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Interview: Capital Sound’s Martin Connolly on producing sound for open-air, inner city festivals

Victoria Park played host to Aphex Twin’s comeback gig at this year’s Field Day festival, with Capital Sound supplying the Martin Audio MLA system that filled the new Barn stage with the DJ’s unrepentant brand of electronica. Murray Stassen asked Capital’s senior project manager Martin Connolly about setting up for summer festivals

In 2015, during an interview for one of PSNEurope’s sister publications, Field Day founder Tom Baker said that when he launched Field Day a decade ago he intended for the event to be like “a village fete meets a gig with DJs afterwards”.

That year saw the likes of punk poet Patti Smith, ’90s shoegazers Ride, slack rocker Mac Demarco and Canadian electronic composer Caribou perform at the Hackney event, with the festival split into two days.

Field Day 2017, cut from two days to one, felt much less of a village fair and much more like Glasto’s Dance Village, with the DJs becoming the main attraction rather than the entertainment for later in the evening. Not to say this is a bad thing, but rather indicative of a wider shift in music consumers’ tastes and the live music business’ reflection of that.

The introduction of the cavernous new Barn stage this year undeniably changed the dynamic of the event. Featuring a line-up of world class DJs and producers, headlined by Richard David James, aka Aphex Twin, the Barn was the star attraction of what was traditionally an open-air focused festival, (apart from the various satellite in-tent stages of course).

While the structure served a weather-related purpose, it also contained Aphex Twin’s light display beautifully and was filled to the brim with sound delivered by a Martin Audio MLA system with the clarity you expect to hear when you see those loudspeakers flown either side of the stage.

Providing the audio systems for three of the eight stages (the Barn, outdoor stage and Resident Advisor) this year was veteran hire company Capital Sound, which has been a provider of sound solutions for concerts, tours and events for three decades.

The Barn was set up the previous weekend for (dance festival) Creamfields’ Steel Yard event: that saw Axwell & Ingrosso, Faithless, Martin Solveig and others perform in Victoria Park. Capital Sound had been brought in for that event too, and ended up keeping the same sound configuration for the Barn at Field Day.

“I’d never worked in [the Barn] before, but I think that it was successful and not only for Steel Yard and Creamfields, but also for Field Day,” says Capital Sound senior project manager Martin Connolly.

“One of the DJ bookers there said to me that it has put a completely new slant on Field Day. Because of that structure, the festival has changed a little bit in music genre.”

In addition to Field Day and Steel Yard, Capital Sound work with the likes of Clapham Common’s SW4 festival, British Summer Time Hyde Park (BST) and the BBC Proms in The Park, which all pose similar challenges when it comes to playing amplified music in an inner-city green space.

This year’s BST will see Green Day, Kings of Leon, Tom Petty and other big hitters perform in Hyde Park, with 2017 being the fifth year that Capital Sound will be providing BST with the coveted MLA to keep park, promoter and public happy.

It has been documented several times within PSNEurope and elsewhere: as a consequence of Capital Sound’s involvement in Hyde Park, BST reports it has received no complaints off-site about noise, with the deployment of MLA being a major factor in that. The Royal Parks recommended that the BBC hire Capital Sound for its Proms in the Park.

“Even the Proms were getting complaints off-site,” says Connolly. “We weren’t even getting complaints when the Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath were playing at 100dB.”

Connolly concedes that the nature of working on outdoor events is that “if you get bad weather, wind and atmospherics are always going to affect where the sound ends up”.

However, “you can [fix] that with the MLA,” he adds. “If it was a traditional line array you’d have to drop the whole system in, recalculate the angles and fly them out again. Whereas with MLA, you put the new data into it and it does a new prediction electronically, so nothing has to be moved.”

Connolly says that “a lot of work has gone into designing the system” that is used in Hyde Park and this being the company’s fifth successful year of working there is clear evidence of that.

“For any festival these days there are noise restrictions when it’s in close proximity to housing,” says Connolly. “The council establishes that there are certain noise sensitive positions and people can call up if they feel that the plates on their walls are rattling. People will complain about a festival even when it’s well below the measurement of 65dB, one metre from the most sensitive point.”

Acoustic and environmental impact consultants Vanguardia independently monitor the noise limits around the Field Day site, with measurement microphones placed at various sensitive points.

“Vanguardia use a system (Audioview) that tells you if you’ve got a bit of headroom left at the end of the day,” adds Connolly. “Roly Oliver (Vanguardia’s head of live business) was looking after that and he did a really good job on site.”