Considered by live musos and critics alike as one of the most exciting young bands on the touring circuit today, Irish post-punk outfit, Fontaines D.C. have experienced the trials and tribulations of touring amid the pandemic. Having seen their campaign for second album, A Hero’s Death, postponed, then a subsequent resumption curtailed by a positive COVID-19 test, their return saw them play to larger crowds and venues than originally anticipated due to popular demand. Keeping pace with the rollercoaster ride that is post-lockdown productions was a tight-knit team of creatives and technicians, supported by Only Helix, SSE Audio, Patchwork London, Colour Sound Experiment, 4Wall UK and Stagetruck.
“We did three shows before COVID-19 put a halt to proceedings,” Tour Manager, Marcus Haughton began. “We returned to the summer festival season, where we found ourselves visiting bigger venues than we had anticipated due to the rising popularity of the band.”
Haughton assumed the role of production and tour management up until a headline date at London’s Alexandra Palace, where he was joined by Only Helix’s Steven Down and additional crew members. “We could have easily gone from a three-person team to two bus and two truck strong teams,” Haughton theorised. “Instead, Only Helix decided to ease the band into increased production values, organically.”
Following a pilot of the rig during the summer festival season, Production Designer and Lighting Operator, Miles Weaver, went back to the drawing board to design a powerful albeit scalable rig for the tour. “The larger festival stages allowed us to experiment and finalise the setup before the tour, in order to get most of the rig into most of the venues from 1,500 to 3,000-capacity,” Haughton explained.
Weaver was initially enlisted by the band’s management to draw concepts for a one-off livestream, which led to him joining the touring camp. “The design required impact regardless of stage size,” Weaver said, highlighting his choice of lighting and rigging vendor. “[Colour Sound Experiment Director of Touring] Alex Ryan goes beyond expectations to make this concept a reality within budget and without compromising the design,” he added. “Having the confidence that your supplier can provide crewing and kit without issues is great.”
The lighting and rigging infrastructure for the 10,400-capacity Ally Pally date was upscaled. Eleven towers of 20 Portman Lights P2 Hexaline units were boosted to 24 and stacked four high with ladders in between the gaps housing 30 GLP JDC1s, upped from 20.
An additional 30 Ayrton Eurus S monochromatic LED sources and 20 Robe Spiiders along the upstage were added to the rig, along with four Robe BMFL Followspot LTs to track the movement of the band on-stage.
“I wanted to create a feel of a wall of tungsten against a wash of colour and this combo worked,” Weaver said, having successfully conducted an impressive orchestration of juxtaposed colour and lighting effects. “I spent an hour building effects and bumps on them to create a catalogue of effects before I started programming songs. I always try not to repeat the same look or effect twice during each show,” he explained.
The floor package featured 20 Robe Spiiders, upped from six on the tour, and two CHAUVET Professional Rogue R2 Wash lighting fixtures. Meanwhile, the front truss boasted 10 Robe BMFLs and 10 4-Lite Molefay units. Four Tour Hazer 2 and two MDG ATMe devices provided atmospherics, triggered by Weaver’s console of choice, an MA Lighting grandMA3 light running grandMA2 software.
Capture previsualisation software helped Weaver transform his sketches from render to reality. “The advancements in visualisation software have been incredible,” he said. “We didn’t have the luxury of production rehearsals, so knowing what you’re seeing in previsualise makes my life a lot easier.”
Weaver cited visits to Nottingham’s Rock City and The Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, as standout pitstops on the road. “These were new venues to me, but now I am fully aware of why they are considered by many as iconic spaces,” he remarked.
David ‘Fletch’ Fletcher oversaw the deployment of the floor package during the summer festival season and tour of academy venues leading up to Ally Pally, where he was joined by Lighting Crew Chief, Neil Smith and four additional crew members with a range of skill sets and disciplines tasked with handling the overhead flown rig.
Weaver praised the professionalism of the lighting crew. “Everyone on the crew is great to work with and it was a collective, concerted effort to get this show off the ground every day,” he commented.
“It was a pleasure to provide kit and crew for this project. Miles and the entire production pulled out all the stops to make the show possible,” Colour Sound Experiment Director of Touring, Alex Ryan added.
“The reaction on the fans’ faces as soon as the house lights went down was indescribable,” Smith enthused, recalling the instant gratification he felt as soon as doors opened, swathes of fans safely piled in, and the house lights went down. “As soon as the house lights go down and the band takes to the stage, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.”
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‘A BREATH OF FRESH AIR’
Video Director, Richard ‘Richie’ Shipman of 4Wall UK was cutting the cameras at Green Man Festival when he first stumbled across Fontaines D.C. “The band is such a breath of fresh air,” he enthused, explaining how he became an instant fan before receiving a call to project manage and video direct the band’s Ally Pally date. 4Wall UK supplied two 6m by 3.6m ROE Visual CB5 IMAG screens, rigging infrastructure courtesy of 4Wall UK’s lighting division, and a camera package which comprised a Sony FXC-FB80KL 1080P PPU with a Blackmagic Design Atem 2ME mixer in the director’s station running four FXC- FB80KL camera channels, three handheld cameras and an 86x long lens at FOH.
The camera team featured James Cowlin, Alex Barrat, Sam Brown, Tim Curwen, Pete Cross and Carl Stage. “They all did a fantastic job. Tim Curwen engineered the PPU with Pete Cross tech’ing the LED; we even had Ben Sanderson and James Dodd from 4Wall UK’s Aylesbury warehouse cable bashing in a pretty active pit,” Richie commented. “It’s fantastic to be back at the sharp end of live music with a crew of talented people, cutting cameras for this band has been a very special experience.”
FOH Engineer, Chris Butterworth has mixed the band’s FOH sound for the past few years, having been scouted by management while he was working at The Leadmill in Sheffield. Speaking about his choice of Allen & Heath dLive mixing console, Butterworth said: “I really like using this desk; it sounds good and has loads of great plug-ins and outboard models. The recent 1.9 update added the bus compressor, which I use over the LR. The 12 channel PEQ has replaced GEQs on all outputs, and I use the Dual Threshold Expander on all the vocals to clean up the stage spill. That one plugin alone has transformed this tour for me.”
Monitor Engineer, Mathew Acreman also mixed on an Allen & Heath dLive console. “Having toured various other desks for the past decade or so, I really feel like I get so much out of the dLive. The desk sounds incredible and my IEM mixes sound so clean and wide. As well as being really ‘musical’, I feel in control,” Acreman said, waxing lyrical about the console.
“I never felt that I needed to look outside of the dLive or use any external hardware or plug-ins – especially since the arrival of the latest firmware update. The Dual Threshold Expander has been a game changer, tightening up the mixes and Bus compressor, which I now have over all of my IEM outputs,” he noted. “Add those to the already great bundle of FX and compressors and I have everything that I need for a great show.”
For Acreman, the biggest challenge was getting the band to leave behind wedges and move onto in-ear monitors and side fills. “IEMs aren’t for everyone and as a band who had never used them before, this could have gone either way,” Acreman acknowledged. “We got some mixes going in rehearsals and put the time into really getting into the songs, getting everything into tight snapshots with lots of little changes from track to track.”
Since then, there was no turning back for the band and crew. “It feels like everything has gone up a level and they’re now playing with such confidence,” Acreman commented. “It’s also cleared up the stage sound, meaning that Chris [Butterworth] has far more control of his mix at FOH,” he noted.
System Technician, Bill Laing oversaw a d&b audiotechnik PA rig, curated by TPi Award-winning sound designer, Liam Halpen, at Ally Pally, which featured 16 KSL8s on the main hang, 12 KSL12s on the side hang, and 16 SL-SUBs. Six V8 and two V-SUBs handled outfill duties, with 12 V8 delays in two hangs of six boxes. The system was powered by a Lake Processing LM44 control rack, a DS10 Audio network bridge in each amplifier rack along with a D80 amp rack as an analogue backup.
Laing outlined the importance of a combination of d&b audiotechnik KSL and ArrayCalc when it came to perfecting the sound of the PA. Implemented correctly, the cardioid pattern of the KSL, combined with ArrayProcessing, negated the issues of a ‘highly reverberant venue’ such as the Ally Pally.
“Ally Pally’s acoustic properties can be challenging, so I had to ensure high-quality coverage everywhere, particularly the disabled and VIP viewing platforms, situated at the sidewalls of the venue,” he said, explaining his solution was to harness a V-SUB and three V8 boxes stacked on a platform either side to cover the platforms and provide suitable outfill.
“ArrayProcessing levelled the frequency response from the front to the rear of the room. The audio team has also worked with the band to ensure that the source quality is high, and the on-stage audio level is controlled.”
When it comes to microphone choices, Butterworth prefers to experiment. “The Coles 4038 mono overhead hanging over the drum kit attracts a lot of attention; I use it in my FOH mix to glue the close mics together,” he explained.
“It picks up a great balance of the drums and gives a smooth cymbal sound. The spill from figure eight pattern isn’t really a problem when you have a drum kit raging underneath it – it’s all drums. We used DPA 4099s on the snare bottom and toms, Audio-Technica dynamic and condenser mics on Curley’s guitar, a Beyerdynamic M88 on bass and a Beyer M160 on Carlos’ guitar.”
Patchwork London supplied an audio control package, which featured two Allen & Heath S5000 dLive consoles; DM64, DM48, and CDM32 mix racks; Shure PSM1000 in-ear monitors; 10 d&b audiotechnik M4 wedges and three D20 amplifiers; 32 channels of Radial OX8 splits as well as a full line system, backline power, stands and a microphone package to augment Butterworth’s existing collection.
Mix racks varied over the summer due to space, however, Patchwork London provided DM48s or DM64s, except for the first run where space was tight. “We managed to design a 12u double wide rack to house both DM48 in monitor world and CDM32 at FOH, with 32 channels of Radial three-way split, line system, IEM systems and a power distribution,” Patchwork London Project Manager, James Kerr said. “Once space was no longer an issue following the festival run, the team moved back into a large 24u double wide to house everything.”
Achieving sonic consistency and clarity each night was of paramount importance to Butterworth. “We wanted to build on the raw energy that the audience experienced when seeing the band in an intimate venue and create a polished production with word-for-word clarity in the vocals and all the guts of a proper rock show,” he stated.
With a step up for the bigger shows, the team enlisted the support of Sound Supervisor, Phil Jones, to evaluate mix techniques, sound system tuning, microphone choice and a general approach to sound. “I hadn’t done this role before, so I was unsure what to expect. However, I have loved working with the crew,” he informed TPi. “I found the entire experience very rewarding.”
Walking into the camp, Jones’ first task was to address the stage volume. “The band sounds and plays great. However, the amps were very loud on stage and, frankly, unmanageable,” he said. “We didn’t want to lose the ‘tone’ but had to do something about it. The band were also still using some on-stage wedges.”
Sharing his experience with the band was the first step. “We ended up taking the amps off of the front of the riser and turning them sideways, making makeshift isocabs out of flight cases,” Jones explained. “The crew worked together to get this right and the difference was night and day. Chris [Butterworth] had much more control, which the gig benefitted from hugely.”
Having toured the UK for a month, Butterworth stood back from his console at Ally Pally to soak in the experience. “It felt quite special,” Butterworth expressed. “Everyone worked so hard to bring the best show we could – plus, their fans are brilliant.”
According to Kerr, wrapping up at Ally Pally was a perfect way to draw a close to a successful albeit staggered touring campaign. “It has been great experience of project managing a larger show and I have really enjoyed being on call to deliver what was needed to achieve the outstanding results,” he commented. “From listening to the band in rehearsals after so long without hearing live music in July through to seeing the final product refined and delivered to a sold-out crowd at Ally Pally was a real treat.”
Having experienced similar success while touring with Royal Blood, Jones was overjoyed to share his personal experience with the Fontaines D.C. crew. “This was a really exciting project to be involved in,” he concluded.
This article originally appeared in issue #266 of TPi, which you can read here.