Beach Rockin' Beats
Battling against mother nature and the threat of noise complaints, RCF’s first Big Beach Festival was a resounding success. Alice Gustafson reports.
Japan and the UK are known to suffer from extremes of weather, so much so that certainly in the UK, the phrase ‘weather-permitting’ immediately follows almost any outdoor plans that are organised. A man who has been the founder of a rather large weather-permitting event in the UK seaside town of Brighton is Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim). Injecting some fun and music into the UK’s depressing rain-fest of a summer, Fatboy Slim hosted the Big Beach Boutique music concert on Brighton’s seafront in 2001, 2002, and following some major safety tweaks, 2007 and 2008. The event was deemed such a success that the DJ took the party to Japan in 2009 under the guise of Big Beach Festival, attracting some 20,000 music lovers.
Having just finished the fourth edition of the festival in the Chiba Prefecture of Tokyo, the dance party shows no signs of slowing down. This year it boasted The Chemical Brothers as its headline act, with additional performances from DJs Sven Väth and John Digweed, beatboxer Beardyman, and a host of other artists. However, as much fun as this sounds, producing good quality sound in temperamental settings has always erred towards the problematic. Even the finest equipment and engineers can be tweaked and trained (respectively) to perform to the best of their abilities, but there is always one thing that can’t be controlled: the weather.
True to form, the Big Beach Festival attracted a torrent of rain in the days leading up to the show, and an added pressure presented itself in the form of the huge influx of noise complaints the concert has received from distinctly unimpressed neighbours over the past few years. Stepping up to take on these challenges was RCF, marking the first time the Italian manufacturer had showcased the capabilities of its TT+ line array system in Japan at such a large-scale event.
Selecting the loudspeaker manufacturer as the appropriate solution to tackle the concert’s previous problems was Norihiro Matsuyama, owner of rental company Comestock, who gained support from RCF distributor Ballad Co Ltd. Due to the sheer scale of the festival’s audio requirement, Comestock had to purchase a complete new system from the distributor.
‘BBF has been voted the best dance music festival for the last three years,’ asserts Lars Yoshiyama, sales manager at RCF, who organised the availability of the system in question. ‘It is one of the most respected events in Japan, and so many PA guys and stage directors come to the show. BBF is a kind of brand now, and having RCF there was a way of announcing that it is one of the best. People that come here want to hear the next generation of sound.’
With this ambitious target in mind, the team set about designing a solution that could essentially recreate a ‘club sound’ on the beach. But with June marking the beginning of Japan’s rainy season and with a venue comprising a sandy beach overlooking Tokyo Bay, the project was not without its challenges.
‘On that beach we had all the space that we needed, but there was trouble with the wind and the sand,’ Mr Yoshiyama confesses. ‘The day before the event we had a lot of rain. In addition to that, the neighbourhood is close by and noise complaints always occur.’
However, the TT+ system prevailed, and its uniform sound coverage proved to be more than a match for the elements. ‘The system is very stable, and the power in the high frequencies and the high definition really helped to resolve any kind of wind issues. The rain before the event did not effect the system at all,’ he insists. ‘The cabinets are made in baltic birch plywood and every layer is glued with a special adhesive that makes the cabinet completely water resistant – even before the painting process.’ In addition to this, rain covers were used to protect the input boards, and Comestock utilised a sand block as further protection from the elements.
‘Regarding the noise problem, we must say that the engineers did a great job and that the RCF products helped to overcome these issues,’ he smiles. ‘The coverage pattern had to stay very tight because of the buildings surrounding the beach, and the bass was very directive – it had to stay in a narrow angle.’ However this didn't mean that the sound pressure level was low as a result, as Mr Yoshiyama testifies:
‘At front of house we had 122dB max and it was 52m away from the stage with about 8,000 people in between. Due to the excellent directivity of the subs there were no complaints from the neighbourhood about the sound system this year – last year there were over 1,000! Personally I believe that the sound pressure level at the beach was less last year too.’
Indeed, Mr Yoshiyama is pleased to report that there were just four complaints this year, all of which were regarding the noise created by a droning Red Bull sponsor plane.
Performers and artist management were also quick to praise the quality of the audio. ‘Sonically the production enhanced the set to create the effect of the sound of a club on a beach,’ states The Chemical Brothers’ manager Alex Nightingale.
For the main Big Beach stage, 14 TTL55-A enclosures were deployed per side in a spiral array configuration. ‘The first module below the fly bar had an angle of 6-degrees, whilst all of the other modules were mounted with an angle of 1-degree,’ he clarifies. For low-end, 12 TTS56-As and 12 TTL36-AS subwoofers were stacked in a straight line, with a double 18-inch sub placed on top of one of the double 21-inch models. RCF’s sound engineer Oscar Mora was on hand to provide training and guidance on the system, and identified the crosspoints between the different low-end cabinets.
Meanwhile, four TTL31-A enclosures were deployed for near-field fills, while a nearby VIP section was served by a pair of TTL31-As. Onstage sound was delivered via six TT25-SMAs and two TTS28-As, whilst RCF’s RDNet networking board was put to use for delays and monitoring, alongside a Lake LM 26 digital audio processor, a Midas H3000 and a Yamaha PM5D console.
Mr Mora shared his expertise with Comestock regarding the most efficient way to use the RDNet tool, and took care of all the fine-tuning. ‘The system was very easy to fly, and moreover, the RDNet allowed for complete control and monitoring of the system,’ comments Mr Yoshiyama. ‘During the event it was possible to monitor all components of the system through the remote tool.’
For the Red Bull stage, the team opted for TTL33-A arrays deployed four per side with four TTL36-AS subs. Once again, near-fills were catered for by two TTL31-As, whilst two TT25-As, two Art 722-A active two-way cabinets and four NX15-SMA coaxial boxes took on monitoring duties. A Yamaha M7CL digital live-sound console was also utilised for the second stage, as was a Lake LM44 digital audio system processor. Meanwhile, a third system was deployed for the Disco Balloon tent, which comprised four TT22-A PA speakers and two 718-AS subs.
Mr Yoshiyama estimates that approximately 50 influential engineers and production staff made it to the festival to witness the capabilities of the TT+ system, and it seems that collectively they had nothing but praise for what it achieved.
‘Upon hearing the system in action, the producer of the number one boy band in Asia simply said: “this system is number one!” and nobody said anything negative about the audio,’ insists Mr Yoshiyama. ‘If any of the engineers or producers were to have found something negative to say about the TT+ system then they would have spoken out. In fact, they were surprised. All engineers in Japan tend to be brand-driven but they are smart enough to recognise when something is good, and all of them were positive at the festival. Also, engineers that use other brands for full line array systems had nothing bad to say.’
‘It’s a perfect combination of the quality of the engineers in Japan and the quality of the RCF system,’ concurs an experienced local technician. This is an opinion that Takashi Masuda, technical sales at Ballad shares: ‘I always felt good about RCF, and when the sound came out during the main set I was convinced of this opinion.’
‘You cannot imagine how many compliments we received today,’ enthuse event producers Mr Kidoguchi and Mr Fukui of Alife Entertainment Co Ltd. ‘I agree,’ adds a clearly impressed Zach Bassett, an engineer for Ballad. ‘RCF really delivered as promised.’
Although fully prepared for another day of rain, the TT+ system’s weatherproof capabilities were not tested in the end, as come show-time the sun shined on the 20,000 revellers that turned up to enjoy the music.
‘This was the first time we had deployed a large line array in Japan for such an important event, and we are quite honoured that such important people came here and that so many got to hear the system,’ smiles Mr Yoshiyama. ‘This really has been a great project for us, and of course we will be involved next year, there is no doubt about it.’
John Digweed talks sound
Playing for the first time at the festival was John Digweed, a UK DJ and record producer, who confirmed that the TT+ array reached all areas of the acoustically challenging beach. ‘Today was amazing,’ he beamed after his set. ‘The production was fantastic and the sound was pumping. You could tell that right at the back everyone was still feeling the music, and I loved playing – it was really, really good! I was blown away by the reaction of the crowd, and the set-up was so professional. From where I was I could tell that they were all feeling the music.’
Mr Digweed revealed that he was particularly impressed with the results achieved when combining filters with the system’s low frequency capabilities, commenting that ‘it was very good, with a really clean, defined sound. It was punchy, and I want clarity when I am playing so people can really hear the music. The monitors were fantastic too,’ he added. ‘I’m 100 per cent happy.’
‘I can’t think of a better event to showcase the system when you have 15-20,000 people here all hearing the system,’ he furthered. ‘They walked away going: “amazing show, amazing sound, amazing visuals” – and that’s what you want. You want the sound to have that impact.’