By this point, I’m sure most reading this will have already seen their fair share of streamed performances and perhaps even made it to a socially-distanced show during this uncertain time for the industry. However, since March, there has been talk of the dream scenario of a hybrid show where a band could play to both a live audience, and one at home. This solution represents the best of both worlds, in that there is the energy of a live show combined with the potential large audience that only streaming could obtain. And it was this school of thought that informed Hot Chip’s latest offering – a one-off show at Dreamland, Margate. The multi-instrumentalists played to a crowd of 300 in the open-air venue, while also being streamed across the globe for a paying virtual audience.
As well as a technological feat, the show presented a chance for the band’s loyal touring family to catch up face-to-face for the first time since March. Talking TPi through this ambitious project was Director of Only Helix, Steven Down, who oversaw the production of Hot Chip’s latest touring campaign.
“We have been working with the band for about 18 months,” reflected Down, “Historically, they haven’t gone too far down the production route but, for this last album cycle, their Manager, Sam Denniston, explained that they were looking to push their touring offering and make a real impact.”
With this goal in mind and headline shows and festivals slots in sight, the loyal crew and key suppliers – Cassius Creative, Liteup, SSE Audio and ER Productions – created an impactful live show that entertained fans up until March this year.
“A few months after the initial lockdown, the band’s management got in touch and asked us to look into a budget for a livestreamed show,” continued Down. “This wasn’t the first show like this we had budgeted for, many of which simply never got off the ground.” The team at Helix presented three potential options and waited for a response. Due to the current uncertainty in the events market, Down admitted he was “somewhat surprised” when they got the green light and he busied himself immediately to make this a reality.
ONE PURE THOUGHT
In normal operating times, Dreamland is a 5,000-capacity outdoor performance space. “For this project, for the live audience, we adopted a pod system for up to six people in a very similar setup to that of the Virgin Money Unity Arena [p28],” said Down. “We implemented a one-way system in the venue for people to go to either the toilets or the bar.”
Down explained the lengthy health and safety procedures that were required to bring this show to fruition. “Thinking of every eventuality was a long process,” he explained. “We had looked at everything the PSA had published and spoke to a few organisers to get their advice. George [Baker, Production Manger] was responsible for the majority of the risk assessment on top of handling his usual PM duties and even helping out the lighting department – he was a very busy guy.”
Also talking about the considerations for the show was Tour Manager, Emma Edgar. “Early on, I had conversations with the band asking them what type of show they were hoping to achieve,” she began. “In the beginning, they were concerned that, with such a big venue and a limited crowd, it would be hard to generate the vibe – but needless to say that was not the case on the night. In many ways, we approached this show in a similar way to a TV shoot and when we adopted that mindset, everything settled into place.”
The Tour Manager described the level of care the team took to ensure the safety of both band and crew. “For starters, our backstage was limited to band and crew only, with no other people allowed. For such a personal band, this was an adjustment but all the guys were incredibly understanding.” It wasn’t just a case of limited personnel, but also realising the sheer number of potential contact points there are backstage.
“We went completely riderless for the show,” she highlighted. “Just think of the number of people who use the milk for a tea or coffee backstage – you’re talking about 20 people touching the same container, which posed a potential risk.”
This meant any produce that the band required for the show had to be brought in by them and kept in separate containers for the duration. “It’s little details like this that we obsessed over during the run up to the show,” Edgar explained. “It was a case of going through the whole working day and flagging any potential issues.”
She explained that this process was also opened up to the whole band and crew for people to throw in suggestions about how they could make their workflow safer – from the backline crew, Mick Pryde, Ian Barnard and Mat Davie changing the process of instrument changeovers, to the band bringing extra instruments so as not to have to share. Meanwhile at FOH, in lighting, lasers and audio world, masks were worn throughout.
The TM described the logistical challenge of getting all the regular faces of the Hot Chip camp together for the show. “As soon as the show was green-lit, Steve and I set about getting everyone together – which was tricky, as our FOH Engineer was based in Germany, our Keyboard Tech was in Portugal and our LD was still in Spain.”
Thankfully, all three of these key crew members managed to fly over to the UK for what would be one of their few working shows of this year. “Our LD, Matt, even committed to a two-week quarantine period before the show just so that he could come and work on this one,” she enthused. “It was so good to bring everyone back and, once we were finished, all we really wanted to do was jump on a bus and do it all again.”
For the band’s latest touring cycle, the Helix team collaborated with Dan Hill and Chris ‘Squib’ Swain’s Cassius Creative to develop a new stage show for the band. “We’ve done a lot of work with Cassius over the years,” said Down. “Our offices are actually just down the road from one another.”
Giving a design perspective, Hill talked through what they were hoping to achieve with this project. “Before we started to design the show, the band already had the artwork in place for this campaign, having worked with the artist, Jeremy Deller,” he began. “We had quite a catalogue of material to work with in terms of feel and textures. They were also looking to have some physical objects as part of the design so we began to look at materials for a setup that would be both tour and festival friendly.”
Hill admitted that in the original design, there was not a huge number of lighting fixtures, relying heavily on GLP impression X4 Bars to internally light the large set pieces. “We also used the X4s for a side light then we also adopted a sizeable floor package with a number of flares and strobes that were hidden from view.
The lighting rig was very much replicated when the set was revived for the streamed show, comprising; 27 GLP impression X4 Bar 20s, 10 GLP X4 Bar 10s, six TMB Solaris Flares, and six Martin by Harman MAC Aura XBs. There was also a house rig with a number of spots, LED washes and strobes – a necessity to provide further key lighting for the band – all of which was controlled by an MA Lighting grandMA2 light console.
Lighting Director, Matt Waterfield talked TPi through the transition of this stage show to the streamed world. “Key light was one of the concerns, so we updated the house rig slightly to give slightly more options,” he explained. “Other than that, nothing changed too much for our side in terms of how we normally run the show.” He explained the challenge of running a show after six months away from the live environment. “It was a concern and, a week out from the show, it was certainly on my mind, but thankfully we had quite a long load-in – almost two days – to ensure we could build up the show safely. It gave me some time to familiarise myself with the MA. Happily, the muscle memory kicked in quickly.”
The LD was also quick to thank the two members of Liteup, who also supplied the rig, for their help, along with PM, Baker, who was heavily involved with the set elements on stage during the previous tour.
To make this show, Waterfield had an interesting logistical challenge, having to travel from his home in Spain and then commit to two-week quarantine before coming on site. “There was no way I was missing one of my only gigs of the year,” he asserted.
He concluded by giving his thoughts on what this show could mean in the wider conversation about the live events industry at the moment. “I feel that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s not too bright right now,” he stated. “That said, streaming shows like this, with a socially distanced crowd, are a good thing and although it is not a lucrative project, it’s just brilliant to get a gig out there to the fans and showcase to the industry what is possible under these restrictions.”
TAKE IT IN
Key to the visual look of the band’s latest tour was its extensive use of lasers and special effects, courtesy of supplier ER Productions. Having worked with the band for a number of years, the laser specialist was keen to keep pace with the band’s more ambitious visual production. Talking TPi through the package was Laser Operator, Ben Couch, who oversaw a package of six ER Productions Storm Lasers controlled via Pangolin Beyond – a number that was upped to 10 for the band’s headline Alexandra Palace show, as well as this latest streamed performance.
“When the conversation for the Margate show came up, the management and production were very upfront with the situation,” reported Couch, pointing out the uncertainty of a paid stream and the limited budget that was available. “Despite this, they were still keen to make sure that the laser package was there for this, as it is such an integral part of their show,” he added.
As well as the laser package, ER Productions provided 10 Viper Deluxe Smoke Machines. “There was a bit of a back and forth when it came to haze and the streaming team,” said Couch, explaining how they had to find the middle ground of having ample smoke to make the lasers look great, yet still keep the band visible for the camera. “The guys from Spiritland, who were looking after the video, were fantastic and wanted to get it as close to a ‘live’ performance as possible.”
Couch gave his final thoughts on the performance: “It was so great to be back working,” he commented. “It was really nice to hear music at a decent volume and even have a crowd.”
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Since March, there has been talk of the dream scenario of a hybrid show where a band could play to both a live audience and one at home. This solution represents the best of both worlds, in that there is the energy of a live show combined with the potential large audience that only streaming could obtain. And it was this school of thought that informed Hot Chip’s latest offering – a one-off show at Dreamland Margate. The multi-instrumentalists played to a crowd of 300 in the open-air venue, while also being streamed across the globe for a paying virtual audience 📹 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Get the full technical breakdown in the October issue of TPi 🗞 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 🔗 in bio ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 📸: Only Helix
MELODY OF LOVE
FOH Engineer, Parker, Monitor Engineer Mario Leal and PA Tech Brandon Reese were also on hand to reclaim their respective mantles. “Tour Manager, Emma, was vital in the lead up to this one,” began Leal. “She kept us up-to-date with all the logistics of this show, which was important as there was always a risk the entire show might get pulled at any point due to the current climate.”
Three weeks out from the show, the audio duo began serious conversations with supplier SSE Audio to begin putting their package back together. “SSE has been the band’s supplier for a long time – much longer than I’ve been with the band – and there is a really strong relationship there. They had the most up-to-date spec and were able to replicate the same system we had out earlier this year, while I was able to just check in from home,” stated Leal.
Both ends of the Optocore were two DiGiCo SD12s. “We both chose the SD12 at the start of the cycle last year and connected both desks via Optocore using the same SD rack,” explained the Monitor Engineer. “The Hot Chip show is rather complex with a lot of content coming from the stage,” he continued, referring to the myriad analogue and digital synthesisers of the band’s backline alongside the regular guitar, bass and drum setup.
Leal added: “It’s quite an intricate mix for each song. It’s definitely not a show where you could rock up in sound check and throw together a mix.” Not only that, as the band use so many synthesisers, which they play and manipulate live, Leal has to continually ride those elements due to the varying outputs. “It’s been almost six months since I touched an SD12 and I was slightly concerned due to the complex nature of the show and the fact that we only had one shot at this globally streamed performance,” he admitted. “In the end, it only took me 15 minutes to remember my show file and where everything was on the desk; it was second nature.”
For the on-stage sound, half of the band opted for IEMs, while the rest used wedges and side fills. “It’s quite a loud stage,” admitted the engineer, while listing of the range of stage wedges and side fills – d&b audiotechnik M4, V7P and VSubs. For the band members using IEMs, Leal opted for a Shure PSM 1000 eight-way system. For the main PA, the production made use of the venue’s in-house d&b audiotechnik V-Series.
Leal concluded by giving his thoughts on this event and the wider implications of what lockdown could mean for the events industry: “We work in a creative industry made up of incredibly intelligent and highly skilled individuals,” he commented. “Together, we will manage to find a way to reinvent the industry in order to make live events happen again. We just need the government to give us a chance. Being part of this show is a good test and it shows that we are all taking safety measures seriously.”
LOOK AT WHERE WE ARE
Ensuring that the band’s performance was seen and heard across the globe was Spiritland Productions. The company – founded by ex-BBC Live Broadcast Engineers, Gareth Iles and Anthony Shaw, was brought into the project by the promoter of the event, DICE.
“Gareth and I formed Spiritland Limited around three years ago,” outlined Shaw, giving the history of the company. With a fully equipped podcast space, the duo took over the studio, which is still the home of famed shows including SAS: Who Dares Wins podcast. Soon, the two expanded the company’s offering, resulting in the creation of Spiritland One – a top-of-the-range OB truck, which was unveiled to the industry at IBC last year and used for the last Hot Chip show.
“The goal was to have it as highly specified as possible,” stated Shaw, who listed some of the vehicle’s capabilities including the most advanced Dolby Atmos broadcast capabilities. “When we started working on this show, we thought it would be a good opportunity to use this functionality. As well as a standard stereo feed for the paying audience, we simultaneously broadcast the stream to deliver the first livestreamed musical performance with Dolby Atmos, which was enjoyed by Dolby and AWS company employees across the globe,” he enthused.
Back to the show, Shaw outlined the brief he and the team were given. “Larry Gale, who directed the show from our end, had a few chats with the visual team before the show but, on the whole, we wanted the band to do their thing and simply capture the show that they were putting on,” stated Shaw, comparing it to a festival shoot rather than a TV broadcast.
“They really captured the vibe of a live show,” interjected Waterfield. “A friend sent me a video of the show while watching in Australia. This show has moments where we use block colours and strobes, which seemed to come across on the livestream and created a similar effect to the one experienced by the crowd that were in the venue.”
Capturing the show, Spiritland deployed three Sony manned cameras – one at FOH with two on the side of stage – with an additional static FOH shot and one for a rear drum shot. “For audio, on all of our shows, we really push productions not to simply provide us with a FOH feed,” Shaw explained. “Those are not designed to be mixed and mastered for home listening and tend to lack punch and clarity. Obviously, budgets do not always allow, but where possible, it’s best for the monitor and FOH engineer to do their thing and have a separate broadcast setup.” For the show, Spiritland deployed its own SSL preamp on stage, taking a 48-line split with a few extra effects returns taken from FOH.
LOVE IS THE FUTURE
With critical praise and positive feedback from fans, it seems like Hot Chip and their crew managed to hit the nail on the head with this production. In a statement echoed by nearly all the crew involved – this might not be a solution to the issue of live music right now, but it’s a good showcase on what is possible to keep the live music fire burning.
“People from the industry have been really positive about the show,” enthused Tour Manager Emma Edgar. “It’s such a tough time for the live events community and the last thing we would want to do is gloat. That said, shows like this act as a glimmer of hope as we head into Winter.”
This article originally appeared in issue #254 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: Only Helix and Spiritland Productions