Looking back over the past two years – specifically in early 2020 – it’s incredible to see how quickly companies have adapted to the changing nature of the world and against all odds were still able to keep working within the live entertainment sphere. One such company is SLX. Having formally been taken independent, the company moved into its new headquarters in January 2020 before the world came to a screeching halt. However, in the face of adversity, the Bristol-based firm has managed to regroup, rebrand and reintroduce the live entertainment industry to its full 360° offering – from design to delivery in multiple markets including live events, broadcast and experiential.
“We moved quickly when it came to shutting down the office and ensuring our touring shows and freelancers were taken care off in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” began SLX CEO, Alastair Currie.
With all outstanding bills paid, the question remained of how the company would still keep working during this uncertain time. The answer came in the form of one of its longstanding clients, The Great British Bake Off. Having worked with the programme for the past 14 years, the team was tasked with devising a COVID-19 secure rendition of the famed television baking battle. “We had an airlock to the outside world essentially,” explained Currie.
“It was certainly another level of production for the show. We hired a hotel and grounds for 10 weeks with staff isolating for two weeks before starting to work, with a full disinfectant system for anything new coming onto side. We even provided additional accommodation on the ground as well as dealing with power and waste to all these additional spaces.”
Far from idle, it wasn’t just The Great British Bake Off, which saw SLX go above and beyond to keep business rolling during these tricky times. From a light show on a stream train which utilised GPS technology to trigger an on-board light show in real time, through to work on some of the UK’s early COVID-19 test events, including Andrew Lloyd Webber’s London Palladium event.
With a new year to contend with, the company seems freshly invigorated having recently landed a major contract with the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022. “People within SLX have been involved in the previous UK-based Games,” stated SLX Sales Director, Russell Payne. “This year, we’re involved with all broadcast sports and sports presentation lighting,” he enthused.
According to Payne, it was a lengthy bidding process, but thankfully, SLX’s 2020/21 portfolio of work certainly bolstered the company’s application for the Games. “At the time of tender, we had gone a year-and-a-half without a single COVID-19 infection. Not only that, but we have also implemented a segregated system – so, if a member of the team falls ill, business can keep running without compromising the entire warehouse.” SLX has also invested in UVC technology to disinfect equipment coming in and out of the building.
As a company that is made up of a team that has worked in multiple sectors, TPi was interested to know the company’s take on the increasing number of UK-based companies that have shifted their focus to the TV and film sector. “We differ from many others working in those markets because we are a ‘one stop shop’ and deal with everything from location and site management to lighting. You often find that TV production managers are very comfortable in a TV studio environment but as soon as they are on a green field site, they are out of their element.”
It is for this reason that SLX remains in a strong position moving forward. It’s clear from the new website that SLX’s main focus moving forward is live, in-person events. “As great as virtual events are, there’s nothing quite like the ‘live experience’. For us, live is going to be back and stronger than ever,” stated Payne. “SLX is not just a rental house but a creative brand. We have the people within the company who can engage with clients so it’s very much in our control to produce a show.”
Like many, during the early stages of 2020, SLX had to let some staff go, reducing its workforce to a ‘skeleton crew’ of 19 people, a number which has since doubled. “There has been a shift of people moving away from the industry. We remained loyal with many of our core freelancers, and thankfully, we have kept many on the books but we are still looking at bringing more people through,” stated Currie. “We have developed a programme, which allows prospective new starters to experiment with various elements of the business and discover their strengths.”
Sustainability has been another key component that SLX has put forward as one of its key values. “Sustainability is something that all our customers are passionate about,” stated Currie. “In a previous season of Bake Off, we produced 53 tonnes of CO2, which we brought down to zero this year. This involved many incentives from using HVO fuel as well as hybrid generators, a feat which earned the show an Albert Certification,” Currie said.
“We are also currently working to receive a B Corp, which is considered the ‘platinum standard’ when it comes to sustainability accreditation,” concluded Payne.
With a busy year ahead, the SLX team are excited to reintroduce themselves to the industry at large both in the services it can provide and the internal ethos of the company. “The one benefit that COVID-19 brought was a time to reflect and allow us to refocus on our goals,” concluded Currie. “We’ve given the entire brand an overdue refresh which better reflects our core values and we’re now excited for what the rest of 2021 has to offer.”
This article originally appeared in issue #268 of TPi, which you can read here.