Festival Republic has made a major effort to get outdoor events up and running in 2021. With each of its shows, from its Sefton Park test event to the Download Pilot, the production values have increased. This trend continued into Latitude weekend, with a no-holds-barred headline performance from The Chemical Brothers. Complete with a massive LED screen, complex automated lighting moves and brand-new visual content, the duo’s return to the stage was a well and truly triumphant one. With their set finished, both band and crew already had their eyes set on two more performances at Creamfields and TRNSMT Festival, but before preparation for both those shows began, TPi grabbed a word with some of the key members of the production to discuss the Latitude experience.
Calling in from his home office in Australia was long-time Production Manager, Toby Dennis of I Smashed Productions. While many of us have had to adapt to working from home recently, Dennis certainly showcased the possibility of remote working, pulling together all the pieces for the band’s performance from the other side of the world. “I suppose the advantage is that over here in Oz, I’m technically in the future,” he joked, as he walked through his average day of making sure that all the moving parts came together for the band’s headline slot.
Winding the clocks back, the PM discussed how COVID-19 had affected The Chemical Brothers, who were just beginning production rehearsals in March 2020. “I got a call from my wife saying that they were closing the borders in Australia, so I brushed my desk at Fly By Nite Studios into my bag and headed for the airport.”
The result was that many of the components for the tour were not finished, although this meant that the production had a starting point when the green light for Latitude was finally given. “Essentially, what we’ve got is an amalgamation of the production from 2019 with a twist with some of the newer elements we were working on prior to lockdown,” stated the PM. Dennis highlighted the importance of the vast majority of longstanding crew and suppliers that once again came on board for this project. “Bar myself and one other, all our usual crew were on board for the whole process,” he explained, emphasising how much easier this made his remote PM undertaking.
When it came to suppliers, Dennis once again called upon Lite Alternative for lighting and automation, ER Productions for Lasers, Skan PA for audio control, Universal Pixels for LED screens, Basic Monkey for media servers and Fly By Nite for transport.
With Dennis having to sit out the in-person rehearsals and the show, some of his responsibilities had to be shared among the crew. Along with handling his other duties as Tour Manager, James Baseley also took on another responsibility. “Early on in lockdown, I signed myself up for a First Option Course,” reflected Baseley. “This gave me the authority to take on the title of COVID Supervisor,” he elaborated. During the course, Baseley had to create a fictional health and safety plan that included numerous COVID-19 protocols, and he explained that it was good to finally put this knowledge to use. “It was during our rehearsals at Production Park where we had the most stringent COVID procedure,” he stated.
The production ran a bubble system comprising two separate groups. Bubble A was made up of the core production of The Chemical Brothers team who were on-site for most of the rehearsals, whereas Bubble B contained those who would only be on site on a temporary basis, such as riggers and other members of Production Park staff. “We also had a distancing system in place so A would never work in close quarters with B. For example, members from two different bubbles would never unload a truck at the same time. We operated like that for the whole week and then brought those protocols into Latitude. As we all walked off the busses with facemasks, everyone knew we meant business.”
Baseley went on to describe the collaboration with Dennis to pull this project together. “We always approach things as a team,” he explained. “When it came to advancing the show, the process was exactly the same as it always is for a tour – we continually bounce ideas around.”
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SETTING THE STAGE
The creative duo of Adam Smith and Marcus Lyall were once again responsible for the overall show aesthetic, working closely with long-time Lighting Programmer, JC Aubreé. Walking TPi through the creative process was Adam Smith. Like many aspects of the production, the creative team had to cut their rehearsal time short in 2020. Then after getting the green light for the Latitude show, the team resurrected some of the ideas they had been working on.
“For the opening song, Hey Boy Hey Girl, we had filmed a load of new content at The Imaginarium Studios – Andy Serkis’ motion capture studio. However, when we revisited the content for the Latitude rehearsals, as great as it was, we realised that we had made the characters very dark and moody – perhaps it reflected the time in early 2020.” As this show marked the grand re-emergence for The Chemical Brothers, Smith and Lyall reworked some of this new content to add vibrance.
The creative team was keen to bring back one of the most awe-inspiring moments from the 2019 tour, when the content interacted with the physical lights, with beams of light shooting out from behind the LED screen. “Once again, I have to take my hat off to our Programmer, JC,” stated Smith. “The pre-programing we did for the show was intense; this show is now sitting on around 9,000 cues. What JC can get that desk [an MA Lighting grandMA3 running MA2 Software] to do is extraordinary. So many of the conversations we have with him, we’re essentially asking him to use lights as animation – something the MA is not designed to do, but he’s able to make it work every time.”
Facilitating the creative vision of Smith, Lyall and Aubreé were Lite Alternative, Universal Pixels and ER Productions, providing lighting, LED screens and lasers respectively.
“It was fantastic to see a crowd enjoying themselves again,” began Lite Alternative’s Alex Johnson, before going into the technical aspects of the performance. “Watching the crowd was amazing; that is what we do in this industry – facilitate making people feel good.”
Getting down to brass tacks, he described how the company ensured it would be ready for The Chemical Brothers’ return to the stage. “Even after the rehearsals were cut short in 2020, we kept many parts of the kit they were using intact so that when we got the green light for Latitude, we knew everything was ready.”
For the rehearsals in Production Park, Lite Alternative provided both the touring packages and a replica festival rig. On that topic of designing for a headline festival slot, the PM jumped in to outline the mantra he and the rest of the crew had for such a project. “In short, we want to create a show that can be put on anywhere. We always think, ‘what is the standard festival look’ and then try to build it out from there.”
The upshot of this mentality means that other bands on the bill have a usable house rig, then The Chems’ production team can simply roll on their show for the headline slot. “We want everyone to have a good show,” stated Dennis. “Some people think I’m a bit strange for having that mentality but the way I see it, if each band has a great performance during the day, it only adds to the excitement when our boys come on stage.”
When it came to the touring lighting package brought into the festival, the supplier provided 54 Robe Mega Pointes, 12 GLP impression X4 Bar 20s, nine Martin by Harman MAC Quantum LED Washes, four MAC Aura LED Washes, three Ayrton MagicBlade-Rs, and 71 Solaris Flare Q+ LED Strobes.
Lite Alternative also handled all the automation needs for the production, supplying a full Kinesys system, which was handled by Automation Operator, Mark Goodall. “Mark had an awful lot of work in the build up for this show as everything is timed to exact positions,” stressed Johnson. “He had to take on the pre-programming that JC had done, take all the information positions and then check it all with Catalyst Operator, James Cooksey from Basic Monkey who once again supplied the Catalyst media servers.”
The content for the show was showcased on a large LED screen provided by Universal Pixels. The screen was a ROE Visual Vanish 18, utilising Brompton Technology processing.
Responsible for the build of the LED screen was Sam James. Having been a part of The Chemical Brothers camp for many years, one of James’ responsibilities has been to keep an eye on George and Mildred – the 4m-tall robots that have become synonymous with the band’s live shows.
“I had already given the two robots their annual service when Toby called me about Latitude,” he explained. “I was slightly nervous about the show as the time between rehearsals and the festival was quite tight and we didn’t have Toby, who is a key player in our production, on site. Also, it was just my number two Tim and I on site, along with the help of the local crew. I was somewhat broken by the end of the weekend, but it was an amazing experience to be back working on a ‘real’ show.”
Universal Pixels Commercial Director, Phil Mercer gave his thoughts on being involved in the landmark weekend. “We had been speaking to Toby Dennis and James Baseley for several months during the run up to the festival and desperately wanted it to happen,” he reminisced. Due to the company’s on-going work in the film industry, its warehouse has been fully operational since the start of 2021 so it was all set to deal with the demands of the band’s Latitude project, along with their headline sets at Creamfields and TRNSMT. The LED rig was to be kept intact between each of the three festival projects. “We always treat The Chemical Brothers’ campaigns like an on-going tour,’’ he explained.
ER Productions once again supplied the band’s special effects, with a laser package comprising a Phaenon Pro 30000, 18 ER KINEKT Lasers, four BeamBurst Lasers and a 24W Green Laser.
ER Productions’ Tom Vallis oversaw the laser programming and deployment. “For this show, we had a new laser track for Out of Control,” he commented. “The programming for this track is tightly integrated with the video content, following the movement of the characters across the screen in each direction, as well as highlighting vocal parts and synth riffs with the lasers. The meticulous programming involves thousands of events on the programming timeline for the one track.” Along with the laser package, ER also supplied numerous other effects including 12 Viper Deluxe smoke Machines, four Unique Hazers and four Stadium Blaster Confetti Machines.
ER Production Director, Marc Webber commented: “This was a real motivator and lifted the spirits of everyone at ER. The Chemical Brothers was one of the tours that was mid rehearsals when everyone closed, so it felt perfect to be starting up again with them.”
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Speaking to TPi via Zoom from his studio surrounded by a multitude of synths, Backline Technician, Matt Cox discussed the past year-and-a-half. “When the rehearsals came to an abrupt end, I spent a great deal of time taking some of the older analogue synths in and out of the studios and giving them a service,” he explained. “The goal of this exercise was to be as prepared as possible when we finally got the green light to play shows again.”
There were no drastic changes to the band’s live setup at Latitude, with Cox describing the current rig as “a legacy of the past 25 years”. He added: “There is always something new coming in or out of the rig that we find space for.”
The biggest change for Cox was in the build up to the show. “I’ve always recorded each show and have a record of what every synth does on every song so I can re-build a live show using that audio,” he explained. “What this meant was that both the guys could remind themselves of certain arrangements of the songs, which made the process of going into these shows much simpler. Moving forward, I think it’s something I will do before each tour – it means a bit more programming, but it is worth the time.”
Also on stage in monitor world was Ian Barton, who was “really excited to be back doing a show again”. He continued: “Skan PA has been excellent as always – the gear is in top condition. Skan PA Audio Tech, Scott Essen is also a solid team member for The Chems.”
The engineer went on to explain how his process on this show was to use an analogue chain as much as possible in his setup.
“The Midas XL4 has a flawless sound, and the ability to do two things at same time while keeping an eye on the next change is really helpful. XTA Outboard EQ, compressors and crossovers add such a nice colour to the mix.” The engineer ran a stereo pair of L-Acoustics Arcs with DV subs as rear fills to get the solid punch of the 15in drivers with MTD108S near fields for Tom Rowlands’ central stage mix.
At the other end of the multicore and holding down the main PA mix was Shan Hira, also at the helm of a Midas XL4. With analogue very much being the common theme within the band’s audio setup, Hira explained that when it came to preparing for the show, it was a much more hands-on experience than simply “tweaking a show file”.
He continued: “The first thing I received in the build up to Latitude was an audio copy of the set, which had some changes from the one we had in 2019 – notably the inclusion of the new single, The Darkness That You Fear. After a few listens, Ian and I went down to Skan’s warehouse with a multitrack, set up our desks and outboard gear and ran through the set to get us back up to speed after such a long time.”
When it came to outboard gear, Hira had a veritable spice rack of effects to call on, including MXR Delay System II, Pitch Transposer, Flanger/Doubler, a Roland RE-20 Space Echo, Lexicon 480L, PCM60, PCM41, an Eventide H7600 and a Line 6 Filter Pro and Echo Pro. For dynamics, the FOH Engineer had four XTA C2 Compressors, two D2 Compressors and a GQ600 Graphic Equaliser along with a Waves MaxxBCL.
“After hearing the set at production rehearsals, I got some fresh ideas and mentally banked them for future use,” Hira explained. “Each gig can be very different from the previous one, so I react in the moment and go with the vibe. It’s very much a hands-on mix.”
Despite such a long time away from the shows, Hira was confident walking into the festival. “I felt that the show was in a good place coming out of rehearsals and I was just looking forward to mixing the show on a nice big PA again,” he smiled.
The PA for the weekend was an L-Acoustics K1 and K2 rig supplied by SSE Audio. “Nick Lythgoe from SSE got in touch with me directly ahead of time to ask how we would like the PA setup, so Scott Essen and I had a chat and formulated a plan.”
Hira’s original hope was to have a mixture of flown and ground subs so that he could get some of the “thump down the field without caning people in the pit,” he stated. Regrettably, the infrastructure didn’t allow for subs in the air so, to get the even spread of sub coverage, the engineer suggested the audio team went two boxes high and 13 stacks wide in the pit, spread evenly between the main hangs, and have a motor box on top of every other stack to get it up to head height so they could have a pair of KARA front fills.
“The goal was to get as even a tonal balance as possible in the pit with a nice fat clubby vibe,” he outlined. “All in all, we were very happy with the PA and great service and attention to detail from SSE.”
To close, Hira gave his final thoughts on Latitude 2021. “I enjoyed the day; it was great to see live music again for the first time in a long time, and lovely to see a really lively crowd going for it during the show. I am looking forward to hopefully more of the same for our other two upcoming shows.”
LOAD-IN AND OUT
“It was incredibly emotional when I got the call that this one was going ahead,” Stage Manager, Ben Madden said, giving his two cents on the show. “Granted, the COVID-19 protocols we had in place took a bit of getting used to, but as soon as the show started, it all felt incredibly normal. I feel very privileged that we got the chance to put on this show.”
Although Latitude was technically a one-off show, the team deployed many of the same infrastructural elements they would for a tour, including their specific trucking setup, supported by its loyal supplier, Fly By Nite. “Our trucking setup has always been solid,” Dennis said. “We are very methodical and rather than simply having an audio, lighting, video truck, we looked at how we can most effectively transport our equipment. This has included building a mezzanine in one of the trucks to effectively give us double to storage.”
The consideration that then had to be decided upon was whether to keep all the trucks loaded between Latitude and Creamfields. “It was over a month’s gap between those two shows and in the end, it all comes down to money, as you’ll have to insure the equipment to put it in storage.” In the end, all equipment was sent back to their respective suppliers to be picked up closer to Creamfields.
Coming to the end of our interview with The Chemical Brothers’ crew, there was a strange sense of déjà vu. The Chemical Brothers last graced the pages of TPi for our January 2020 edition when COVID-19 was merely a talking point in the new cycle and we were still a few months away from the devastating impact it would have on both society and our industry. It seemed rather fitting that one of the largest productions we covered this year with the return of live events was the electro duo – almost completing the circle. We may still be some way off from normality, but as the song states, we’ve Got To Keep On.
This article originally appeared in issue #265 of TPi, which you can read here.