I predict a riot

The world's largest annual greenfield music and arts festival, Glastonbury
Arctic Monkeys' perform on the Pyramid Stage at this year's Glastonbury Festival.
Arctic Monkeys' perform on the Pyramid Stage at this year's Glastonbury Festival.
Glastonbury's iconic Pyramid Stage during pictured during pre-production for this year's festival.
Glastonbury's iconic Pyramid Stage during pictured during pre-production for this year's festival.

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The Killers are not ones to typically incite riotous behaviour among fans, but like the Arctic Monkeys' performance on the same stage the night previous, the group's headline show on the iconic Pyramid Stage at this year's Glastonbury Festival was severely affected by limited sound levels that left audience members seething, the band "gutted" and organisers red faced.

Admittedly, The Killers were unwitting partners in the controversy, which was initially blamed on an 'experimental' point-source PA system which the band's guitarist Dave Keuning later suggested was "vastly underpowered".

 

"We've got ourselves into a situation where technology trends in the industry are being shaped by the manufacturers. - Beale."

Glastonbury promoter Michael Eavis appeared to at least initially agree with these sentiments, claiming that he was "disappointed" with the system, before later retracting this statement, suggesting the poor sound distribution was due to "unusual meteorological conditions".

Sceptics suggested that Eavis' initial admission was closer to the truth given he reportedly explicitly requested the installation of the point-source PA system - as opposed to a line array - on the main Pyramid Stage, a fact confirmed by sound coordinator Chris Beale in an exclusive interview with S&S.

"Without Michael Eavis' guidance, we probably would have used a line array on the Pyramid stage," he says.

 

"But Michael insisted on [UK loudspeaker manufacturer] Funktion One's involvement, and he asked us to develop a point-source system that utilised the company's Resolution Series loudspeakers.

"It wasn't a conscious choice of mine to use the system. I was just trying to accommodate everybody's desires. But in the end, and despite the criticism, I believe it was a great solution for the Pyramid Stage.

"The greatest benefit of a point-array system wasn't demonstrated during the show, but before it when we encountered breezy conditions. In such situations it's a far more stable solution than a line array system."

In fact, Beale says the controversy stemmed not from the choice of technology but from the fact the production team were forced to turn down the levels during both bands' performances after being confronted by local decibel counter-wielding environmental protection authorities.

"The system was punchy and loud during testing and we were very optimistic about its performance at the festival," he says. "Everyone was pretty euphoric with the result. But then we had the ridiculous situation during The Killers' set, where the local authorities showed up and demanded we turn the volume down to around 93dB. By comparison, The Who's performance the following night peaked at 103dB.

"It got to the point where The Killers were largely inaudible - they were being drowned out by bands performing on other stages at the same time."

Beale says the production crew initially obliged the requests, before deciding to take matters into their own hands when the crowd reaction threatened to turn nasty.

"We've had noise complaints in previous years, but we have never before had to deal with the environmental conditions we faced at this year's show," he claims. "At the time, it was dead still and there was dew on the ground. It was really quite challenging.

"But in saying that, I believe the local authorities panicked somewhat. The crowd was getting really restless. We basically told them that unless we increased the volume levels we'd have a riot on our hands."

Even with the benefit of hindsight, Beale stands by the decision to use the point source system as opposed to a line array.

"I believe we've got ourselves into a situation where technology trends in the industry are being shaped by the manufacturers," he argues. "This is particularly the case in regards to line array technology. There is a common misconception that line arrays are the only speaker systems that work outdoors and anything else is just old-fashioned, which is simply not true.

"Quite often you find people using the wrong kit in certain situations because if they use anything else people will accuse them of doing the wrong thing. It seems that making an informed decision has taken a backseat to fashion.

"In my experience, there are a number of scenarios where line arrays don't work very well at all. The fact is you can't predict the weather and so you are better off choosing a system that works well in most situations rather than one that just works perfectly when it's calm and not at all when it's windy."

Beale also remains a strong critic of what he refers to as "outdated" environmental noise management regulations, which he claims is the "single biggest issue" facing the outdoor festival production industry.

"You have to consider that environmental noise management has got out of control, and in the UK it's in part to the British mentality of complaining about everything!

"At most festivals in other countries, the local communities are happy to be involved and they're willing to compromise about noise levels. But in the case of British festivals, people tend to complain if there's any noise.

"During the day, noise levels aren't a huge issue; it's only at night when the temperature drops and the transmission improves that you have a problem, and that's the time when the headline acts hit the stage. You get this ridiculous situation where you don't have a problem during the day and then you have to turn the volume down by 5dB at night.
 

"I believe an ideal compromise would be to take an average decibel reading over the course of the day, rather than setting maximum levels. This would enable you to run the opening acts at lower levels earlier in the day, leaving some headroom to turn up the volume for the headline acts during the evening."

Glastonbury kit list

Pyramid stage

Funktion One Resolution Series point source PA system.
Multiple Digidesign VENUE D-Show live consoles.
Digidesign D-Show Profile consoles.
XTA 428 processors and MC2 amplifiers.
24 Synco CW15A dual concentric 15-inch monitor wedges.
Two 2 x15-inch STS Synco subs.
XTA digital and Klark Teknik DN360 equalisers.
Synco 12-pair and 48-pair multicore systems interfaced with 96 ways of Klark Teknik active splits to generate the FOH, monitor and media outputs.
Festival shout system incorporating radio IEM, headsets, FOH monitors, switched microphones and wedges, all controlled by a small Yamaha LS9.

Cabaret tent

Nexo Alpha system (M3 highs, B1 bass units and S2 subs).
Adlib AA122 fills.
40-channel Soundcraft Series 4 console at FOH; 48-channel MH3 onstage.
Aslib active/passive wedge monitor system.

Theatre tent

6K Adlib B.FD PA system (four FD2 high packs and four DF 415 subs).
Soundcraft Delta 24-channel console at FOH for monitoring purposes.

Circus tent

Yamaha M7 CL digital desk.
Adlib FD PA system.

Outdoor theatre

Yamaha M7 CL digital desk (FOH).
Yamaha LS9.
8 x FD2 high packs plus four subs.

G stage

Allen & Heath iDR10 DSP rack onstage with iLive-144 FOH control surface.
A&H Xone:92 and Xone:62 mixers.

Main dance arena

Funktion-One PA system, comprising Resolution 5s and F221 subs.
XTA units including two DP448s FOH, with a DP324 SiDD for system EQ.
Digico D2 console.
 

 

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