Falls Beats the Heat

Published On April 4, 2016 | Features

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When Christmas Day bushfires rocked up on the doorstep of Falls Festival’s Lorne site, the team had just 40 hours to relocate a festival that usually takes weeks to set up. AT went along to find out how.

Story: Mark Davie

It wasn’t the Christmas present Falls’ organisers were hoping for. Instead of a cruisy setup day, they were faced with the biggest call they’d ever had to make. Either stay; transplant a music festival for 15,000 people just two days before doors open; or call the whole thing off.

Unfortunately, just as music festivals go hand in hand with the Australian summer, so do bushfires. The odds of the two meeting one day was probably significant. Recently, that number came up twice. On Christmas Day, Falls Festival was chased off its traditional stomping ground in Lorne, and then, across the other side of the country in Perth, bushfires also forced Southbound Festival to cancel its main event.

You don’t play with fire. Especially when a mass exodus would make the only road out of your music festival look like a balloon artist was squeezing its midsection. Sure there was a fire plan, there always is. “But you can’t take that risk,” said Falls’ production manager, Ade Barnard. “Not with one person’s life, let alone 15,000.”

Arriving at Mt Duneed Estate after midday on New Year’s Eve, it was obvious that electing to relocate was the right move. There were supposedly 16,000 people on site but not one was out in the open. Bands hadn’t started playing on the main Valley Stage yet so everyone was either watching Money For Rope in the Grand Theatre tent or huddled under one of the shade canopies to escape the 40-degree heat. Even as far back as Boxing Day ­— when the fire was still seven or eight kilometres away from the Lorne site —  New Years Day was the one organisers were really worried about. “The CFA said if it did kick,” said Barnard. “It would cross the ground really fast.”

The decision to move a festival isn’t made lightly. Sure, the losses from cancelling a festival are heavy, but so is the responsibility of delivering a quality event in a short timeframe. It’s not just a question of, ‘Should we?’ But also, ‘Can we?’ Apart from somehow communicating the news to every festival-goer, you have to set up a completely new campsite — including toilets, showers, water, power, fencing, amenities, the list goes on — deliver all new staging and production, brief all your crew about a new set of protocols and how to direct people around a site they’ve never set foot on before. There’s loads more than that, and it all had to be done in a couple of days.

Not wanting to make things too easy, Falls also ran off 1200 extra New Year’s Eve-only tickets that raised over $120,000 for the Great Ocean Road bushfire relief. The organisers of Southbound Festival also managed to put together a benefit concert that raised over $150,000 for bushfire victims.

AudioTechnology sat down with Ade Barnard (who co-owns Monitor City) on New Years Eve to run through the order of events. Here’s an outline of the Herculean effort by all involved.

FALLS IDENTITY CRISIS

Barnard had a little inside help to get him over the line. His friend, Steven ‘Stig’ Moore is the production manager for A Day on the Green, which regularly holds gigs at Mt Duneed. As luck would have it, he’s also part of the Falls team at Marion Bay. Even closer to home was the site manager for A Day on the Green, who was already part of the Falls Lorne team. “He’s done six or seven shows at Mt Duneed Estate,” reckoned Barnard. “And this is his third Falls. Anything we needed to know, he knows it.”

In any case, Barnard stressed, Falls isn’t A Day on the Green. Putting on Falls Festival primarily requires Falls insider knowledge. Each festival has its own identity, and Falls has been running in the same slice of Otways forest for over two decades. While they couldn’t replicate the exact conditions, it was important that the layout was familiar to as many long-term festival goers as possible. “This is almost a replica of Falls Lorne,” said Barnard. “The tent and main stage are laid out as close to normal as we could get it. That way, the people who always come to Falls experience the same vibe.”

Barnard held two different perspectives of the festival relocation. On one hand, “it’s easy, we just had to duplicate it again,” he said. “The promoters were great, ‘The doors open at midday on the 28th. Go! How many people do you need? Just get them.’” But there’s also a sense of disbelief that they actually pulled it off in time. “My lot did an amazing job,” continued Barnard. “There were only 40 hours between when we heard we were moving to when we opened. I don’t know how the site guys did it. Their doors opened three hours before mine, so in 37 hours they had to deliver toilets, showers, parking and three and a half kilometres of fencing, which is hard work.

“Everyone did amazing work, they just did it. At any one time, there would have been 40 people working on production. So when there’s one lot not working, they’re sleeping.

“Everyone has been great. No one in production has profiteered. People took my phone calls on Boxing Day. To be fair, I’m not going to ring them up on Boxing Day just to say, ‘How’s it going?’ People enabled me, in the course of three hours, to find a whole new set of pieces. Without such a great team: the Mediatec broadcast guys, the MPH Australia guys, JPJ, my guys from Monitor City, all the Engine Room stage guys — without that willingness we wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

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MAIN STAGE TUNE UP

The main Valley Stage PA was JPJ’s d&b J Line rig. It’s a pretty consistent appearer at festivals these days. Josh from JPJ managed FOH for the Valley Stage, which housed a couple of Avid Profiles. Because the site changed at such short notice, Josh said it just made the setup more like a tour day.

Josh: “We loaded in at 6pm the night before with the same six of us it was going to be at Lorne. Usually at Falls we have two setup days to tinker with the PA. It was the same sort of tuning process here, it’s just that we had to rush it a bit and we officially couldn’t make noise until the first band came on. We’d do little bits at a time and have a listen.

“The biggest change was we couldn’t place the subs where we wanted. You can’t put anything in front of the PA towers and half a metre to each side because there are massive concrete blocks there. Normally it would be an even spaced array across the front with alternate J-Subs (frequency response down to 32Hz) and J-Infras (down to 27Hz). This time we had to squash them up in the middle and do a bigger block either side with a J-Sub stacked on top of J-Infras. It worked out really well, but it wasn’t predictable. There’s no way to model that because it’s not what anyone would intentionally do.

“The other thing is, it would be better to have side hangs on this site like A Day on the Green would. We don’t use them at Lorne, which is why we didn’t have any available for this show.”

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KURT VILE LIVE

Tommy Joy has been mixing FOH for Kurt Vile & the Violators for four and a half years. AT recently interviewed Kurt and band member Rob Laakso about the new album, B’lieve I’m Goin Down, so we thought it’d be interesting to find out how they translate that on the road.

Joy says the band does a lot of the work for him: “The guys are really good at getting the tones they want. I add as little s**t as I can and try to convey that to the people out there. I don’t compress it or EQ it if I don’t have to.”

In all, there are about 26 channels coming off stage. The drums have mostly classic mic positions, with kick in and out, and snare top and bottom. But the drummer prefers having the right overhead in more of a Glyn Johns’-style position, out past the floor tom. Joy says he’s fine with it as it gives him more floor tom definition anyway.

Every instrument, including the keyboards and acoustic guitar goes through an amp. “Kurt likes the tone of his acoustic better when it’s played through an amplifier,” said Joy. At Falls he used a Vox AC30 they’d rented, and a Fender Deluxe for his electric. To contrast the amp tones, they also DI everything, including what comes out the end of Kurt’s pedal board. While the band prefers to only hear their amps, Joy finds it handy, “because I can use it in the mix if I need a little more definition.”

Kurt’s voice is the only heavily effected element in the mix, with Kurt preferring slapback delays and space echo effects on his voice. Joy used to use an Eventide H9 pedal, and is still trying to convince Kurt to let him take his Eventide H8000 on the road, but for now he’s mostly using whatever’s on the console. “I just need a delay with a tap,” said Joy. “Then I just try and make it sound as least digital as possible.”

Even though two Kurt Vile sets are never the same, Joy still prefers to ride Vile’s voice rather than compressing it. “I ride the effects channels and everything of Kurt’s,” he said. “A lot of people try and make their job easier by crushing everything with a limiter, but I’ve been working for Kurt for so long; I know exactly when he’s going to scream or do something on the mic. I don’t like what compression does to his voice, so I don’t add it. I ride the effects with my left hand. I don’t mute them because it sounds a little weird when he’s talking and it’s completely dead, especially in a festival situation. Keeping a little delay in the background makes it sound more live.”

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KEEPING IT IN THE TENT

Monitor City provided half of its Nexo STM inventory for the Grand Theatre; six a side with an underhang. Ade Barnard said that was more than enough boxes to generate 110dB at FOH. “I only want it to go 70m,” he said. “At Falls in Lorne, our most sensitive house is down the hill, 2.5km away and right in line with the tent. If you get the tent wrong, it’s on their door step in a heart beat. We’ve worked out a really nice design that keeps it all in the confines of the tent. We use the single 18-inch S118 subs that come with the STM, not the double-folded horn RS-18s because they throw sub frequencies for miles. With a reasonable pattern design, you can get the single 18s to drop off fast so we don’t get complaints.

“STM is a great system for rejection. We do Unify, a metal festival in a paddock in the middle of a village. The nearest house is only about a kilometre away and we have it stonking.

“In Lorne, you’re in a bowl surrounded by trees, which soaks it up really fast. The only reason the sensitive dwelling is a problem is because it’s down the road. Around here, we have someone driving around to six different properties every two hours and sitting outside with a noise meter. Our management policy is a lot more involved than Lorne. But they were nice enough to let us come here and I don’t really want to ruin it for Day on the Green.”

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