Venue, vidi, vici
… But with expectations among the ticket-buying public now higher than ever, it’s perhaps not surprising that the venues that host concerts and events now have to be as eye-catching as the shows themselves. Eamonn Forde highlights ten of the most innovative building designs
National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing
It took six years and ¥2.7bn (€365m) to build this 5,452-capacity venue (split across three rooms, the biggest of which holds 2,416 people) and it opened for business in December 2007. Unsurprisingly, it is known locally as the ‘Giant Egg’, as if an enormous robot chicken marched across China and laid it there. It is constructed from titanium-accented glass and is surrounded by an artificial lake (the reflection from the water giving the building – which really looks like a computer mouse – its ovum shape).
Given its nickname, it’s the perfect place for rock bands to play their new albumen (sorry).
Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik
Sitting on the very lip of Europe and staring across the desperately cold waters of the North Atlantic, Harpa opened for business in 2011 and cost €164m to build – which is probably about the same price as a round of drinks in the Icelandic capital today. As it was nearing completion, the Icelandic financial crisis was unspooling in the background, so it’s incredible that it was actually completed.
It holds up to 1,800 people in the main hall, as well as being a focal point of Iceland Airwaves. In stark contrast to the genteel and low-rise feel of most of central Reykjavik, it looks like Escher let loose with glass Lego.
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The steel magnates
One of the major beneficiaries of the growth of the live music industry, and the many festivals and tours that are now constantly on the road, is the steel business – the engineers and crew who erect everything from the most basic fencing through to the most elaborate stage sets that audiences have ever witnessed. But we ain’t seen nothing yet…
The list of suppliers now operating in the steel sector is vast, but among the best known experts are the likes of Star Events Group, Stageco, Megaforce, Eve Lion Trackhire (formerly Eve Trakway), Prolyte, All Access Inc, Tait Towers, Gearhouse, Mojo Barriers and eps, some of whom tell IQ that, against the backdrop of a tough economic reality, 2016 has been better than they hoped. Others report it far exceeded forecasts; suggesting a mixed bag, but not one doused in misery.
“It’s been better than a good one – it’s been the best!” says an ebullient Tom Bilsen, operations director for Stageco, of the past year for his company, which worked on major tours by Beyoncé, AC/DC, Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna. “We have never had this much work in one year. We have never had as many stages out at the same time. But it also means we have never had as much turnover that reflects the amount of work we did throughout the whole year.”
Michael Brombacher, CEO of staging rivals Megaforce, says, “The demands of classic festivals and concerts/artists, did not really change in recent years concerning steel and structures. But festivals more and more want to offer their audiences different attractions in one place, so there is not only a main stage, but also a second stage, chill out area, camping area, VIP platform, club area and so on.
“2016 was a busy year for stadium cover”
“They offer different themes in one festival in order to create a kind of adventure event with the character of a vacation including camping.”
On the back of a bumper 2016, supplying stages and support structures to festivals, stadium shows, sports events, brand activations and more besides, Star Events special projects director Roger Barrett is busy developing infrastructure for the new year. “Further investment of over £1.5 million [€1.8m] before next summer will see festival mainstay Orbit Flexidome rebranded as Orbit Arch, with more height, floor space and rigging capacity, while a new, touring ‘Ultra’ version of the flagship VerTech stage system will be unveiled in early 2017 too,” Barrett reports.
David Walkden of Eve Trakway says that major stadium shows by acts like Rod Stewart, Elton John and Beyoncé – as well as recurring work at festivals such as Glastonbury, Isle of Wight and Bestival – provided an uptick for his company this year. “2016 was a busy year for stadium cover,” he says. “We serviced over 30 stadiums in the UK, providing promoters with heavy-duty trackway to enable safe access into venues, which is paramount for the protection of their production infrastructure.”
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In Brazil, when they go to work on a tricky problem, they call it peeling descascar o abacaxi: peeling the pineapple.
But Brazil in 2016 offers a lot of the kind of pineapples that aren’t easily peeled. The former president was impeached in September amid a wide-ranging corruption enquiry; the economy is suffering a recession worse than the Great Depression; and the real–US dollar exchange rate has halved since 2012. Then there are ecological concerns, the Zika virus, and an epic struggle with economic inequality. If Brazil was only recently thought to have moved into a new era of ease and prosperity, 2016 – a fairly terrible year in just about any language – has provided a sharp correction.
For the live business, however, one negative appears to have created a positive: a reduction in international traffic, leading to a boom in domestic action.
“Brazil is going through a tough phase”
Brazil is still the number-one live market in South America and a must-visit for international stars going that way. But the weakness of the real means they’re not going that way as often as they were, even if the megastar shows – the Stones, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath – keep on coming and keep on selling.
“Brazil is going through a tough phase,” says Phil Rodriguez of Miami-based, South America-wide Move Concerts. “Between the corruption scandals, the economy going through the worst recession since the 1930s and companies laying off workers, a certain paralysis has come into play.
“Companies are holding onto budgets until a better, more defined picture of the future comes into view. That primarily affects sponsorships, and it creates a scenario where the topline shows still do well but many mid-level shows are hurt.”
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Bastille-ing the show
To go from the 100-cap. Hoxton Hall to two sold-out dates at The O2 Arena in London in the space of two albums and four years is a mighty feat, and one which Bastille and team have achieved in a market whose attention has never been harder to sustain long-term. After hitting №1 for the second time with their Wild World album in September, in October the band embarked on a 56-date tour that will continue into 2017, visiting arenas and theatres around Europe and the US.
Kilimanjaro promoter Carlo Scarampi has been working with the band since that first Hoxton show, and has promoted the Wild, Wild World tour’s London, Bournemouth, Plymouth, Cardiff and Birmingham dates. “The band’s live business has gone crazy in a really good way,” he tells IQ. “After that first sold-out Hoxton show, we sold out the second one, then Scala, and it steamrolled from there. When their debut album came out in 2013, that’s when they really started to hit the ground running.”
“The band’s live business has gone crazy in a really good way”
Live Nation’s Roel Vergauwen, who is promoting the Sportpaleis (19,000-cap.) date in Antwerp this year, attributes the band’s live success partially to smart decisions made by agency Coda. “Coda likes to build careers for the long-term. They don’t overplay, they make the right choices, and do it step by step,” he says.
Over nearly six years, Bastille have played more than 460 shows. Since 2014, they have done a summer festival season, three months of lower-bowl, half-house arenas in North America and Canada, a run of festivals and small shows in Asia, South America, New Zealand and Australia, a second festival season and then back to the States. This summer they played Glastonbury, Bestival and Lollapalooza Chicago, among other shows, and the Wild, Wild World tour is their first headline tour for two and a half years.
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The Gaffer 2016: Bill Leabody
In 1977, with Britain deep in the grip of one of its worst post-war recessions, young construction trainee, Bill Leabody, decided to take a break from the building site to become a roadie for a few months. Gordon Masson learns just how Bill reached the top of the production ladder during his 40-year sabbatical…
As The Gaffer for 2016, Bill Leabody joins an elite list of winners that includes Jake Berry, Chris Kansy, Jesse Sandler, Jason Danter, Wob Roberts and Arthur Kemish. In addition to being production wizards, at the top of their game, that group also share something else in common – none of them set out to become a production manager.
For Leabody, his route into music was entirely fortuitous, as the 61 year old admits that he cannot play any musical instruments. “I can’t play a single chord on a guitar,” he laughs – despite being a tech for the likes of The Edge down the years. “Oh sure, as long as it’s plugged into a tuner, I can tune a guitar,” he says. “But back in 1977, I don’t think anyone who went to a gig by The Damned would have noticed if the guitar wasn’t properly tuned.”
However, his love affair with music has been life-long. “My sister used to take me to the Gin Mill Club in Godalming. I saw Genesis there. They were like the local band because they were at Charterhouse School, so I saw them first when I was about 14 – something I was only too happy to tell Peter Gabriel about when I worked on his tours.”
After four decades in the business, one thing Bill can profess to being is one of the world’s best production managers – a fact that current employers, Coldplay, took advantage of five years ago when they persuaded him to take on the gaffer role for their Mylo Xyloto stadium tour.
“For Coldplay, we’ve all been working with them for a long time and everyone wants to push the envelope to make each show better and better.”
“I’d known Bill for years and he’s a legend, so when the position became available in our world, he was at the top of my wish list,” says the band’s manager, Dave Holmes. “Bill has a very even temperament and is never rattled by anything. He’s extremely well liked by the crew and the band and always has solutions, which is vitally important for a production manager.”
And when it comes to touring acts, there aren’t too many who are more demanding – in a positive way – than Coldplay. “They are very ambitious: I don’t think people quite understand that,” reports Bill. “They are determined to put on spectacular shows and groundbreaking tours, so it’s a pleasure to work with such creative minds.
“Coldplay have a tendency to change their minds about things at the last minute, but that’s just one of the challenges that you have to expect when working with great artists and it happens with most bands. I think it’s because a lot of acts don’t understand drawings and when they see the reality of a creative plan in the actual production, they want to change things so that it matches the expectations of their vision. It puts a lot of pressure on everyone working in the crew when that happens, but for Coldplay, we’ve all been working with them for a long time and everyone wants to push the envelope to make each show better and better.”
Read the rest of this feature in issue 69 of IQ Magazine.
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Eamonn Forde discovers the latest string to the touring exhibitions’ bow…
There is a post-Napster and post-Spotify maxim in the music business that touring used to be the loss-leader to sell albums, and now that has been inverted so that albums are the loss-leaders to sell tours. How can that revenue be maximised if the act splits up, has passed away or fancies a few years lazing around in one of their multiple homes? By putting everything around them – clothes, artwork, instruments, scribbled lyrics, old contracts, unseen photos – on the road as they slipstream the boom in the touring exhibitions space.
Music is, relatively speaking, late to the party here but, as with most things in his career, Bowie was the innovator. His exhibition that opened at the V&A in London in 2013 (David Bowie Is…) proved a watershed moment for music-centric exhibitions, selling out its run, garnering critical praise, and now touring the rest of the world. The Stones’ Exhibitionism has left the Saatchi Gallery in London and go on the road, starting in New York from November. A major Pink Floyd exhibition will open next year, as will one around Abba (whose ‘touring’ since their split in 1982 was confined to the Mamma Mia! jukebox musical). It is suddenly getting very busy here.
What can music exhibitions learn from those already in the field? What can they do right? What are the mistakes they are likely to make? And how much money can they generate? IQ spoke to experts from around the world (dealing in family exhibitions, celebrity exhibitions, museum exhibitions and more) in order to understand what they do and how they do it.
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