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Outernet: Building the venue of the future

Outernet, a new entertainment district in the centre of London, is preparing to launch in spring 2021, aiming to bring at least 300 extra nights of live music to the capital each year.

The £1 billion complex, envisaged as the first in “a network of immersive media spaces” by owner Outernet Global, will consist of three subterranean music venues – a 2,000-cap. main space, the 500-capacity preserved and resurrected 12 Bar Club and an extra 300-cap. venue.

The main music venue will be the biggest new live music space to be built in the bustling heart of the UK capital for 60 years, as Outernet CEO Phillip Bourchier O’Ferrall muses, “it’s not the kind of thing people are doing nowadays, opening venues in central London”.

Having partnered with staging company Brilliant Stages for various different design aspects of the project and with audio specialists PMC, Meyer and L’Acoustics, the Outernet team is currently in talks with a number of key promoter partners.

While the “underlying passion” of Outernet is music and entertainment – a fact reflected in its straddling of London music mecca Denmark Street – the new complex is made up of much more than a trio of venues, which O’Ferrall believes will be the key to its future success.

Outernet will feature the biggest deployment of LED screens in the world in its above-ground atrium, which will showcase branded content and event tie-ups and a special interactive broadcast space.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London”

The district as a whole will boast tailor-made artist accommodation, a free-to-use recording space, pop-up shops and food and drink outlets.

The idea, says O’Ferrall, is to create a whole ecosystem, with the massive media business upstairs funding the musical performances taking place downstairs.

“Having this commercial side is what can make a venue work in the centre of London,” explains O’Ferrall. Prohibitively high rents in the capital serve as a major bugbear for venues, a large percentage of which have been forced to close in recent years, with the ongoing coronavirus crisis only adding fuel to the flame.

The soft launch for the project – on which building started in 2018 – has been pushed back from February 2021 to spring due to the current situation, but O’Ferrall says that, in general, “we’ve been lucky as we’ve been able to reengineer to allow integration with social distancing and, importantly, technology solutions.”

Venues will have track and trace technology, flexible capacity requirements and high-quality cameras for livestreaming. “But I really feel for those who already have venues,” says O’Ferrall, “and I hope together we can all unite to get the industry up and running again with the right government support.”

O’Ferrall talks of the need for Outernet to play a part in re-energising London’s live music scene once it gets back up and running. “If we work together, we can all benefit,” says the Outernet CEO, who intends to use the complex’s advertising space to push audiences to bigger venues, and local bars and pubs.

“It makes sense for all parties,” he says. “We’re not trying to compete with the [20-000-capacity] O2 Arena, for example. People want to see gigs in all different kinds and sizes of venues.”

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music”

Outernet’s location and multi-functional nature set it apart from many other venues as the focus is not on being a “destination”, but rather on serving as an integrated part of central city life.

The upstairs atrium is completely open to the public and the Now Arcade acts as a video-enabled walkway for human traffic passing through the area. It is expected that the site could welcome up to 400,000 visitors a day, a staggering thought in the current lockdown climate, although the business model is predicated on “high levels of engagement” rather than on audience mass.

The locality is also a key component of the project, with the Outernet team striving to ensure Denmark Street preserves its heritage as a music space. The company owns upwards of 90% of property on the street, giving shopowners preferential leases and mandating all remain operating as music-based retailers.

“We want to recreate this as the hub of British music,” says O’Ferrall.

The team resurrected the historic 12 Bar Club, which closed in 2015, and dug three stories below to create a new, four-level space.

The Chateau Denmark accommodation includes two 17th-century properties on Denmark Street which were once home to the Sex Pistols. Chateau Denmark will have 54 rooms for artists to stay in, with the band’s graffiti preserved inside – Johnny Rotten’s drawings portray his bandmates Steve Jones and Sid Vicious, Sid’s girlfriend Nancy Spungen, and manager Malcolm McLaren, as well as his own self-portrait. All of this serves as the centre piece in the party-focused Anarchy Suite.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work”

Other properties that were originally built between 1686-1691 on the street, which became famous as Tin Pan Alley, include the studio where the Rolling Stones recorded their first album and the spot where a pre-fame Elton John worked in a music publishing company

Future Outernet projects, pegged for Los Angeles and New York, will similarly “embrace local attributes”, says O’Ferrall.

“We are not leading the charge for a new kind of venue,” says O’Ferrall, “but underpinning an ecosystem by putting together a lot of different attributes, and we believe that’s the right thing to do.

“In this way, as high streets become more and more challenged, we can help them to hold out by providing ‘atomised’ retail and brand space.”

As the coronavirus shutdown continues in the British capital – pubs and restaurants reopened on 4 July, but live events have yet to receive the governmental go ahead – O’Ferrall says he is “optimistic” for the future of live music in the city, although adding that the government needs to do more – the first steps came from the chancellor only very recently.

“Having met local venue owners and promoters, I can say that the passion and dedication from them is what’s going to make this work.

“Anyone that survives this crisis is going to reinforce a great future.”


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Nerves of steel: Staging and steel review

Business is booming for the event infrastructure and staging world, with new markets cropping up all over the world and an ever-higher number of shows each year.

However, as designs become more complex, driven by the ambitions and desires of artists and promoters to stand out from the rest, stretched resources and soaring costs are pushing companies to their limits.

As 2020 begins in earnest, IQ talks to major figures in the staging and steel world about the hectic 2019 season, the growing demand for bigger production, the cost of ensuring safety at events and the uncertain future of a post-Brexit Europe.

‘Busy but challenging’
Sebastian Tobie, CEO of Event Europe at global event infrastructure supplier eps, describes 2019 as a “very strong year in Europe.” Major international artists embarked on stadium tours in every country that eps serves, including – but not limited to – the UK, Germany, Italy and countries across Scandinavia.

This year, the supplier has worked on tours for the likes of Rammstein, Muse and Pink, as well as providing infrastructure for all major festival and show promoters in Europe. In the United States, however, business was more pedestrian. “We had the major festivals as usual,” says Tobie, “but from an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe.”

Elsewhere, the Middle East is becoming a “stronger and stronger” market for the German company, as countries in the region attempt to secure their place on the international events map. However, navigating uncharted waters can involve unexpected obstacles. Tobie notes that local resources and supply networks are not as strong in Middle Eastern countries as in other markets. “We need to plan much more intensely and prepare to be extremely flexible,” he says, explaining that “surprises” can crop up at any time.

“From an open-air touring perspective, almost everyone was in Europe”

UK-based Brilliant Stages has also enjoyed a busy 2019 so far, working on many “technically challenging” shows for artists including Take That, Spice Girls, Hugh Jackman, Shawn Mendes and Rammstein, as well as events such as Reading and Leeds festivals, Wireless Festival, the Brit Awards and the BBC Radio 1 Big Weekend.

The main challenge for the stage manufacturer has been “time and risk management.” The process from interpreting the brief, to setting out a plan in accordance with the technical scope, and finally working with all parties to meet deadlines, remains the most difficult aspect for the Brilliant Stages team.

Figuring out the “whole picture” has proved a challenge for fellow staging company Megaforce, with CEO Michael Brombacher noting the difficulty of co-ordinating materials and staff across all projects. Both “busy and challenging,” 2019 saw Megaforce provide ambitious staging for tours by Phil Collins and Andreas Gabalier, and for festivals including Trondheim Rocks and Firenze Rocks.

UK-based Star Live, the brainchild of events specialist David Walley, perhaps had the busiest year of all, albeit in a very different sense. The result of a merger of four Walley-owned businesses, Star Live officially launched on 1 August as a full-service business for the live industry.

Since its inauguration, Star Live has worked on shows for Spice Girls, Pink, The Who and Stereophonics, as well as for events including British Summer Time in London’s Hyde Park and Download Festival.

“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality”

In addition to providing staging infrastructure, Star Live now partakes in design and brand activations, enables sponsorship and partnerships, and supplies staff and structures such as ice rinks and grandstand seating. However, the staging aspect remains the most challenging, with “late rigging information” and “ever-shorter venue rentals” causing particular headaches for the team this year.

Staging the impossible
The oft-talked about experience economy continues to ensure the rude health of the live industry and the staging sector is certainly reaping the rewards of this. Yet, the growing penchant for the all-encompassing, hyper-immersive experience is also proving a sticking point for suppliers and stage manufacturers.

“The need for ever-more engaging shows has produced the need for individuality,” explains Brilliant Stages’ senior project manager Alan Carradus. “This is driving the technical design to levels not seen before.”

The company has had to widen supply chains and “really think outside the box” in order to keep up with the demands of the creative brief. Evolution within the industry has also led to the development of new ways of working and of new technology, in addition to considerable site investment, to satisfy both current and future demands.

For Carradus, “the real explosion has been in the use of LED screens and large-format projection systems to enhance shows.”

“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too”

Megaforce boss Brombacher also notes the predilection for more visual shows, as well as the demand for a higher calibre of audio experience. “The weight of light and sound equipment is increasing and therefore we have to adjust the capacity for heavy loads in the roof and in other constructions,” he explains.

The increasing weight and size of infrastructure has required Germany’s eps to make significant changes in recent years.

“Artists want to give fans not only a concert but an experience too,” says Tobie, “and currently that has a lot to do with the size of production.”

As an infrastructure supplier, this means eps has had to put a lot of work into growing its inventory and decentralising its warehouse network, facilitating easy access to different markets and venues.

All this signifies additional expense but, for Tobie, human resources are the most problematic.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 86 2019, or subscribe to the magazine here

Tait expands in Europe with Brilliant Stages acquisition

Tait has acquired Brilliant Stages, the UK-based supplier of staging and design solutions to Coldplay, Take That, Spice Girls, Shawn Mendes and more, for an undisclosed sum.

Tait – founded in 1978 as Tait Towers – designs, constructs, manufactures and operates stages and installations for clients including the Rolling Stones, U2, Taylor Swift and Cirque du Soleil from its HQ in Lilitz, Pennsylvania. The company, minority owned by Providence Equity Partners, in June acquired UK motion-control company Kinesys.

Brilliant Stages (Brilliant Topco Ltd) was established in Wakefield, Yorkshire, 1983 and has also worked with Hugh Jackman, the Dubai Mall and the Virgin Racing Formula 1 team.

Brilliant will remain a standalone brand for the time being, though the “combined management teams see the value of building a global brand” and say “branding decisions will […] be clarified in the coming months”.

“Culturally we are 100% aligned”

Ben Brooks, managing director of Brilliant Stages, says: “We have built the brand brick by brick with an equal focus on spectacle, design, employees and customers. That is what makes being part of Tait a perfect match; culturally we are 100% aligned.”

“This really is a perfect cultural match,” adds Adam Davis, chief creative officer of Tait. “We are excited to share with Brilliant our technology, assets and lessons learned over our 40 years in the live event business. We found a true partner in Brilliant and share a deep belief in delivering excellence to our customers and their fans.”

In addition to Tait, Providence Equity Partners’ live events investments include festival operator Superstruct Entertainment, UK venue manager Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) and event tech conglomerate Patron Technology.

Brilliant Stages features in IQ’s latest staging feature, ‘Nerves of steel’, in issue 86. Read the digital edition here.


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