Bristol punk band IDLES have enjoyed a heavy 2019 global touring schedule, and this continued into the UK right up to the end of the year.
It was the band’s first full production tour in support of the A Beautiful Thing: IDLES Live at Le Bataclan CD recorded a year ago. And so their long-serving FOH sound engineer Chris Fullard requested Martin Audio’s award-winning MLA loudspeaker array as his PA of choice, supplied by Capital Sound.
This was rigged at the 1,900-capacity Barrowlands in Glasgow, but more notably at Alexandra Palace’s Great Hall (capacity 10,250) — which has been the graveyard of many PA systems over the years with its heavy glazing.
Capital project manager David Preston, a self-confessed IDLES fan, had first met Chris Fullard when he was house engineer at the Scala in London, and was aware of his love for MLA.
“MLA had sounded really good at the festivals I had done,” confirmed Fullard, “and so I called David at Capital. I had a choice of two PA’s but I knew exactly what I wanted. I chose MLA firstly because it sounds great, but also because I knew the coverage it would give.”
At Barrowlands production featured eight MLA Compact per side, four Martin Audio DD12 as front fills and six SX218 subwoofers, in L/R stacks on either side of the stage.
But at Ally Pally they upgraded to the full-size MLA, with 10 MLA enclosures underpinned by two MLD Downfill elements per side. L/R delays comprised eight MLA Compact, while a further 12 MLA Compact provided a beefy front fill component, along with four DD12. Equally beefy was the sub frequency reinforcement, provided by 18 MLX in a cardioid broadside array across the front of the stage.
“Because of the volume the band plays at — peaking at 105dB(A)—I knew we would need a lot of front fill power,” noted David Preston. “With MLA we would be able to control the sound, and Liam Sexton, the production manager, was extremely happy.”
And so was the house acoustician, as the tour’s experienced system tech Ben Turnbull reports. “He was very relaxed when he saw that we were flying MLA. He admitted that he had seen IDLES previously and was concerned about keeping within the limit, but knew immediately that we would be fine having worked with other shows using MLA.”
Of his optimisation, Turnbull added: “It’s all about having the right boxes to keep the energy exactly where the audience is going to be at Alexandra Palace. Any spill on to the walls and roof and even empty audience areas can add up to some horrible sounding reflections, so it’s always a good thing when a great band such as IDLES packs the place out. MLA provides the control to avoid all the other surfaces.”
His prediction ensured the main array was kept physically off the back wall, with the energy focused on the audience area. “I used the delays as an overlap, and to cover the area closer to the back wall with a hard avoid to minimise reflection. This meant that the audience at the back had just as loud a show as the people at the front. I used the cardioid broadside sub array to minimise the low end bleed behind the stage, the main offsite problem, whilst still keeping it punchy in the audience area.”
Fullard was full of praise for the skill of Turnbull, with whom he was working for the first time. “Ben is amazing,” he said. “He asked me what I wanted out of the mix and gave me a basic ‘Rock’ EQ curve which translated the mix well in the space.”
The latter reciprocated by saying: “Chris was great to work with. His only concern was even coverage and level from front to back which MLA achieved easily.”
The FOH engineer says that the fact the venue responded so well was entirely due to MLA. “I am always nervous about that place—I have mixed there before but with another system and the experience was very different. But the clarity and coverage provided by MLA was amazing.
“When we go out again doing shows of this size or similar I would definitely request the same system again.”
With David Preston responsible for designing the system and managing the project, other technicians involved included Tim Paterson (Crew Chief at Ally Pally only), Olly Fallon, PA Tech, Sergio Maschetzko (Monitor Tech), and Luca Consonni (Monitor / Stage Tech).