The unexpected challenges associated with staging a major event in a rapidly developing city such as Dubai were cast in stark reality for Desert Rhythm organisers just a month out from the festival, when, after 37 years of operation, authorities announced the closure of the Dubai Country Club (DCC) for redevelopment.
Given that the Country Club had hosted the first Desert Rhythm Festival in 2006 in addition to each instalment of its more extreme festival sibling Desert Rock since 2004, the news came as more than an unexpected surprise for event organiser Centre Stage Management (CSM).
"We had developed a great relationship with DCC management and it was a fantastic venue for festival events," says Lara Teperdjian, vice president of CSM. "We always try and have a back-up plan in place when we stage these events, but it wasn't easy given that there are very few outdoor venues available in Dubai capable of accommodating a crowd of more than 15,000.
"Ultimately, we settled on the Dubai Media City amphitheatre, because it is regularly used for major concert events. Its central location is fantastic, however we had to scale back our plans in terms of festival attractions because the size of the venue simply didn't allow for them."
The DMC venue's capacity restrictions also thwarted CSM's ambitions for the event in terms of ticket sales.
With a sold-out crowd of 15,000 attending both days of the weekend festival, Teperdjian says CSM could have easily sold another 5,000 tickets per day if space would have allowed.
"We had around 100 tickets available at the gate which sold out before doors opened," she explains.
"We could have easily sold another 5,000 tickets for the show if the capacity of the venue had allowed.
"Despite this, the show itself was fantastic, the performers were happy and the response from the crowd was very satisfying."
Indeed, it could be argued that the size and location of the venue provided a more relaxed and intimate setting for the event, compared to the gargantuan style of Desert Rock, of which the much larger DCC site provided a perfect fit.
Desert Rhythm head of sound Andy Jackson agrees with this sentiment.
"I believe the DMC amphitheatre provided an ideal venue given the scope of the festival," he says. "From a technical perspective, we used exactly the same kit as we had planned for the DCC show, although the size restrictions meant we had slightly less room backstage and for turnarounds."
Jackson, who is also the general manager of professional audio engineering company Delta Sounds Dubai, recruited a team of sound engineers from the UK to work on Desert Rhythm - a strategy he says has worked well on previous large scale festival events.
"I tapped a number of contacts through my association with Delta Sounds UK, as well as other guys I've known for years, to work with the local sound production crew," he explains.
"They're all top of their game in Europe. It's an ideal situation because most of the guys have worked on big shows in the Middle East previously, so they're well aware of some of the constraints that go with working here."
Having established a solid relationship working with Dubai-based equipment rental company SLS Productions on previous Desert Rock and Desert Rhythm festivals, CSM again contracted the company to supply the sound and lighting rig for the DMC event.
Jackson says he specifically requested SLS' tried and tested Vertec 4888 line-array for the festival.
"I am a fan of this specific system," he says. "SLS has invested a substantial sum in its 4888 in terms of amplification and technical infrastructure.
"They've also replaced all of the processors under my recommendation."
In the lead up to the festival, SLS was in the process of acquiring a new full-size Vertec 4889 line-array. While the system was not available for use at Desert Rhythm, Jackson says he would have still preferred the 4888 even if it had been.
"In my opinion, the 4888 is a better sounding rig than the 4889, despite the fact it has a lower output in its standard configuration," he says.
I've worked quite hard over the past couple of years to perfect the presets for the 4888. Some engineers try and compare the 4889 to an L-Acoustics V-Dosc, but sonically it's nowhere near the same quality.
"The 4889 employs a 15-inch driver on the low-end, while the 4888 uses a 12-inch driver. As a result, the low-end on the latter system is a lot 'tighter' by comparison. To supplement the extra 50Hz required on the 4888, I fly eight subs each side, which provide it with additional grunt. I also use separate ground-stacked subs. The overall effect is one of a much bigger-sounding system providing more control than the 4889."
While each act on the bill was provided with a pair of Yamaha PM5D digital consoles for mixing duties, headliners Kanye West and Mika were offered the exclusive option of an analogue set-up based on Midas Heritage 3000 desks, which they both chose to use.
"Like any festival of this size, you want to maintain an element of control over the system set-up," explains Jackson.
"We offered the headline acts first choice of an analogue system, which they both accepted. Mika's crew initially requested a Digico D5 which we couldn't accommodate, so instead they used the Midas desk.
"The main benefit for these guys was that they knew the system would be set-up exclusively to their requirements, while the other desk was shared by the other artists.
"The PM5D is a solid, reliable desk and it's simple to use. Each act saved their preferences as a scene, which was then recalled prior to their performance."
In contrast, the Midas desk provided some unwanted surprises. Indeed, Jackson and his team were forced to confront a potential disaster on the morning of the opening day of the festival, when 24 faders on the main Midas desk stopped working.
"We put it down to humidity," says Jackson. "We had already soundchecked Kanye West the previous evening, so there was no turning back.
"Basically, we had to source a replacement board, strip it down and replace faders.
"We literally finished rebuilding the desk five minutes before doors [opened]. Given that it was the main board, the stakes were high. We were also soundchecking four other bands using the Yamaha desk at the time, so things were very hectic."
Jackson says the crew stayed cool despite the pressure.
"The best way to handle a situation like that is to let the production guys know that you're dealing with a technical issue but not let them worry about it," he explains.
"We were probably a little bit closer to the wire than we would have liked to have been, but we knew exactly what the problem was. The main challenge lay in sourcing the replacement parts."
Interestingly, Kanye West's performance was marred by poor quality sound, which contrasted significantly with the generally pristine audio production enjoyed by the other performers.
Jackson puts this down to West's overenthusiastic production crew, led by enigmatically-named head engineer, Hot Dog.
"Generally, at this type of festival, you allow the engineers to tweak the PA to their settings," explains Jackson.
"I set the system up to provide a flat response to allow the engineers to manipulate it however they preferred. I configured the set-up using SmaartLive and it was done professionally and for the right reasons.
"The only crew that touched the EQ over the course of the festival was Kanye West's, so as a result his performance had a different feel to the other acts.
"If one band is having sound issues and everyone else sounds better than average, then you know there's a problem with the set-up. The problem in this region is that most concerts only involve one act, so if the sound is rubbish there's nothing to compare it to on the same bill."
Despite this, Jackson is quick to highlight the pressures facing front-of-house (FOH) engineers working with star performers.
"One of the hardest jobs in the world is working as a FOH engineer for a big band because everyone involved with the group likes to have some input into how they should sound live," he says. "The best sounding act of the weekend was Mika, and I put that down solely to the FOH engineer Dave Bracey, who is probably among the top five sound engineers working at the moment. He also engineered Robbie Williams when he played in Dubai last year, so he's familiar with the dynamic of working in this region.
"Ziggy Marley and his band sounded great and his engineer Errol was also quite a character, having mixed Bob Marley back in the day. He wasn't that comfortable initially working on the PM5D, but we guided him through the technical aspects of the system and the results were great. Madness were great fun as you would expect. They were engineered by Ian Holm who's been working with the band for 25 years."
Overall, Jackson says each of the touring engineers were extremely happy with the set-up and pleasantly surprised by the quality of the festival itself.
"We got on well with all of the acts and their crew. Not one of the touring engineers had a complaint about the kit, although some were a bit reluctant initially to use the digital desk," he says.
"But at the end of the day, everyone was extremely satisfied with the organisation of the event and complimentary about the professionalism of the local production guys and the quality of the kit available. It's great when your peers appreciate your work."
28 x VT 4888 Tops flown.
10 x VT 4880 2K Subs flown.
16 x VT 4880A 4K Subs ground-stacked.
5 x VT 4887 Tops flown.
4 x VT 4881 2K Subs ground-stacked.
Centre & outer fills
2 x VT 4887 Tops.
4 x VT 4888DP Tops.
12 x Martin LE 2100s.
12 x Martin LE 400s.
Amplification (total 90 power amps)
32 x Crown MA 5002s.
24 x Crown 3600s.
08 x Crown IT 4000s.
02 x Crown IT 6000s.
06 x Crown XTI 2000s.
06 x Crown XTA 1000s.
12 x QSC 2410s.
Foh and monitor control
2 x XTA DP 448s.
2 x XTA DP 226s.
1 x DBX Drive Rack 480.
1 x Yamaha PM5D RH sound console.
1 x Midas Heritage 3000.
Foh outboard processors
1 x Yamaha SPX 990.
1 x Yamaha SPX.
1 x Lexicon PCM-91.
1 x TC electronics M3000.
1 x TC Electronics D2.
1 x Roland SDE 3000.
Foh compressor and gates
12 x DBX 160A single compressor limiters.
8 x Drawmer DS201 dual-noise gates.
2 x DBX 160SL compressor limiters.
1 x Yamaha PM 5D RH.
1 x Midas Heritage 3000.
Monitor compressor and gates
16 x DBX 160A single compressor limiters.
16 x Drawmer DS201 dual-noise gates.
Monitor outboard processors
1 x Yamaha SPX - 2000.
1 x Lexicon PCM-91.
1 x TC Electronics D2.
120 x Par 64s.
32 x Par 64 ACLs.
8 x 8 Lite Molfays.
14 x 4 Lite Molfas.
6 x ETC Source Four 15 to 30-degree zoom profiles.
6 x ETC Source Four 19-degree zoom profiles.
4 x 2.5K Lyican follow spots.
30 x Claypaky Alpha spot HPE 1200s.
24 x Claypaky Wash 1200s.
10 x Studio Color 575s.
13 x Martin Atomic 3000s.
04 x 7K Space Cannons.
02 x DF 50 haze machines.
02 x F100 smoke machines.
04 x JEM DMX fans.
IO Colour 575 Wash - 10 NOS.
2 x WholeHog 2 consoles with fader wings.
1 x GrandMA full size.
20m x 17m x 12m.