Steeling the limelight
Derek Robertson takes a look at some of the companies responsible for event infrastructure and the multiple challenges they are facing as the live music industry returns to business after a two-year hiatus.
Cast an eye over the rest of 2022, and it seems that something approaching normal service – at least within the live music events industry – has resumed. Huge renowned festivals such as Glastonbury, Primavera Sound, and EXIT are all scheduled to return at full-capacity, while some of the world’s biggest pop and rock stars – Guns N’ Roses, Foo Fighters, Charli XCX – will be filling arenas and stadiums in typically bombastic fashion.
As such, it means full speed ahead for businesses involved in site infrastructure such as staging and steel. But with demand rapidly ramping up, suppliers face several challenges – not only dealing with what could potentially be the busiest period in their history after a fallow two years but also placing a renewed focus on sustainability and innovation, at the core of what they offer.
It’s all a far cry from the sudden shutdown most companies had to deal with back in March 2020. “We were loading-in on a BTS test build in Pennsylvania, dismantling the Tomorrowland Winter structures, and shipping for the intended Metallica South American tour,” says Tom Bilsen, operations director for Stageco Belgium. “Borders closed at midnight on March 1st – our last trailer had passed through only 30 minutes before.”
For many, the sheer scale of their operation made it a scary time. Stageco typically has structures out to 60 or 70 locations during a normal summer, using upwards of 450 subcontractors and freelancers. Others are equally as busy: eps executes 3,000 events a year; Megaforce supplies around 120 events during a typical summer; TAIT Wakefield employ over 900 people in 17 offices around the globe; and CT Northern Europe are the biggest suppliers of stages, rigging, and trussing in the Nordics, as well as delivering technology to corporate events and the sports sector.
The enforced downtime and ensuing uncertainty caused much consternation – more than one company placed staff on furlough and wondered what might be left of the live events industry post-pandemic – but many also made good use of the time to take stock and really think about their core offering. “We took a long look at our processes,” says Ben Brooks, managing director of TAIT Wakefield. “We created a global assets catalogue to make ourselves more efficient and, crucially, more sustainable as a business going forward.”
“We thought: ‘No events? What else can we do with our power and knowledge?'”
Stageco focused on the storing, cleaning, and maintenance of their inventory alongside diversifying what kind of projects they took on – “mostly industrial projects,” says Tom Bilsen.
All Access Staging also got creative. “We designed and developed things like rapid deployment homeless huts, backyard office structures for those unable to go indoors, outdoor patios for bars and restaurants, and an entire product line of Covid-response structures, including mobile hospitals,” says Jillian Forrester Braithwaite, chief operating officer. “We did our best to adapt to the changing landscape.”
Eps decided it was imperative to make good use of one commodity the live industry rarely affords: time. “We thought: ‘No events? What else can we do with our power and knowledge?’ So we questioned and challenged all our processes across every department – IT, logistics, accounting, project management, and staff education,” says Sebastian Tobie, COO of eps international. “We wanted to prepare ourselves and our staff for coming back stronger than ever.”
He also notes that R&D was busy working on new entry concepts regarding hygiene regulations for shops, schools, and factories, along- side innovations in their core disciplines such as flooring and barrier solutions. “All these concepts needed to be designed, engineered, and manufactured, but we accepted the challenge and broadened our horizons.”
“The coronavirus crisis forced us to be very slow and again look for ways to survive in the new reality”
Throughout 2021, order books remained in flux. Some, such as CT Northern Europe, diversified. “We shifted towards productions in TV, streaming, corporate events, and gaming,” says Fredric Holmgren, chief business development officer. “We also worked closely with clients to supply productions where they were allowed, taking into account local rules and restrictions.” TAIT Wakefield managed to deliver “several large projects,” says Brooks – Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre (London), Gary Barlow’s All The Hits Live 2021 tour, and the SOUNDSTORM festival in Saudi Arabia.
Having already relocated his company HQ – and his family – from Russia to Latvia in 2014, “for political reasons,” Alexander Strizhak, owner and managing director of stage company JSA Europe, has been dealing with a catalogue of challenges over the past eight years.
That hard work paid off, and pre-pandemic, things were looking rosy again for JSA. “[The company] again became the official seller of stage structures from world leaders – Layher, SIXTY82 and Protos,” says Strizhak. “With my old friend, Asteris Koutoulas, we prepared a unique FLEXODROM project – a mobile, modular and multifunctional hall, based on structural systems from the Layher plant in Germany. At the end of 2019, we started to gain momentum, but the coronavirus crisis forced us to be very slow and again look for ways to survive in the new reality.”
Elsewhere, as the pandemic decimated the order books of industry peers, many also fell foul of rapid changes in infection rates and new Covid variants. “In mid-May 2021, we had 24 truckloads of material on-site in the south of Portugal, ready for unloading,” says eps exec Tobie. “But the day before the first install, everything was cancelled.”
“Terribly exhausting” is how Megaforce CEO Michael Brombacher describes the never-ending postponements and cancellations that blighted 2021, but all agree that 2022 is scheduled to be busy. Sometimes overly so. “Our volume is up 20%, and we’ve been forced to turn down work,” says All Access Staging’s Forrester Braithwaite. Stageco is facing similar problems. “Demand is largely outpacing supply capacity in all aspects,” says Tom Bilsen. “If everything takes place, we might be a little short on gear, transport, and crew.”
“Costs are just much higher than 18 months ago, and if the current economics stay as they are, it’ll probably influence production design and the technologies behind it”
Such shortages are also noted by Alistage managing director Phil Christodolou, who points out a further related issue. “People are still planning, but in a lot of cases are unable or unwilling to commit to quoting, as prices are spiralling upwards at an alarming rate,” he says. It’s the same for eps. “With a lack of raw materials and supply chain interruption, there’s been a drastic increase in pricing for stages, steel, and productions in general,” states Tobie. “Costs are just much higher than 18 months ago, and if the current economics stay as they are, it’ll probably influence production design and the technologies behind it.”
Aside from cost issues, staffing seems to be the primary concern across the board when it comes to delivering in 2022 – the pandemic forced many skilled freelancers and subcontractors to seek alternative work, and many fear that they’ve been lost forever.
“Many professionals are now enjoying a normal 9 to 5, and they won’t come back,” says Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher. “As long as the situation remains unpredictable, and the conditions are so unstable, no one would quit a job for an uncertain future in the live events industry.” And it’s not simply a straightforward brain-drain either – Brombacher also notes a demographic issue. “For years, we’ve had problems with the lack of young professionals in this business; now it will be even worse.”
JSA’s Strizhak has also suffered from staff shortages – especially in roles that require skilled crew. “Many former employees have already found other jobs and either do not want to return or cannot end their relationship with a new employer so quickly,” he says.
“For us, the most important factor is to set a high standard and to not take on projects that we can’t deliver to that standard”
“We expected that we would be able to hire staff in Ukraine, and we planned to make a global step on this market in 2022. But now, because of the war, everything has changed, and we are again forced to find new solutions. I already found a way to [solve] this problem with the [scaffolders] for the staging, and now we have begun the process to form the new JSA Stagers team.”
Others also contend that the employee situation is improving. Forrester Braithwaite reports that All Access Staging is “finally well-staffed,” while TAIT Wakefield is coping with renewed demand by planning and investing in their teams, both in the UK and globally. That way, says Brooks, “we can scale quickly and bring in our specialists from around the globe to accommodate whatever a project’s needs are.”
The key for many is to retain the ability to deliver quality and, of course, safety. “For us, the most important factor is to set a high standard,” says Fredric Holmgren. “And to not take on projects that we can’t deliver to that standard.” And Tobie agrees. A significant challenge will be to “deliver everything with the quality we strive for,” he notes, “without burning out experienced people with a non-stop shift from April to September.”
In the music industry – as in wider society – momentum around sustainability issues is build- ing, with many organisations and companies taking drastic steps to reform and become an example of green recovery. The likes of A Greener Festival have done important groundwork in this sphere, which has been taken on by newer collectives such as Music Declares Emergency – a group of artists, music industry professionals, and organisations dedicated to making the “cultural and operational changes necessary […] for a carbon-neutral future” – and Earth Percent, a charity helping the music industry address the climate emergency.
“NO MUSIC ON A DEAD PLANET” warns Music Declares Emergency’s flagship campaign, emphasising that artists and fans can bring the issue into the mainstream and “encourage a global response on a global issue.” Meaningful change is certainly something that all the companies IQ spoke to are thinking deeply about; one positive to come out of the two-year pause in live events was the space and the time to properly consider their sustainability credentials.
“Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everything we do has been a blessing”
“Sustainability has a lot to do with thousands of small steps,” says Tobie. “We’ve been working on topics like e-trucking and green materials in the production of our barrier and flooring systems, but we also developed an IT-based loading and trucking algorithm. In combination with our ERP, it helps us optimise loading space and material routing, ultimately reducing trucking in general.”
TAIT Wakefield has long been engaged in evolving a more sustainable model for the long- term but, says Brooks, the last two years allowed them to really focus. “Alongside constantly looking at our carbon footprint, that global assets catalogue we created means we’re not making everything from scratch every time. And, since we do not have to build things twice, we can do things more quickly. Improving the efficiency and effectiveness of everything we do has been a blessing.”
Similarly, Megaforce has developed its international network and keeps materials in strategically favourable locations. Alongside a new set of national partners, this is helping them keep logistic costs – and the resources required to move equipment – as low as possible.
All Access Staging has been busy, too. Their core product line, the Versa system, is “inherently green,” according to Forrester Braithwaite, “because it can be used over and over again in countless configurations, like a really cool LEGO set. We also recently designed an upgraded version of our staging deck that is lighter, stronger, and more versatile than previous generations. In general, managing supply chain issues, and respecting the increased expenses that come with those challenges, is something we’re learning about all the time.”
“It still saddens me that I had to leave my strong and reliable team there”
War in Europe
Having fundamentally overhauled his life because of Russia’s military manoeuvres, JSA’s Strizhak is better placed than many to comment on the impact Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine has had on the region.
He explains, “The quiet and gradual process of my withdrawal from the Russian market began a long time ago because of the Russian war in Georgia in 2008. Even then, I understood that the Kremlin would revive the hybrid USSR, using show business, including television, radio, press, cinema and, of course, live concerts and various events, as their weapons for propaganda.”
Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the beginning of military aggression in the east of Ukraine in 2014, prompted Strizhak to close his premises in Moscow and St. Petersburg. “It was hard,” he admits. “JSA was the first professional stage company in Russia. I had a large number of employees, the company had many significant projects every year, great business connections, and a good reputation. I had to stop it all. It still saddens me that I had to leave my strong and reliable team there. To all these people, I express my gratitude for their cooperation.”
Acknowledging that the scale of JSA’s operations took a hit following its withdrawal from Russia, Strizhak tells IQ it took him a number of years to build a new team and find “new paths” for the staging company. Some of that work involved JSA fulfilling contracts in Ukraine: Eurovision 2017 and Olerome Forum One in Kyiv; Leopolis Jazz Fest in Lviv; and Underhill Music Festival near Ivano-Frankivsk.
“I am optimistic about the development of the company’s business this year”
Indeed, he contends that Ukraine led JSA’s pandemic recovery as the country’s quarantine rules facilitated a return to business. “In 2021, the [Ukrainian] market began to recover earlier than it did in Europe and [the] UK,” reports Strizhak. “That season, many outdoor concerts and festivals took place, and JSA made good sales of stage structures for Ukrainian production companies. But we could not develop and make long-term plans in the fog of remaining restrictions.”
Russia’s invasion earlier this year put an end to all such ambitions, and Strizhak says JSA in Latvia is now involved in humanitarian projects for Ukraine in partnership with local Ukrainian societies and the local Embassy of Ukraine.
On the business side, he is again scrambling for solutions to keep his business running and says that despite the war, enquiries from other countries mean he and his staff are being kept busy. “Currently, we are focused on active work in the Baltic States and for the European market,” he reveals. “We constantly receive requests for stage structures in different countries. As a rule, these are requests for help and support opportunities for unexpected projects. So, in my opinion, we will be able to take part in big and worthy projects this summer.”
And, while other companies are suffering from a scarcity of equipment, Strizhak believes JSA is in good shape for the year ahead. “We already have a sufficient stock of Layher, trusses, podiums, and large roof systems,” he says. “JSA engineers are already making structural drawings for customers. In addition, customers are quickened to purchase new designs, and we have orders. So I am optimistic about the development of the company’s business this year,” he adds.
“To overcome this crisis, it’s imperative to stop producing or procuring everything ever more quickly and cheaply”
Quality of Live
But something else that companies are keen to emphasise is a deeper, more fundamental consideration of their place not just in the live music industry but society in general, and what that might mean in the post-Covid 21st Century. As Forrester Braithwaite puts it, “We are more focused on maintaining the quality of life for our hardworking crew. During the Covid pause, people had the opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and priorities, and as a company we are trying to take a modern approach to our teams’ workdays.”
It was the same at TAIT Wakefield; “Improving our work/life balance has been a big focus,” says Brooks, “and the ways in which we’ve been forced to work have not been all bad. For example, some of the virtual commissioning we did was a great proof-of-concept, so we can take that forward into 2022 and beyond.”
“The key is in personnel; good training, attractive remuneration, integrative framework conditions for the family and career, and appreciation for all participants in the value chain,” says Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher. “To overcome this crisis, it’s imperative to stop producing or procuring everything ever more quickly and cheaply. We need to remember that quality has a price and that secure and quality preparation takes time.”
“2022 will be the busiest and strongest year in the history of eps, and maybe even the entire events industry”
Yet, as long as the industry in general takes heed of such factors, many believe the future is bright – and that the live music industry can be better than ever. Sebastian Tobie predicts that, as long as Covid restrictions remain minimal, “2022 will be the busiest and strongest year in the history of eps, and maybe even the entire events industry.” Phil Christodolou is more cautiously optimistic. “We’re starting to emerge out the other side,” he says. “But we hope that all of us in the live sector have learnt lessons from what’s happened and use this knowledge to navigate the future.”
“The biggest lesson learned is to be nimble,” says Forrester Braithwaite. “We had the ability and necessity to pivot to offering different products and services, and this creativity and willingness to branch out into new areas will allow us to thrive in the years to come.”
“We’ve been able to figure out what ‘better’ looks like over these last two years,” adds Ben Brooks. “It’s absolutely affected what we do and changed our approach to live events, but in many more positive ways than negative ones.” Such a sentiment is shared by Megaforce’s Michael Brombacher, who says that while times will remain turbulent, “there will also be new opportunities. Success will certainly be redefined in the future, but I’m not worried – we will survive this crisis.”
For as he – and others – note, music will endure. “The value of culture is pricelessly important – all the politicians on Earth should understand this by now,” he says. Brooks points to events like British rapper Dave’s London O2 show selling out in four minutes as indicative of just how healthy public demand will be going forward, and why companies such as his can finally be optimistic again.
“I think there’s a renewed appreciation of what live music means to people,” he says. “You could argue it was taken for granted; the ability to walk out your front door, travel to a venue where you could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with like-minded music lovers, and enjoy that visceral experience of a live show. People want that more than ever now, and that bodes well for the industry.”
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China conflict hits Indian production cos
Indian event businesses under pressure to boycott China are facing increased production costs for non-Chinese-made equipment.
Organisers of entertainment, corporate and other live events currently have a choice between buying event kit (sound, lighting, stages, trussing, etc.) at a higher cost from the US or Europe or continuing to purchase from a country widely regarded as public enemy no 1.
A third option – manufacturing these products in India – would require government support for the industry in the form of subsidies, says Modern Stage Service’s Pratik Wadhwa.
An influential, celebrity backed social-media campaign, launched in May, urges Indians to boycott Chinese products and companies in response to the ongoing military stand-off at parts of the India–China border.
The most vicious fighting, in mid-June, saw an estimated 20 Indian and 43 Chinese soldiers lose their lives in melee combat in disputed areas of Kashmir; both sides, meanwhile, accuse each other of firing shots in a skirmish at the line of actual control (LAC) between the Indian territory of Ladakh and Chinese-occupied Tibet yesterday (7 September).
“Matching price with China will be difficult at present … but it is achievable in the long run”
India blames China for the incursions, and has even gone so far as to ban Chinese-owned mobile apps including TikTok and WeChat and Tencent-published Fortnite rival PUBG. The Chinese state-run Global Times accuses a nationalistic Indian media of inflaming tensions, warning that the press “must be reined in” if India wishes to avoid further conflict with Beijing.
Speaking to EventFAQs, Wadhwa, CEO of the New Delhi-based pro-AV distributor, explains: “95% of lighting and trussing, and all LED walls and LED TVs, are imported from China, [as is] cheaper audio equipment.
“The alternative to this is that either India needs to manufacture equipment or international companies have to start assembly lines in India. The Indian government will have to support this industry by giving subsidies.”
Santana Davis, the managing director of Bangalore’s J Davis Prosound & Lighting, adds: “My assumption is that a certain level of impact will surely be there on import of this equipment or materials from China if the current scenario between India and China doesn’t improve.
Davis notes that equipment imported from Western countries is “top-class”, but compared to a quality Chinese brand is “at least two or three times higher” in price.
Indians are urged to boycott Chinese products and companies in response to the ongoing military stand-off at parts of the border
Both Wadhwa and Shivam Singh of pro-AV company Shivam Videos say they plan to start manufacturing audiovisual equipment domestically.
“We have got back into manufacturing lights in India,” explains Wadhwa. “Matching price with China will be difficult at present, because they produce for the world, but it is achievable in the long run.”
“We have already planned […] to import parts from Taiwan, Japan or Korea and assemble them in India,” adds Singh. “Later, we are also planning to start manufacturing in India.
“We want to support our nation and be self-sufficient. We are ready to support ‘Make in India’. But for that we would need the government’s support as well, as setting up a manufacturing unit is not easy.”
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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
Polygon introduces ‘world-first’ 360° 3D sound stage
Polygon, a UK-based start-up which claims to have invented “the world’s first fully immersive 3D 360° sound stage”, will officially launch Polygon Live at Wonderfruit festival in Thailand next month.
Designed around an L-Acoustics processor, the Polygon Live arena “changes the status quo” by giving performers – who are first flown to Polygon’s London office to ‘pre-spatialise’ their music – “the ability to perfectly spatialise sounds within, but also to physically move sounds around, a space”, putting the fan at the centre of immersive surround-sound experience.
Christian Heil, CEO and founder of L-Acoustics, says: “Sound is by definition a spatialised medium. It’s how the human species naturally experiences sound: detailed, multidimensional and localised. Today at concerts we should instead be asking, ‘Why is the sound not spatialised?’ Until recently, the answer to this question was because we didn’t have a user-friendly and cost-effective ecosystem to reproduce natural, 3D sound.”
“Polygon and Wonderfruit have showcased L-ISA technology since 2017 and can be considered pioneers in the use of spatialised sound in the electronic and dance music world,” Heil adds. “EDM is a thrilling application for L-ISA because the genre does not tie the physical localisation of sound to a known and recognisable instrument such as a violin or a drum kit. This opens up tremendous freedom to have sound travel, shapeshift and ricochet, independently of where the sound is made.
“Today at concerts we should instead be asking, ‘Why is the sound not spatialised?’”
“L-ISA becomes a kind of instrument, enveloping fans in entirely new sensations and perceptions. It’s exciting and Polygon is at the forefront of a sonic and creative revolution that is only just beginning to unfold.”
Polygon CEO Nico Elliott adds: “After many years researching 3D sound we are excited to officially launch Polygon Live. We believe that Polygon will redefine how live music is experienced and set a new benchmark for the industry.”
At Wonderfruit this year, Polygon Live will take the form of a bamboo stage designed by lighting designer/architect Visual Systems, also featuring scent dispersion, pyrotechnics and tubed LED lighting.
The Polygon Live line-up at Wonderfruit includes leading electronic musicians and DJs including Be Svendsen, Luis Rosenberg, Viken Arman Alban Endlos, Martha Van Straaten and Matanza.
Wonderfruit 2019 takes place from 12 to 16 December at Siam Country Club in Pattaya, Chonburi.
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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.
Star Events sells to David Walley
Star Events, one of the UK’s best-known suppliers of stages, support structures, rigging and design services, has been acquired by David Walley, CEO of corporate event organiser Mobile Promotions.
Walley also owns brand partnership agency BluePeg and staffing firm Beautiful Minds, and was previously CEO of event infrastructure supplier Arena Group and marketing agency the Freeman Company.
“Star is one of the great names of the UK events industry,” he comments. “They have an inspiring legacy and are both trusted and innovative. We are looking forward to integrating them into the business and adding value to all of our clients.”
“The whole Star team is excited about this move”
Star Events has been supplying equipment and services to the events industry for 40 years. The company, based in Thurleigh, Bedfordshire, has designed and delivered stages, structures, seating and rigging for high-profile events including British Summer Time Hyde Park, Download festival, shows by Adele and the Spice Girls, the Royal Windsor Horse Show and the UK visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
Star Events director Roger Barrett says: “I’ve known and worked alongside David on some major projects for more than 20 years. The whole Star team is excited about this move, which will significantly increase the services we can offer to our clients”.
The ILMC Production Meeting (IPM) will once again welcome all major players in the international production sector to London next March. Click here to read a full report from IPM 12, held on 5 March 2019.
Providence invests in Tait Towers
Providence Equity Partners, the parent company of festival operator Superstruct Entertainment and event tech company Patron Technology, has invested in Tait, which designs and supplies concert touring infrastructure for some of the world’s biggest acts.
Tait – founded in 1978 as Tait Towers – designs, constructs, manufactures and operates stages and installations for a roster of clients that includes the Rolling Stones, U2, Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Disney, Universal, Cirque du Soleil and Nike. The company, headquartered in Lilitz, Pennsylvania, but with offices across North America, Europe and Asia, has worked on 17 of the 20 highest-grossing tours of all time.
The investment from funds advised by Providence, terms of which were not disclosed, sees the private-equity firm become a major shareholder in Tait, with the company’s CEO and president, James ‘Winky’ Fairorth, and chief creative officer, Adam Davis, each retaining a “significant” stake.
Fairorth comments: “We are thrilled to partner with Providence to help take us through our next phase of growth. The firm has an impressive track record of investing in businesses that deliver world-class events and experiences. This growth equity investment is a testament to the breadth and depth of Tait’s talented team and unique culture of excellence, which have advanced industry standards and exceeded client expectations for over 40 years.”
“Providence is the ideal partner to help us accelerate our growth initiatives and strengthen our market position,” adds Davis. “We are proud to be a part of the Providence family and look forward to working with them to expand our offering for artists, entertainment companies and corporate brands that consistently turn to Tait for spectacular live experiences.”
“Our investment in Tait is a great fit with Providence’s growing portfolio of … businesses focused on live, out-of-home events and experiences”
In addition to Patron – which recently acquired festival app developer Greencopper and event management outfit Marcato – and fast-growing Superstruct, whose most recent acquisition is Finland’s Flow Festival, Providence’s US$40bn worth of investments include venue operator Ambassador Theatre Group, sports marketing agency Learfield, US football league Major League Soccer and the World Triathlon Corporation, which organises the Ironman championship.
Scott Marimow, managing director of Providence, says: “Tait is regarded as the gold standard in the industry for its differentiated capabilities, global presence, client relationships and track record of delivering the finest live event solutions in the world. The company is also well positioned for sustainable growth from strong, secular trends, as artists, entertainment concepts and brands are spending more on live events and production quality to create memorable experiences that drive heightened consumer engagement and sharing across social media.
“We are excited to partner with such a passionate management team and look forward to working together.”
Michael Dominguez, also MD of Providence, adds: “Over the past four decades, Tait has grown to become an industry leader. We feel fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with an outstanding team in order to accelerate the company’s growth and further invest in its vast IP portfolio and technological capabilities, which are applicable across multiple client types and end markets.
“Our investment in Tait is a great fit with Providence’s growing portfolio of category leading businesses focused on live, out-of-home events and experiences that are highly valued in an increasingly digital world, and that continue to benefit from attractive underlying consumer trends.”
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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