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Friends of Amstel Live with DiGiCo benefits

Once upon a time, there was a café showcasing bands on the banks of the Amstel River. Fifteen years later, that showcase has moved to a 10,000-seater stadium.

Once upon a time, there was a café showcasing bands on the banks of the Amstel River. Fifteen years later, that showcase has moved to a 10,000-seater stadium. The show that began life as an unsigned band night in one of Amsterdam’s smoke-filled brown cafés has risen to become a legend in its own lifetime. Vrienden van Amstel Live (Friends of Amstel Live)’s sold-out seven-night run at the 10,000 seat Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam is now the show to beat them all. With Ampco Flashlight providing the audio system, and three stages featuring 17 top Dutch bands including Golden Earring and Kane, this January’s gigs saw the most complex array of digital audio control in the event’s history, courtesy of four DiGiCo SD7 consoles, linked over Optocore 2 via seven of DiGiCo’s latest SD racks running at 96kHz. Broadcast by Nederland 3 and produced by Sightline, the show was born on 15 January 1998 as The Lords of Amstel, named after its first shooting location, a typical Dutch brown café at Thorbecke Square. The small pub gig showcased a combination of Dutch bands jamming together, which swiftly became popular enough to feature regularly on Dutch television, before the organisers decided to celebrate by holding a special full night in the Ahoy featuring those same bands on two stages. A separate series of shows entitled Amstel Heroes Live was added in 2010 with Dutch artists singing songs from artists and bands who inspired them. This year, with a three-stage layout in the Ahoy, the idea was that singers would be able to move from one stage to another accompanied by various bands. The night finished with a battle of bands from south Holland – Rowwen Heze from county Limburg and, from county Brabant, singer Guus Meeuwis. The bands played opposite each other on the A and C end stages and their singers walked a large catwalk to face each others’ bands via the central B stage. Audio-wise, explains Ampco Flashlight’s Dieter van Denzel, this meant the singers needed access to their in-ear monitor mixes at any point along the length of the arena floor. A rather different challenge was that of keeping the four consoles at front of house, located by the centre stage, free from the sponsor’s product, as the battle of bands entails mostly middle-aged people throwing large quantities of beer at each other. The answer: a clear plastic tent covering the entire mix area. “The technical challenge,” says van Denzel, “was that four DiGiCo SD7s were working simultaneously between stages A and B, achieved using a loop of the new Optocore 2 network, which made it possible to send complete mixes from monitor set A to monitor set C via virtual input racks, which is a new feature of Optocore 2. In terms of channel numbers, Stages A and B shared 112 inputs and 48 outputs, while Stage C was equipped with 56 inputs and 24 outputs. Another new feature used for the show was the DiGiCo SD Racks running at 96kHz.” An SD11 handled presentations and audio playback for video clips. “We were using a total of seven 56/24 SD Racks on the network,” he continues, “with four racks for stages A and B – front of house and monitors – and two racks on Stage C, plus a single rack at FOH for inserts for both FOH SD7s. This rack employs a new DiGiCo software feature that allows user selection of card routing to the worksurface, enabling one rack to be used for two consoles simultaneously. All bands played for around 15 minutes with no stoppage for changeovers, so the whole audio infrastructure for this show was very complex.” Also brand new for the show were the in-ear systems, he adds: “Our in-ears were 24 of the new Shure PSM1000 systems, which performed very well: a lot of artists like them for their great dynamic range.” The PA, too, was necessarily complex, needing to deliver consistent sound to every corner of the house, and yet not obstruct sightlines. Says van Denzel: “We had to eliminate the previous year’s sightline issues with loudspeaker hangs, so for Stage A the PA was incorporated into the set, designed like a pair of Dutch houses, which were used for incredible 3D projection.” For sightline reasons the full PA surrounding the rear ‘C’ stage, consisting of two hangs of 40 Synco W8L Longbow cabinets plus underhangs of 24 W8LM Mini line arrays, was flown from moving trusses and raised out of sight as required. Loudspeakers totalled 136 Synco by Martin Audio W8L Longbow and 24 W8LCs, with 25 Synco W8LM cabinets as near fills and rear fills, augmented by 30 of Synco’s exclusive WS318X cardioid subwoofers. All speaker management was handled by XTA DP448s, and controlled digitally from the desk over ASE/EBU fibre optic using a Dante network. Distances over 100m were achieved using a special Dante network driven from eight Dolby Lake processors, allowing the system to run completely in the digital domain from the SD Racks on stage to the XTA loudspeaker processors. A total of 38 Synco CW-152A wedge monitors served the stages, along with Synco subwoofers as drum fills. Sound design was by Jeroen ten Brinke, with DiGiCo specialist Sydney van Gastel, production manager Jos van der Hoeven, FOH engineers Jeroen Bas, Ronald Koster, Remco Verhoek, monitors by Merijn Mols and Bennie Veenstra and five additional crew for patching and the wireless systems on the three stages. Adds van Denzel: “The benefits were the sound quality of the new 96kHz racks, and eliminating intermediate analogue conversion. People commented that it sounded like a blanket had been taken off the PA.”