Launched in 2003 to showcase the best in rock, metal and hardcore, Download expanded in 2016 with Live Nation’s introduction of Download Paris, and Stageco France – as the provider of all 5 stages – is honoured to have played a major role in the festival’s production since it began.
In fact, as long as Igor Dawidowicz steers the ship as Production Manager, Stageco appears to have a job for life. He commented: “Involving Stageco was a very easy decision. Who else could do it? We know a lot of staging companies but I can’t imagine giving this responsibility to anyone but Stageco – they are the most professional and reliable provider, and their engineering processes are very rigorous.
“When you hire Stageco, you feel safe and can trust that everything will happen precisely how you want it, and you leave them to the job so that you can worry about other aspects of the production. It’s safe to say that even if this festival had as many as 10 stages, I would want Stageco to build them all.”
Previously hosted at the Hippodrome de Longchamp racecourse, the festival moved last year to a former French Air Force Base at Brétigny-sur-Orge, 17 miles south of the capital, where the 2018 line-up of more than 70 acts included such greats as Ozzy Osbourne, Marilyn Manson, Foo Fighters, Guns N’Roses, Ghost, Volbeat, Korn’s Jonathan Davis and The Offspring.
The change of venue, Igor said, offered greater benefits for both the audience and the production team. “Longchamp was a fine location but there were limitations with parking and camping, whereas this old airfield provides 3km of space and the trucks are able to park on concrete or tarmac, which makes a real difference.”
Led by Tom Bilsen, the project manager and also divisional director of Stageco France, the company’s work began at 6am on June 7th when the crew departed from the Tildonk head office in Belgium, arriving at the festival site five hours later to begin the seven-day load-in and build process, ensuring that everything was show-ready by the time doors opened at 1.30pm on Friday 15th June, the first of four action-packed days.
The Stageco team also included R&D engineer Bart Dekelver and crew chief Bart Dewolf, who co-ordinated a crew of 10 supervisors and local assistance from two cranes with operators, 10 climbers, six scaffolding crew, 10 stagehands and 5 forklifts with three operators.
“All of our crew are licensed to drive the forklifts ourselves,” said Bart. “Therefore, as we know exactly how to handle the equipment and don’t always have to explain to the local helpers, it helps to speed things up.”
A total of 28 trucks carried Stageco’s equipment to the site and, in order to avoid jamming the backstage area, a sensible logistical plan of dispatching vehicles in the correct order is crucial, stated Bart.
“That’s one of Tom’s great skills. We get the gear sorted out according to immediate need. Sixteen trucks handle the main stage requirements and by the time everything is offloaded and assembled, we’re ready to advance the next series of trucks for another set of structures. In all of this, we cannot be too rigid with this approach – it helps to maintain flexibility because we might be quicker on one structure than we anticipated.
“Compared to many other festival sites, this is reasonably level with minor differences of up to 50cm. This does affect the equipment and we obviously have to remain flexible in the way we build the structures, but an advance site visit will always ensure we are prepared.”
MARGIN FOR CHANGE
Working closely with Stageco were festival director Armel Campagna, production director Paul Engalenc, site coordinator Matt Cocuau and British stage manager Charlie Boxhall whose own team looks after all 5 stages – the Main Stage, Main Stage 2, Warbird Stage, Spitfire Stage and Firefly Stage (see sidebar text).
“I have dealt with all the technical advancing since the festival started in 2016 and, as such, I have a global overview of what’s coming on to the site,” explained Boxhall, who also runs the stages at 2 other major Live Nation events in France that feature Stageco’s work: the Main Square festival and the recently-introduced Paris edition of Lollapalooza.
“My dialogue with Stageco began back in December and we started to firm things up around February, always with an open mind and a margin for change, but once I’m on-site all of the major decisions are confirmed.
“I arrived four days before the Friday kick-off to manage the final details, like camera platforms in the pit and opening up a new area of the stage underworld, which is a science all of its own! It also includes finessing the backstage ramps as soon as I knew more about what certain bands require. Are they coming in with soft-siders, semis or trailers on the back of a bus? The answers to those questions will have some impact on how Stageco’s crew deal with things.
“A little reinforcing here and there will often happen. For example, Foo Fighters brought in a drum riser that weighed four tonnes but we were expecting it to weigh half that. It wasn’t a big deal but these things need swift attention.”
Boxhall, a former Paris citizen for 12 years who has an 18-year-old son currently working on the festival, is a true veteran of the touring world. With credentials that date back to the mid-’70s when he was a member of ESP’s staff, Boxhall earned his road stripes with Graham Parker & The Rumour, ABBA and Bruce Springsteen, and first encountered Stageco whilst working for Genesis production manager Morris Lyda on the band’s European leg of the Invisible Touch tour in 1987. “I could see just how innovative this company was and that spirit of constantly moving forward remains very strong,” he said.
As luck would have it, Download Paris 2018 benefitted from the hot and sunny weather, however, such fortune cannot be taken for granted and without careful attention, a heavy downfall of rain can sometimes bring an outdoor event to a sudden close, as Igor pointed out. “If the weather is bad and your stage skins are not to tension, you risk not being able to keep all the electronics dry and that’s the kind of big issue that can stop a show. One of the many things I admire about Stageco is that their waterproofing techniques are second to none. It’s strange that some people often forget how crucial that is.”
As well as all the FOH risers, delay towers, 21 ‘totem’ signage towers across the site and platforms for disabled visitors and video cameras, Stageco built the 6m x 6m support base for the festival’s inflatable three-headed mascot, Dexter the Download Dog, and a huge antenna tower, and also created Bar Metal – a large, scaffold-based rest area at the edge of the camping site. Pictured opposite, bottom left, the bar area itself is 18.64m wide and 6.23 right, and also includes a Stageco-built DJ platform.
Stageco worked alongside sound, lighting and video supplier Dushow, Mojo Barriers and generator provider The Power Shop. When the festival reached its fourth day, the closure of Main Stage 2 and the Spitfire Stage gave Stageco’s crew a head start on the load-out, allowing them to remove a FOH tower and a few minor structures ahead of four very full days of dismantling and re-loading the trucks.
Reflecting on a busy week, Tom Bilsen commented: “I am so happy to work with this team and for this festival organisation. They get along so well and understand each other perfectly. We have two more projects to go this summer with the same combination and I’m proud to get this all going.”