Redline fever

With the eyes of the world focused on Abu Dhabi last month as the UAE capital staged the country’s first ever Formula 1 race, leading event production companies headed by Flash took the opportunity to showcase the industry’s collective talents by staging the region’s biggest ever concert series, Yasalam. Aaron Greenwood reports.
Redline fever
More than 150,000 people attended the four-day concert series.
By Aaron Greenwood
Fri 11 Dec 2009 04:00 AM


With the eyes of the world focused on Abu Dhabi last month as the UAE capital staged the country’s first ever Formula 1 race, leading event production companies headed by Flash took the opportunity to showcase the industry’s collective talents by staging the region’s biggest ever concert series, Yasalam. Aaron Greenwood reports.

Big names, landmark venue, cutting-edge tech. Three key factors that combined to generate the significant hype surrounding Yasalam, the Middle East’s biggest ever concert series staged in conjunction with the inaugural Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix.

But behind the scenes, the success of the massive production, which was headlined by Beyonce, Jamiroquai, Kings of Leon and Aerosmith, relied on the cooperation of a bevy of UAE-based event production technology and service suppliers, technicians and crewing companies.

Abu Dhabi-based event promoter Flash recruited a veritable who’s-who of the UAE production services industry to stage the concert series. Dubai-based equipment rental companies Protec, Creative Technology (CT), Delta Sound and Techno Pro supplied pro audio, lighting and AV technologies; Al Laith Scaffolding, CEM, Byrne Rentals, WTF Rentals and Harlequin supplied venue and staging infrastructure; while safety, security and catering personnel requirements were met by Spark Security Services, Gulf Crewing and The Event Safety Shop. At least seven other companies combined to provide an assortment of associated services.

“The driving force for us in putting together these events was showcasing the talent and professionalism of the local production industry,” says Flash operations director Lee Charteris, who assumed the role of event director for Yasalam.

“From the outset, I was determined to use local suppliers, not only because it meant I could get more for my dirham, but I also wanted to prove to the bands and their crew that the technology available in this region is world-class. To put on shows of that stature four days running is proof of our capabilities as an industry. Part of our remit at Flash is about encouraging its development at a grassroots level.

“I’ve worked with Protec many times before, not to mention Al Laith, CT and Delta. Andy [Jackson, Delta Sound Dubai director] is the most experienced sound technician working in the UAE. We had a meeting in the months prior to the show where I explained what we were trying to achieve, and everybody was very supportive of our vision.

“I’m really thankful to all the suppliers – I said to them this was the best opportunity all of us would ever have to showcase our talents to the world, and they all chipped-in in that respect.”

Planning for the massive event commenced in July, when the construction of the Yas Marina Circuit and Ferrari World theme park – the site of the concert venue – was still in full swing. In fact, the racetrack itself wasn’t officially completed until the beginning of October, while the theme park was still under construction just weeks before the concert.

“Three or four months ago when I first visited the site it was pretty much a construction zone and I was really concerned about how we would pull it together,” says Charteris. “But once we got access to the site in October, everything came together fairly quickly and painlessly.”

Ferrari World’s imposing structure provided the perfect backdrop for the outdoor venue. The design of the stage was unique compared to anything else previously constructed in the UAE. While the building’s southern wing span provided overhead coverage, two thrusts, located left and right of stage and mirroring the shape of the roofline, expanded the central stage area considerably.

“We had this spider design in mind. I wanted to construct a stage that all the artists would be impressed by and happy to perform on,” says Charteris. “The stature of the acts performing meant we faced the likelihood of each them coming to us with separate demands if the venue wasn’t up to scratch. So, we had to ensure any doubts they may have had were dispelled by the design we presented to them.”

The design of the stage and venue itself fell to production designer Steve Shipman, a partner in Dubai-based CleanEdge Events. Shipman says the initial brief from Charteris specifically stated the design should be “unconventional”.

“Lee didn’t want a roof or a front truss – he was specific in that he wanted a massive stage and backdrop equipped with loads of LEDs,” says Shipman.

“Because it was Flash’s event, it was my first real opportunity to get involved in designing the venue, which is something I have been involved in at many shows in the past,” adds Charteris.

“When you look at some of the really big shows by the likes of Genesis, U2 or the Rolling Stones, they don’t really use conventional boxed roofs anymore.

“Steve was a great person to get involved in the design process. That was probably the most satisfying thing about this particular event – the fact Steve and I drew this design on a piece of paper and three months later there it was for all the world to see.”

Following his initial discussions with Charteris, Shipman contacted Dubai-based Digilight, which took his initial designs and developed them further “to include the funky shape of the wings and stage thrusts”, he says.

“The guys at Digilight do a lot of really clever work in regards to visual mapping and projecting images on to odd shapes,” Shipman explains. “Many of the design elements changed as and when we began installing the PA and taking into account some of the other design elements.”

The end result incorporated more performance technology than any other temporary venue previously constructed in the Middle East.

“We committed to installing a massive amount of video tech, more lights than any previous gig we’ve ever staged, delay stacks and delay LEDs towards the rear of the amphitheatre,” says Charteris. “However, for me personally, the stage thrusts were the highlight, given how they mirrored the overall design of the Ferrari World awning. The best vantage point probably would have been from one of the helicopters that hovered over the venue before and during the event.

“We tailored the venue every day slightly for each act on the bill, just to keep things fresh. For example, some bands brought along their own monitors, while others were precise in terms of where they wanted the LEDs to be set up on stage. But within reason, everyone was happy with the basic set-up.”

Delta Sound Dubai supplied a full-scale L’Acoustics V-Dosc line-array to the event, complemented by Yamaha desks, despite each act discounting Jamiroquai bringing along their own control systems.

Protec chipped in a number of its own brand new L’Acoustics stacks, which were located in delay towers positioned to the rear of the venue providing fill.

Despite the seemingly hectic surrounds, ever laidback Delta Sound Dubai director Andy Jackson described the load-in and preproduction as “quite relaxed”.

“It was relatively fuss-free,” he says. “Once the boundary fencing went up we were pretty much self-contained.”

Jackson also says his team’s task was made easier by the fact that the assembled international production crews were entirely happy to use the V-Dosc installation.

“It’s a world-class system and it sounded amazing in the venue, particularly with the delay stacks,” he says. “All the crews were happy with it.”

Charteris agrees with this assessment. “I did have a few concerns prior to the event in terms of the sound quality, given the size of the venue and the shape of the roof, but all the engineers were really happy with it,” he adds.

Events manager for rigging contractor Al Laith Scaffolding, Jaco ‘JJ’ Trichardt, said his team’s job was aided by Ferrari World’s high-quality design and construction.

“We had all the scaffolding installed within three or four days,” he explains. “It was a relatively simple process. The Ferrari World building itself is beautifully constructed and exact in terms of the dimensions we were provided by [Ferrari World master developer]
Aldar

. The calculations we made prior to the concert series proved spot-on.”

While the event marked the first major outing for Protec’s L’Acoustics system, it also represented one of the first significant applications of the company’s new all-black trussing, manufactured by UK-based Total Fabrications.

“It made such a difference in terms of the stage’s overall visual impact,” says Protec operations director Rick Wade. “It also ensured the audience’s attention remained largely focused on the LED backdrop, and of course the artists themselves.”

The vast majority of the LED display technology used during the concert series was supplied by Creative Technology. The sheer scale of the LED installation was memorable for more reasons than one, says CT general manager Damien McGurn.

“While it wasn’t a particularly challenging install for us, it’s important to note that up until a year or so ago, most of the LED display technology used at the event would have had to have been flown in.

“However, in the past 12 months we’ve invested a great deal in expanding our LED inventory locally, and a lot of it has been used in this production.

“Having the kit based in Dubai has been working really well for us. Effectively, in the past two months, we’ve had 600 sq metres of LED screen located in the emirate.”

Ultimately, Yasalam’s success was evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive response of the 150,000+ punters who attended the concert series.

“The event’s lasting success is testament to the commitment of all those who were involved in making it a reality,” says Charteris. “That even applies to the guys at
Aldar

. Many months ago, [Aldar Retail and Theme Park development director] Phil Richardson suggested to me what a great place [Ferrari World] would be for a concert. He’s a visionary, for sure, because at that point in time there was nothing here.”

“In the end, it was a brilliant success, but even after 30 years in the business, I look back on each gig and think I could have done something differently. But that’s what keeps the job interesting for me.”

Importantly, Charteris believes the concert series’ lasting legacy will be to change perceptions internationally of Abu Dhabi and Dubai as cashed-up one-off destinations for major Western artists.

“Historically, most shows here have been destination concerts, and many of these guys have come here solely for the money, but things are changing,” he says.

“Now, we’re finding a lot of acts who are on their way to Australia or Asia are looking to put on shows here, and if this trend increases all promoters and their production partners in the UAE will benefit.”

Charteris is also cautiously optimistic about the opportunities available in the market through 2010 and beyond.

“Looking forward, I’m optimistic we’ll soon be producing major events monthly in the capital, and who knows where we’ll go from there,” he says. “There’s been a lot of talk about building an arena in Abu Dhabi, and I’m confident that will happen sooner rather than later. There’s definitely room for the market to grow in the UAE particularly during the summer months.”

Start your engines!

While the Yasalam concerts proved a worthy distraction off the track, the spotlight remained firmly on the inaugural Abu Dhabi Formula 1 Grand Prix, with a capacity crowd of 55,000 flocking to the final race on the F1 calendar.

While Red Bull’s rising star Sebastian Vettel took the honours on the day (pipping S&S’ favourite Queanbeyan-lad-done-good Mark Webber), the Yas Marina Circuit, cloaked by the hugely impressive Yas Hotel and marina, remained the stunning centrepiece of the entire event.

The Yas Hotel’s hugely impressive LED shroud, containing 208,000 LEDs, proved a worthy distraction for spectators perched at the marina end of the track, particularly as the sun began to set and the lighting installation sprung to life.

The LED array was conceived by architect Hani Rashid of Asymptote New York and designed in conjunction with Dutch firm Arup Lighting. The technology used in the project was sourced from UK-based architectural lighting firm Cooper Lighting and LED manufacturer Enfis Group.

Highlights of the design include a 4.2 billion colour palette, with two-way communication providing real-time monitoring of fixture temperature, colour and energy consumption, as well as DMX remote control.

The main feature of the project’s design is a 217-metre expanse of sweeping, curvilinear forms constructed of steel and more than 5,300 pivoting diamond-shaped glass panels which are illuminated via a sophisticated LED lighting system, providing an unlimited combination of shades and colours.

More than 5,800 Enfis LED arrays were sourced for the lighting installation, predominantly consisting of Enfis four-channel UNO Plus arrays and control drivers integrated into custom-designed IP65-rated stainless steel stanchions.

Elsewhere, spectators were treated to live video feeds and race updates on 14 high-resolution LED displays supplied by Belgian company Barco and worth a reported US$8 million. The 10mm and 14mm SLite LED outdoor displays, which are fitted in air-conditioned surrounds, were scattered about the Formula 1 racetrack.

“Barco’s outdoor LED has extremely good viewing angles. [They] displayed the live action perfectly even in the bright Abu Dhabi sunlight,” comments Mohammed Al Mubarak, CCO of
Aldar Properties

.

Off the track, Dubai-based IBS Décor designed and constructed VIP amenities for Philip Morris and another on behalf of Dubai-based events company, HQ Creative.

“Everything went well even despite a few last-minute issues,” says IBS Décor chief Alan Scoley. “It was difficult getting site access prior to the event which made things a little challenging.

“However, considering it was totally new territory for all of us, it was amazing how smoothly the event ran on race day.”

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