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Sun 7 Oct 2007 11:17 AM

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Rock and rhythm

Dubai-based SLS Productions has played a key role in producing some of the region's biggest live events.

Dubai-based SLS Productions has played a key role in the production of some of the region's biggest live entertainment events, including Dubai's annual Desert Rock festival. S&S catches up with the company's production manager, John Britto, as he gears up for this month's Desert Rhythm festival.

This past summer saw an unusually large number of major events staged outdoors in Dubai compared to previous years. How does the extreme summer heat affect how you approach a production from a technical standpoint?

It's very challenging working outdoors in the summer, not just because of the heat but also the humidity. And it's not just tough on us - the conditions can wreak havoc with the equipment as well.

In most circumstances, we plan to have all the gear installed at a particular venue one or two days before the show to ensure it isn't exposed to the elements longer than necessary.

Our reputation has been built on ensuring the reliability of our equipment.

In terms of technical challenges, the climatic conditions also impact sound quality and distribution, which makes an acoustic study of any proposed site essential.

Obviously, we prefer to work indoors during the summer months, but the lack of large-scale entertainment venues in Dubai combined with increased consumer demand for year-round live entertainment means that major concerts are increasingly being staged outdoors at this time of year.

Are the summer months notably busier now than they have been in past years?

Post-Ramadan through to the end of March is still the busiest time of the year, but things are levelling out somewhat compared to previous years.

While most promoters are still reluctant to put on shows during the summer months, many of those new to the region seem to be taking a different view and are staging events without considering the logistical challenges associated with doing so...

And this is causing issues?

Well, there are an increasing number of commercial events being staged in Dubai at the moment and some of them aren't particularly well-planned for one reason or another.

It might be a case that an international artist that has been booked by a promoter to play here lacks mass-market appeal, which means the event is pretty much doomed from the outset. Consumers are also less easily impressed than they used to be. The key to drawing a huge crowd is to put on a show by an international artist who is well liked by expats and locals alike.

What are the main logistical challenges associated with putting on a major event in Dubai?

The technology now is the best we've ever had access to. It's the shortage of major venues that's the biggest issue, not just in Dubai but throughout the region. If a top draw international artist wants to put on an indoor show in Dubai to more than 6000 people, the venues aren't available. The closest we'd get would be the Dubai Airport Expo building, but that presents some significant acoustic challenges. Dubai could really benefit from an indoor venue that can comfortably accommodate 15,000 to 20,000 people.

Is there a significant amount of red-tape involved in putting on a show in the UAE?

You have to pay a modest tax on ticket prices but the government has always supported the production of live events in the UAE and has encouraged the development of the industry as a whole.

It has also helped attract major artists to the country and if it didn't support us we wouldn't be doing any of this. So the tax is merely a small concession.

To what extent is SLS involved in this month's Desert Rhythm Festival?

We have received the equipment riders and we are working through the technical requirements for the lighting and calculating what rigging will be required.

We are just finalising these details with the technical experts to ensure each performer is provided with the best solution to meet their requirements.
SLS is also providing the gear and technical support for next year's Desert Rock Festival, correct?

Yes, we are, and we're hugely excited about the event. The promoter [CSM] is confident next year's festival will attract a crowd in excess of 50,000 over the course of the weekend. It's going to be huge.

When can we expect to see an outdoor festival staged in the Middle East to rival the big multi-stage festivals of Europe and North America?

Dubai could definitely manage a festival of that size right now. Obviously, such an event would need to feature both Western and Asian performers to ensure its mass appeal, but in terms of the logistics, we could put on a festival of that scale, no problem. The main issue relates to sponsorship dollars and whether the money would be readily available to produce a show on this scale.

So who sets the limits on the size of a given event? Is it the production company or the promoter?

We can put the basic structure of a show together but it's really about enabling the artists to put on the show that they want to. The promoter informs us what equipment is required and we go from there.

What happens if you receive a request for equipment you don't have?

We're quite happy to work with third party suppliers in the region if we receive a request for specific equipment we don't have on our books. Certain companies have their own specialities, such as rigging, lighting or sound.

Our job is to understand a client's requirements and to put a solution together that best meets their needs.

The AV industry in the UAE is increasingly catering to events such as conferences and exhibitions. How has this trend impacted your business?

We've been involved in the production of a large number of corporate events in recent years, as well as conferences and even a few fashion shows.

Many of these events are staged in hotels, which have their own AV equipment such as mixers, loudspeakers and lights.

Mostly, we are called in to manage the technical aspects of an event.

Many of these venues don't employ full-time professional sound and lighting engineers to maintain the equipment, which I believe is a mistake.

Do you use the hotel's AV equipment in such circumstances?

A number of hotel operators ask us to use their equipment, but quite often the systems in place are built-in, which creates issues in terms of redundancy and reliability. In these cases we often bring in our own gear. Again, if something goes wrong it's our reputation that suffers.

Do you have any plans to expand SLS' commercial interests beyond the UAE?

We have previously worked on events in Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait. But these have been major events - it has to be worth our while to justify transporting a large amount of equipment to locations outside the UAE.

We don't like to cut corners in terms of the amount of equipment we use on a specific project. If we do a job anywhere we do it properly or not at all.

Do you see SLS' future growth tied to large-scale events or more corporate work?

We are very keen to secure more work in the corporate market, but we're also committed to expanding our equipment inventory to cater to really large-scale outdoor events. We're currently assessing a number of loudspeaker systems that would be ideal for massive outdoor festivals and so on.

SLS has provided technical production services for an eclectic array of concerts, including those staged by the likes of:

• 50 Cent (Dubai Country Club, 2004).

• Jose Carreras (DIFC, Dubai, 2006).

• The Darkness (Desert Rock Festival, 2005).

• Lionel Richie (Dubai Aviation Club, 2005).

• Black Eyed Peas (Dubai Airport Expo, 2005).

• Jamiroquai (Dubai Media City, 2006).

• Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot (DMC, 2005).

• Salman Khan (Dubai, 2006).

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