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Rock Werchter: Programme reprogrammed!

It was an all-digital line-up on the console front at this year’s Rock Werchter in Belgium, and Adamson has something to celebrate too. Marc Maes was there for the soundcheck

The Rock Werchter festival (25–28 June), attracted some 88,000 festivalgoers per day to its site 30km outside Brussels. This year marked the 41th edition and offered 79 bands and artists (including seven Belgian bands) on the three stages (Main, KluBC and The Barn).

The festival was brought forward to fit in Foo Fighter’s tour schedule – then of course, 10 days ahead of the show, Dave Grohl broke his leg during a show in Sweden, resulting in the Foos cancelling dates worldwide.

“It was an eventful week at the Rock Werchter office,” says the show’s press office. “Phone calls were made and e-mails were sent out trying to find a great alternative. Faith No More and Royal Blood graciously saved the day by marking their calendar on Thursday 25 June, which meant a double dose of rock was added to the bill. Faith No More was in popular demand by the festival audience.”

Traditionally, the Rock Werchter festival offers a wealth of top notch headliners, such as the aforementioned Faith No More and Chemical Brothers (celebrating their eighth stint on the Werchter billing) on Thursday and on Magnus at KluBC and Pharell Williams on the Main stage on Friday. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Lenny Kravitz and The Prodigy headlined on Saturday and Muse closed the festival on Sunday. (Kasabian are pictured.)

Throughout the years, the festival organiser has continued to invest in the audience’s comfort and safety. Already pioneering in sustainable energy and environment friendly material, this year Rock Werchter featured completely overhauled sanitary facilities (!) – but what of the audio kit?

In the early days of the festival, EML used a Yamaha PM 3000/Ramsa combination. From 1996 onwards, a Midas XL4 on FOH served with an XL3 desk for monitors; that was replaced by a Midas Heritage 3000 in 1999. And then…

“After more than 30 years of using analogue house consoles we have made the decision to offer a digital solution for the house desks for both the FOH and monitor position,” announced rental giant EML/PRG in the technical specs prior to the event. “For the first time in the Werchter festival history, all of the bands performing on the Main, Barn and KluBC stages will be mixed on digital consoles.”

“The idea actually came from the Montreux Jazz festival,” explains Patrick ‘Duim’ Demoustier, audio designer for the Werchter festival. “A few years ago they decided to make the switch to digital consoles… I thought this had to be possible here as well. For some years now, we’ve come to the conclusion that analogue mixing was a dead-end street.”

The switch had also been advocated by Walther D’Haese, EML/PRG product manager. Demoustier adds that the upgrade decision was catalysed by the fact that most of EML/PRG’s analogue festival consoles (see above) are some two decades old, requiring a lot of maintenance, with spare parts and servicing in increasingly in short supply.

Being early and dedicated DiGiCo users for over a decade, EML/PRG’s choice of digital console brand was an easy one. “Not only because all our engineers are very familiar with the interface, but because DiGiCo have proven to be a widely accepted digital desk, used by many bands on tour,” says EML/PRG engineer, Tom Vuerstaek. For those unfamiliar with the DiGiCo range, an off-line preparation booth was available on the festival site, allowing every system tech to create or adapt his existing sessions on both FOH and monitor desks. “We also guaranteed the presence of a DiGiCo expert to assist the engineers in preparing the sessions or any other DiGiCo-related questions,” says Vuerstaek.

For each of the three festival stages EML/PRG provided a configuration consisting of a DiGiCo SD7 96kHz at FOH and an SD10 96kHz for monitors, running an Optocore network ot the DiGiRacks.

In the backstage area, EML/PRG, in close collaboration with DiGiCo and distributor Amptec set up a training and preparation booth for engineers, particularly those who are strangers to DiGiCo. [Can that be, in this day and age?! – Ed]

DiGiCo’s Dave Bigg, on site to help out, realised that some of the people attending the ‘prep’ sessions had not been in front of digital consoles before. “The idea is to build quick sessions for them to get ready for the change-over and get ready to go on stage,” says Bigg. “They won’t have the stress of having to configure it all, because that’s what we do in advance. And when band engineers walk up to the FOH console, their session will be there,” he adds.

Bigg teamed up with Vuerstaek and Amptec’s special projects and events manager David Liebens – the former to facilitate contacts between the band’s mixing engineers and the technical team in the booth. “Most of the bands sent in their sessions in advance – they were translated into the set-up and the software. The idea is to work as transparently as possible. Let’s say that working in the digital domain requires some extra effort in advance, but saves on time with band change-overs – the 10 extra minutes we spend on configuration makes life much easier…”

Many bands take their own control packages around the festival circuit, and the Werchter Main stage was no exception. “But as you get to the smaller Barn [bottom] and Klub-C stages, nearly all bands make use of the house system,” comments Bigg. “Prior to the festival, we did a thorough check to see if everything was configured correctly. We took copies of all the sessions so we know that when people create a session it matches the right configuration. Literally, it should be load in, save it and go!”

Diepenbeek-based Amptec took on DiGiCo dealership for Belgium and Luxembourg 18 months ago. “This Werchter digital project is very important for us,” comments Liebens. “In addition to EML/PRG’s six own DiGiCo consoles, we have supplied the two preparation desks in the backstage and, as a distributor, provided the know-how for the users. For DiGiCo, product support is key.”

“This project is proof of DiGiCo’s client service,” echoes Demoustier. “It’s one of the few companies in the industry where ‘people business’ comes first. The backstage support is invaluable and a great service to the bands. If this works out well, we want to do the same at the Pukkelpop festival.”

For the first time as well, the complete main stage’s audio configuration is digitally networked via Dante – data and audio are transmitted via Cat-5 cables. Demoustier (picturedaboveright) says this system, including a back-up, offers more possibilities: “We use one single network for the transmission of both audio and data, resulting in more control options and configuration settings: each amplifier is monitored and controlled individually,” he explains. “In the past, these options were confined per amp-rack. The Adamson package, in combination with Lab.gruppen/Lake is in our opinion, the best possible combination.”

This year’s Main stage was completely amplified by the newest Adamson Energia series, with 48 E15 as main hangs and 24 more E15 as outfill hangs. E12 cabinets (eight stacks of three each) served as frontfill. As for the low end, Demoustier opted for 24 E219 sub hangs and 40 E219 subs groundstacked. The Main stage system was powered by 50 Lab.gruppen PLM 20K44 amps with four Lake LM-series LM44 digital audio processors.

“In 2001 we first attended the Werchter festival with EML’s investment in Adamson Y18 speakers,” says Didier Dal Fitto, co-founder and director of Adamson distributor DV2 in France. “So we’re celebrating 15 years of Adamson at the festival right now. We’ve celebrated it with collector T-shirts, made for the occasion… For us and Adamson, Rock Werchter, together with the Vieilles Charues festival [in Finisterre, France] are the festivals with the biggest roll-out of Adamson gear in Europe. For us, it’s interesting to keep pace with the use of Adamson products – and festivals are the ideal environment.

“As for brand notoriety – the Werchter festival is great. You get the chance to meet many sound engineers – it’s great to learn how they work with our systems. This allows us to mould everything in a post-festival debriefing and to make our speakers and Lab.gruppen amps work even better,” concludes Dal Fitto.