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Thu 18 Dec 2008 04:00 AM

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Off Rhythm

Although the Desert Rhythm Festival (DRF) was relocated to a new and larger venue at Dubai Festival City this year, the much-anticipated festival struggled to achieve the same level of success as last year’s sell-out Media City amphitheatre event.

Although the Desert Rhythm Festival (DRF) was relocated to a new and larger venue at Dubai Festival City this year, the much-anticipated festival struggled to achieve the same level of success as last year’s sell-out Media City amphitheatre event.

The 2007, two-day, DRF attracted capacity crowds of 15,000 on both days, while this year's event, which was originally scheduled to take place over a two-day program was cut back to a one day event, only produced ticket sales of 6,300.

Event organiser Centre Stage Management (CSM) said while ticket sales were less than anticipated they were happy with the overall running of the event and that the new site provided a satisfactory venue for the festival.

CSM's vice president Lara Teperdjian, says she was "honoured" to have the former frontman of British rock band, The Jam, Paul Weller headlining the festival, along with other international acts The Wailers, Bob Marley's original band with Elan Atias on lead reggae vocals; Caribbean party-kings, Kassav', as well as other local UAE bands.

While, Teperdjian says the combined performances made for a "fantastic live show", some fans were less enthusiastic and voiced disappointment about the poor sound quality that marred Paul Weller's live set.

Head of audio for Access All Areas' (AAA), Burak Altunay, ran FOH for DRF and engineered the live sets for the local UAE bands while, Weller, The Wailers, and Kassav' all brought in their own sound engineers for the festival.

Altunay says some fans thought Weller's set was "too loud" for the venue, which averaged 105dB compared to a 90dB level for the other bands, while others thought it was "harsh overall".

Sources suggested the sound issues that plagued the set had more to do with the fact Weller's regular sound engineer was not present at DRF for unforeseen reasons, which forced Weller to make a last-minute change and opt for a replacement engineer.

Unfortunately, the crew substitution created issues with the audio reproduction that were well-noted by the assembled crowd.

As the over-amplified sound reverberated around the site bouncing-off neighbouring buildings, it was all too obvious to not only Weller but to the entire audience that something had gone amiss.

Altunay says equipment performance or failure was not to blame for the poor sound quality during Weller's set, but more so the evident lack of experience and judgment shown by the engineer.

"Normally, suppliers of whatever brand in Dubai or anywhere else would supply you, to their best intent and ability, what you ask for and what you specify as engineers and as artists. But, what one does from that point on is a matter of choice," he says adding that despite Weller's set, the other bands were happy with the production.As for the workhorse controlling the PA requirements on the night, it was the trusty Yamaha PM5D console.

While many engineers have made the transition and are accustomed to the new breed of digital desks, all sound engineers at DRF were given the choice of running either analogue or digital desks.

"All engineers on site either asked or were happy with the PM5D, both on FOH and monitor positions, as for most, it still is the choice of desk after almost a decade," states Altunay.

"But to give engineers the option there was the choice of a Midas analogue console and Soundcraft's Vi6 was also available upon request, but no one declined the PM5D."

For flexible speaker control Altunay ran XTA Electronics digital system controllers for the main PA left and right, one for the subs, one for the front fills (Vertec 4887) and one for the outer fills (4888) and all the components (settings, limits and temperature) were remotely controlled and monitored via a PC.

Altunay says that due to Dubai's climate, it is important to keep a check on the temperature level the system is running at as temperatures can sometimes be an issue depending on the season.

To achieve even sound dispersion across the site a selection of front fills and outer fills were employed to support the areas where the main 4889 line array (flown either side of the stage) did not reach.

To foster more control for sound engineers over lower frequencies, Altunay routed the subs through an auxiliary channel run via the PM5D.

The Festival City site presented some technical challenges, with its reflective surfaces, concrete footing and surrounding buildings that were directly inline with the line array's throw points, but Altunay compensated by scaling-back the top two cabinets by six decibels to give the system more control.

"I set-up the PA system so that the only adjustment required throughout the festival was for the limit on XTA's system processors to be adjusted as we knew Weller was going to drive the system hard," claims Altunay.

"Additionally, while most engineers ran 20 to 32 channels on the PM5D, Weller's engineer boosted it to run 48 channels.

"Other than monitoring the system there's not much I could do, so anything beyond that was up to the individual engineer mixing the artist."Sound engineers know all too well the pressures they face at festivals, but as Altunay states "sound and line checks are imperative, without them engineers are flying blind at least for the first few songs".

"A sound check is scheduled for a reason. And, regardless of the size or stature of a band, that sound check is the thin red-line between good or poor sound quality on the day of the gig," he says.

"Without it, any engineer at any given event has to guess their way through the first few songs at least to get the system up to speed."

To streamline, most festivals process the backline is generally prepared and checked ahead of time.

But, when a band brings in their own equipment, especially keyboards as was the case for The Wailers DRF set, stage technicians and engineers don't have much control over what shape the instruments are in nor can they always identify any lingering issues with the equipment.

This proved true for The Wailers' keyboard artist, when less than one minute into the opening song his instrument suffered complete failure.

As he and the band stood waiting on stage, and the audience became restless, technicians worked frantically to revive the keyboard, which took around five minutes.

"You can try to anticipate it and be preprepared for it but if an instrument wants to act up it will and there's not much anyone can do about it," says Altunay.

To add further ‘extreme' entertainment options for DRF goers the Aerial Bar, designed and operated by Louis Auguste and his team from Portugal, was also in operation throughout the event.

Auguste is well known for providing ‘extreme attractions and rides' for a number of European festivals, including Portugal's Rock in Rio and has also provided attractions for previous CSM events, Desert Rock Festival and Urban Desert.

Heading the on-site DRF team was production director and site manager, Malcolm McInnes, For the traffic management, cleaning and venue support services, Dubai Festival City events department was employed. To assist in the events running McInnes employed a crew of around 400 staff to handle the on-site requirements for the show.

"Once the event was up-and-running, from a practical perspective it was all very smooth," says McInnes.

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