Alternative dance pioneers The Prodigy are known the world over for their blistering live shows. For the band’s latest tour in support of The Day Is My Enemy, a suitably outrageous production was in order. TPi’s Ste Durham was in attendance at Birmingham’s Barclaycard Arena to meet the minds behind the madness.
Since their beginnings 25 years ago, The Prodigy have rarely left the limelight; courting controversy and critical acclaim in almost equal measure, while performing the seemingly impossible task of earning respect from ravers and metalheads alike. Rather than spawning imitators, the band has carved out a niche for themselves – ensuring popularity at venues and festivals across the globe.
Whether in a sodden field or a cavernous arena, one thing that a show from The Prodigy can guarantee is intensity. In spades. This goes for the crew as well as the band – you even get the sense that the fixtures themselves are working up a sweat. The production design is full on for the majority of the show, and even managed at times to leave TPi’s gig-hardened jaws on the floor. This visual assault was punctuated by hypnotic interludes, giving a welcome opportunity for respite before the next wave.
Lighting and Show Designer Andy Hurst was asked to join the band’s touring crew in 2009 and, being a long-time fan of their music, jumped at the chance to lend his creative flair to the audio-visual maelstrom that is The Prodigy’s live show. Hurst is also Creative Director of lighting and rigging supplier HSL, which has provided lights for The Prodigy for the past four years, as well as carrying out all rigging duties. For this tour in particular, Hurst plundered HSL’s warehouse for a quite frankly gargantuan lighting rig.
He explained: “The band get involved with the initial artwork then leave me to develop the show design. I then present visual renders for approval.”
The show design started with the floor package in February 2015, encorporating a concept centred around radio transmitter towers, with the striking truss roof structure acting as an extension of the theme on a much larger scale.
Hurst continued: “I wanted the flown structure to be imposing even without the lights on it. It was important that it was interesting architecturally as well as providing dynamic lighting angles to light the stage. As the band are not fans of video screens on stage we always start from the backdrop image and work forward from there. It’s quite challenging coming up with new set and lighting concepts while keeping certain aspects on stage that the band like to have around them, such as walls of strobes.”
The Prodigy and strobe lights come in hand-in-hand and, having tried several LED versions throughout the year, Hurst has returned to Martin Professional Atomic 3000 strobes for this arena tour, 54 in all. He laughed: “The band would literally spend the whole show looking straight into one if they could!”
A total of 389 lighting fixtures were used in Hurst’s design, spread over 24 lines of DMX. Generic lighting for the audience was taken care of by 16 4-cell molefays, 28 2-cell molefays and 20 Robe Patt 2013’s. This base was brought to life by 204 moving heads, including 48 Robe Pointes, 24 Robe Robin 100 LEDBeams, 12 Robe Robin CycFX 8’s, 54 Ayrton MagicBlades, 46 Philips Lighting Showline BEAM 300 FXs, 14 Martin Professional MAC Aura XBs and six Martin MAC III’s.
Hurst also specified 64 Philips Lighting SL eSTRIP 10’s and three PixelRANGE PixelLine 1044’s. He used his own High End Systems Hog 4 Full Boar and Road Hog (as backup) consoles for control, running via Art-Net.
Hurst commented: “I’ve been using High End Systems consoles for over 20 years now! It’s a great console platform that works very well for me and my work. I currently have four Full Boar 4’s, four Road Hog 4’s, and a Nano Hog 4.”
He has also recently invested in FOH racks for his console collection, which comprise HES DMX Processor 8000’s, HES Super Duper Widgets and Luminex GigaCore 16Xt Ethernet switches, giving him a sturdy 32 lines of Art-Net from each source.
Rather than joining many of their contemporaries in embracing giant LED walls, The Prodigy have kept video confined to an IMAG screen on either wing of the stage with the signals scrambled, overlayed and filtered with effects to enhance the radio transmitter theme. This allowed the screens to act more like a scenic element than traditional IMAG, keeping the band on side and the crew on their toes.
Hurst brought in Kent-based Video Illusions to run the video production for The Prodigy’s New Year’s Eve gig in 2013 at the O2 Arena in London. Director of Video Illusions, Nick Whiteoak explained: “It’s our first full tour with the band following the New Year’s Eve gig and two consecutive nights at Alexandra Palace. At first, much like another of our clients, Arcadia, The Prodigy said that they didn’t like video.
“They don’t see it as an integral part of the show and if they do have it they want to make sure it is different from what everybody else is doing. They particularly don’t like any clean shots. Andy’s brief was to make it look like we’re hitting the camera with a hammer! The strange thing was, and this is probably a testament to how good our working relationship is, that we knew exactly what he meant! They were really pleased with how it turned out.”
Whiteoak’s brother Dave, also a Director at Video Illusions, converted the HD camera signals using an ‘old school’ PAL visual effects unit to create composite images and outlines of the band’s vocalists, as well as adding effects.
Whiteoak continued: “Frontman Keith Flint has those two spikes of hair and the MC, Maxim, has huge dreadlocks so they create distinct silhouettes on the screens. It looked amazing. Andy has taken over the effects operation and we send the signal through a Catalyst media server, where he now has full control of the effects on the screens via his lighting desk.”
The effect looks something between a night vision CCTV feed and a found-footage horror film, causing shots of the band that would look relatively benign with traditional IMAG to take on a much more unsettling quality. Hurst adds to the disorientation further by washing the grainy black and white images with brash, coloured filters.
Undertaking his first gig with The Prodigy, Whiteoak was warned that the band didn’t appreciate intrusive shots while they preformed – frontman Keith Flint has even been known to kick cameras that are too close for comfort. Sure enough, on New Year’s Eve, Whiteoak became backed against a subwoofer, with nowhere to go, and had Flint bearing down on him. “He got to me and just screamed in the lens and started having fun with it. I think they quite enjoy it now,” he laughed.
Whiteoak continued: “We could use lower resolution screens because the content is so crushed but we like the audience to be able to see it fully.
We integrated HSL’s Martin LC40mm screen with the show design at Alexandra Palace and went with the retro low res feel, but this looks better and works well with the show. Barry Logan, The Prodigy’s videographer, was the Camera Director for the tour, while Dave was System and Effects Engineer and Glenn Gardner served as FOH Camera Operator.”
The team’s HD PPU and engineering rack consisted of a Panasonic AVS-HS410 vision mixer, a Marshall 19-inch multiview monitor, Blackmagic Hyper Deck Pro 2 HD recorders, Barco Image PRO 2 scalers and LED processors, four HXC 100 CCU’s and 6-Way RTS comms systems, a Kramer HD/SDI matrix and a Kramer DVI DA.
The company also provided two of its own VIL10 LED screens, along with a full HD camera package.
Hurst commented: “Video Illusions have always done a great job with The Prodigy. Since the New Year’s Eve Show we have been applying these kinds of effects to the all The Prodigy shows including festivals for the past couple of years. Clean video is just not them.”
THIS KIND OF THUNDER
FOH Engineer Jon Burton has worked with band for 11 years, after initially being drafted in to mix for Keith Flint’s solo project, Clever Brains Fryin’. Although it was some time after this that he was asked to work with The Prodigy on a permanent basis, Burton has since become the longest-serving member of the band’s touring crew.
While this has included arena tours, the bulk of The Prodigy’s stage time during Burton’s tenure has been on the international festival circuit. This has allowed him to fully-explore the array of kit available to the touring sound engineer, naturally finding himself drawn to analogue desks.
For this tour, Burton selected one of his three Midas XL3 consoles – his favourite analogue desk and one that he believes is a cut above anything else. He explained: “I’ve always preferred analogue, plus this is a bit of a dub reggae-style gig so it doesn’t lend itself to digital desks. Often with the two vocals I am spinning an echo on one that is different from the other.
“For some reason most digital desks don’t allow you to do two things at once very easily. They haven’t grasped the concept that most engineers have two hands that we like to mix with!”
Burton was actually an early adopter of digital and has spent his career at either monitors or FOH, giving him an indisputable familiarity with the range of desks on the market. He said: “I think that they don’t sound as good and, side-by-side, an analogue desk will win. A lot of average analogue desks aren’t better than a good digital desk, but a great analogue desk is unsurpassable. I think the XL3 is one of the finest desks ever made – that’s why I bought one (or three!).”
“I feel like digital takes some of the fun out of it. For me, mixing a show has always been a very hands-on experience, and I enjoy getting to grips with the mix, which involves making lots of changes. On digital, everything’s buried and I lose interest trying to find it. I like to be tinkering all the way through every song,” Burton added.
Burton maintained that his current setup is no bigger or heavier than many of the other FOH arsenals that he has squashed in alongside during The Prodigy’s many festival slots. Moreover, he was quick to point out how much easier desks like his are to maintain – a valuable quality on a high intensity tour such as this.
“Most analogue desks are modular so we can carry spares and I can fix it. If a channel goes wrong, then you replace it – it’s as simple as that. A digital desk goes down and you spend half your day on the phone to customer support,” he laughed.
As well as being discerning when it comes to mixing desks, Burton also wanted to use a scientific approach when deciding which PA configuration would work best with the band’s aggressive and bass-heavy mix.
Although The Prodigy were accustomed to using EAW prior to Burton’s arrival, he convinced the band’s manager to use the upcoming festival season as a trial period to sample different line arrays alongside the same backline and desks.
The intention was to give every brand and model a fair chance and eventually decide which produced the best sound overall. Burton continued: “The hands-down winner of this trial was L-Acoustics, the V-DOSC in particular, and Wigwam came in with the right price and the right amount of gear. As a result we’ve used them as our supplier ever since. We used J-Series on the last tour but I’ve gone back to V-DOSC this time because it has a big 15-inch speaker in it.”
Although Burton takes care when selecting each aspect of the audio system, he conceded that The Prodigy’s live show is “all about the subs”. He explained: “We’re using d&b audiotechnik B2 subs and d&b J-INFRA subs. We have J-Series on the sides because it’s easier and doesn’t have to throw as far. That is purely for weight and convenience.”
The novelty of choice was not lost on Burton, and he relished having the opportunity to tailor the sound to give the best coverage for his audience.
“I care as much about the kids at the back as the ones at the front and I think this tour sounds particularly great. I’ve worked with System Tech Sid Rogerson of Wigwam for almost 10 years and he knows what I’m after. It’s really easy working with him.”
The freedom of this working relationship has allowed Burton and Rogerson to spend time conducting experiments with subwoofers, culminating in the stage-spanning act of rib-rattling supremacy that is the ‘Crenelated Thumpunderous Array’. At the mention of his creation, Burton was clearly still brimming with pride. He smiled: “It came out of years of work. We are using a broadside array, which is basically a long line of subs on the floor in front of the stage. We use a J-INFRA sub upright every two B2’s, making it look a bit like a castle wall – which is where the crenelated bit of the name comes from. I’m very proud of it and we’ve been having great results with it on this tour. We can achieve really even bass coverage with very little dropout on the floor.
“My least concern is it sounding great at the mixing desk. I want to make these songs sound great for as much of the audience as possible. We’ve taken these peoples’ hard-earned money so we deserve to give them a good show. The Prodigy always give 100% and we should too.”
For system control, Burton selected the Meyer Callisto 616 array processor, while analogue to digital conversion returns were completed via Optocore.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Burton is currently undertaking a Masters degree in electronics at York University with the weight of his thesis focussing on the effects of low frequencies on the listening experience, sub-50Hz to be precise. He said: “I always want to keep learning. My theory is that, by adding sub-bass, you can give the physical experience of volume while running the system slightly quieter in terms of dBA level.”
In addition to serving as the bedrock of his academic pursuits, Burton’s theory plays a huge part in The Prodigy’s show. He explained: “The Prodigy is all about the low end, the physical experience. What we’re going for is powerful, not loud. The J-INFRA subs don’t come on until around the fifth song, and when the bass comes in, you tend to know about it! It’s fully free of subtle nuance and is all bold brush strokes really. It’s a dynamic show and, by the end, we want it to feel like you’ve been on a journey.”
The band have been endorsed by Sennheiser for a number of years and, partly due to the onstage antics of the band themselves, the crew tend to prioritise reliability above all else. Burton specified rolled steel “virtually indestructible” drum microphones from Hebden Sound and Radial DI boxes for the rest of the band’s instruments, as well as Sennheiser EW D1-935 vocal microphones and in-ear monitor transmission systems. These were secured by a mixture of Ultimate Ears UE 18 and ACS T1 in-ear moulds.
The band members, particularly vocalists Keith Flint and Maxim, use the in-ears to boost their parts over the top of what Burton described as the “incredibly loud” on-stage monitor volume. Sidefills are comprised of four stacks of d&b C4’s, along with two B2 subwoofers at either side to deliver the bass power that the band requires. There is also a similar configuration used as a rear fill for band mastermind Liam Howlett, making 16 stacks in total on stage. Monitor Engineer Tom Maddocks commented: “Liam’s monitor stack is the size of most people’s PA systems! It’s all about getting the adrenalin pumping during the performance – he’s got to feel everything in the music that he’s playing and wants it to sound as real as possible.”
Maddocks has been part of the band’s audio department for seven years working across a variety of roles including FOH Engineer, PA Tech and Monitor Engineer. He also favoured a Midas desk for the tour, selecting the compact PRO2C.
Although he was pleased that the band has been able to tour the festival circuit so consistently, he agreed with Burton that the arena gigging lifestyle is a great deal easier. “It’s great because we travel as a touring production and everything is designed and specified as I’d expect it. At festivals you have to use pre-installed kit that might not be as preferable as your own first choice and space is often a problem too. Birmingham was exactly as we wanted it, with no compromise.”
As well as Burton, Rogerson and Maddocks, The Prodigy’s audio crew was completed by Monitor Tech Stev Stevart and System Tech Jack Langfeld.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
It is perhaps deceiving to say that this tour is a debut outing for catering company Little Pickers – particularly given the amount of experience there was in the kitchen at the Barclaycard Arena in the shape of Stuart Jackson, Stephen ‘Knuddy’ Knudsen, and Tanya Collier.
Between them, the team was responsible for feeding around 75 people with breakfast, lunch, dinner and after show food for the duration of the tour. Collier explained: “We have five choices on every night, while lunch is usually two meat options and a vegetarian option. We’re all chefs so we like to sit down and come up with exciting new menus.
“The menu completely depends on the time of year. This tour is also a diverse mix of nationalities and palettes ranging from real ‘foodies’ to those who prefer comfort dishes like shepherd’s pie. We travel with stores and buy stores as well, depending on the dishes that night.”
Collier continued: “We are all different as well – I’m into Asian cooking so I’d always opt for that, while Knuddy is into more traditionally English meals. It’s a good mix for the band and crew over the seven weeks.”
Little Pickers has suppliers all around the country, while stores such as condiments are sourced from local supermarkets. Collier said: “We know where we are going to be so we arrange things in advance. It depends on the suppliers but most catering companies use the same ones because they are tried and tested. It’s a lot to think about and long days but we have a great time!”
Trucking and bussing was taken care of by Fly By Nite and Phoenix Bussing, respectively.
See the full Issue, on pages 40 to 51 in our January 2016 issue, available here: http://issuu.com/mondiale/docs/tpijan16_digitallr/1?e=7529423/32068429