‘Ultra’ is a pretty serious adjective second only, I presume, to ‘mega ultra’. For something to be ultra it means that it needs to traverse far beyond that which is considered merely ‘good’ or even ‘great’, and blow the mind with such devastating force that all other superlatives pale miserably in comparison.

This is why the international EDM (electronic dance music) festival – the Ultra Music Festival – is not blithely called the Good Music Festival. Nor is it called the Great Music Festival. Its goal, as its name suggests, is to shock the senses and be, in every sense of the word, ‘ultra’. From the looks of things, it was exactly that, and thousands of hip-gyrating, foot-stomping, hand gesture throwing, wide-eyed EDM fans that attended the event will certainly agree.

The Ultra Music Festival started in Miami, Florida, in 1999 and its popularity has grown so fast that 15 years later it is one of the largest international EDM touring festival brands around. Ultra Music Festivals have been organised in places like Ibiza, Spain; Buenos Aires, Argentina; São Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Seoul, South Korea; Split and Hvar, Croatia with the latest being held right here in Cape Town and Johannesburg on 14 and 15 February 2014 respectively.

Held over two weekends, the mother festival takes place at Bayfront Park in Miami with an aggregate attendance of over 330,000. South Africa fared pretty well with an attendance of 40,000 over two days; eager fans came out in droves to see headliners Tiesto, Alesso, Afrojack and Nicky Romero rock the house.

So how do you deliver a show to a crowd of 40,000-strong and how do you do it without involving a multitude of rental companies? Apparently, you call Gearhouse Group.

Gearhouse provided all technical requirements for the event under one roof, including audio, lighting, rigging, staging and LED with the exception of pyrotechnics, which were handled by Fireworks for Africa.

A bit of background…

Gearhouse was first approached by Showtime Management in the middle of 2013 to start preliminary layouts in conjunction with Mark Daubeney of Mushroom productions, who was acting as Showtime’s production manager. In November, a meeting with Ray Steinman, Ultra Music Festival’s international production manager, was set up where the technical requirements for the main stage were discussed. Between Ray Steinman and Johan Kristensson, project manager at Gearhouse, the look and feel of the event was developed. One of the main motivating factors behind the design of the show and its resulting focus on visual elements was the fact that there were no bands or moving acts on stage to fill it with a moving presence.

“At the end of the day, there are just one or two guys or girls standing on stage playing music. There’s not too much they can do from a stage presence point of view,” says Kristensson. “So it’s all about how the effects, the video and pyrotechnics are incorporated into the music to create that visual effect.”

Another concern was not to reveal too much of the set and effects all at once, seeing they were such a large part of the show. The goal was to gradually add more effect elements as the show progressed and climaxed with the headline act.

“It’s important when you’re doing an event that is 12 or 14 hours long that you don’t reveal everything at the beginning,” says John McDermott, business development manager at Gearhouse. “So it’s one of those things that has to build-up slowly as the evening climaxes. You start off with something that’s basic and relatively centralised, and then you add to that. You simply don’t switch on all of the lights to start with so you don’t see them. Obviously, the pyros happen later as well. You might start with the central ring of lights and reveal the layers as you go.”

Concerning the design of the stage, while Ultra International had the final say on the overall layout, they worked closely with Gearhouse to come to a solution that both parties could feel good about. However, because the Johannesburg and Cape Town shows were back to back, there were logistical issues to work out.

McDermott explains: “We put a few proposals forward to Ultra, which included the half-dome structure as the potential roof structure, which they liked. They also liked that we could do a ‘U’-shaped trussing configuration to emulate their logo. Their lighting and visual show designers then worked an LED and lighting spec into that ‘wish list’, so to speak. Then there was a bit of ‘to and fro-ing’ because there was no time to move gear between the Johannesburg and Cape Town shows. So we had to do a complete duplicate rig in both cities. I don’t think we toured anything except Tiesto’s lighting desk and media server.”

Because Gearhouse had to duplicate the rig in both cities due to said logistical problems, some concessions had to be made and this had a big effect on the final layout and gear lists for the show. “Duplicating the rig brought its own challenges and it played a large part in the way we went about the spec and how we arrived at the mirror image for each city.”

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Story Courtesy ProSystems Magazine, Photos courtesy Showtime

Mar 28, 2014

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