an Audio-Technica AE6100. It’s a hypercardioid microphone and it’s really tight, clear and clean,” he enthused. “Rou is a very dynamic singer and in the same song can go from falsetto to screaming right on microphone and it always cuts through the mix and sits where I need it to. He even put it in a shoe once and it still held up pretty well.”
Due to the COVID-19 climate, none of the band were going into the crowd as much as they used to, Russell still had an Audio-Technica System 10 Series wireless microphone on the rig for any band to use if they fancied “taking a wonder”. He elaborated: “We’ve used that wireless set up for some time now and it’s always been rock-solid and sits alongside our hard wired mics on stage. We keep it in the central piano position and any of the guys are free to use it during the show.”
Crossland provided two Setra S431 double deckers for the tour. “It was key to run a tight ship in terms of COVID-19 safety, and having separate buses for band and crew was one of the measures taken,” said Crossland Logistics and Client Account Manager, Sharon Tea.
“We also offered regular bus-fogging, to be used as the party deemed necessary – whereby the buses could be vacated for a short period and a disinfectant fogging solution discharged throughout.”
As every tour is different, Crossland’s drivers adapt to and adopt each party’s COVID-19 rules. “So long as our drivers feel safe, we are happy to work with each client individually to make sure they also feel confident, as we work our way out of this together,” explained Tea. The company’s first bus to leave on a tour for 2021, 15 months after being stopped in its tracks, was actually for Enter Shikari, to take them to Download Festival. “To then also round off our 2021 with them on a full tour was equally poignant as they are one of the bands we’ve worked with the longest,” stated Tea, expressing her excitement for the next adventure with the band as we move into a new year.
CROSSING THE RUBICON
It’s great that even in these trying times, as hard working crews breathe life back into an industry that has been dormant for so long, teams are still trying to push for sustainability and a more responsible touring model. It renews faith in the industry – especially as we move into what seems to be a very busy 2022.
“Everyone loved being back on stage,” commented Johnsen. “Those early shows where Chris wasn’t there, the band still enjoyed the challenge and playing the shows. I went to the Liverpool show when Chris was back and there was a tangible energy when they were all back together.”
Despite uncertainty around immediate European touring plans, there is clearly a fire burning within the belly of the wider Enter Shikari family to once again get out there and give fans a long-overdue live experience.
This article originally appeared in issue #268 of TPi, which you can read here.