Rock on

A last-minute venue change did little to dampen the spirits of punters at the Desert Rock Festival.
Dubai's Desert Rock Festival.
Dubai's Desert Rock Festival.
Slash - say no more.
Slash - say no more.

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A last-minute venue change did little to dampen the spirits of punters or Centre Stage Management's ambitions for this year's Desert Rock Festival in Dubai.

With just four weeks to go before showtime, the organiser of Dubai's Desert Rock Festival, Centre Stage Management (CSM), was again forced to look for a new venue at short notice.

"Over the five years we have been organising Desert Rock we have learned to expect the unexpected."

Following the closure of former venue the Dubai Country Club in November last year, plans to launch a permanent presence at the Al Sahra Resort in Dubailand had to be shelved after construction work on the dedicated venue fell behind schedule.

"Over the five years we have been organising Desert Rock we have learned to expect the unexpected," says Lara Teperdjian, vice president of CSM.

Following the largely trouble-free staging of Carlos Santana's showcase gig at the new Dubai Festival City (DFC) venue in February, CSM decided to shift Desert Rock to the same venue.

"The switch affected some plans for the worse and some for the better," says Teperdjian.

"The DFC venue was obviously not going to accommodate any camping facilities, so we had to scrap those plans, although we do plan to revisit them once the permanent venue at Al Sahra is established.

"DFC does have its advantages however. It's centrally located and is also a very popular shopping precinct in Dubai, with great access to transport and a large parking area."

One major issue that confronted CSM in the lead up to the show related to the distribution of tickets, which didn't officially go on sale until four days before the show.

"The ticketing problem was out of our hands, it was a regulatory issue which I can't really discuss but it was not an error on our side," says Teperdjian. "We were very pleased with the attendance given these issues. The festival attracted 28,000 punters over the course of the weekend and I think we can attribute this to the calibre of artists that performed on both days," claims Teperdjian.

CSM sought out Thailand-based Malcolm McInnes, site manager at last year's Desert Rock, to reprise his role at this year's event, as well as assuming responsibility for production management. McInnes appointed a team of engineers to work over the course of the two day event.

"We brought a first class audio team over from the UK headed up by Mike Warren (FOH) and John James (monitors). We also had four other engineers, Jon Lewis, Barry McLeod, Andy Squibb and Andreas Andreou. All six were liaising with SLS Production's own local crew," says McInnes.

"Mike and John are a safe pair of old hands! Last year in the UK they managed LIVE 8 London, the Princess Diana Memorial Concert and Glastonbury. I also brought in Bob Samithisawad, with whom I have worked closely on a number of shows in Asia, to assist me with the live aspects of the production."

Meeting the unique audio requirements of a variety of acts ranging from hardcore metal bands to mainstream rockers provided plenty of challenges for McInnes's crew.

"All of the bands were very specific in terms of requesting certain desks for FOH and monitoring duties," says McInnes. "As is typical at these kind of events, there was a certain amount of give and take in terms of what they requested and what we could reasonably source.

"We took particular care in terms of positioning the stage and the PA system [at the DFC site] to minimise any chance of disturbance."

"Most of the bands were happy to use the Yamaha PM5D we sourced for the show. We also provided a Midas H3000 at FOH for the analogue fans, which this year included Korn and Killswitch Engage. Korn had originally intended to bring their own Digidesign Venue desks but had last minute freighting problems and elected instead to use our PM5D for monitors and the H3000 out front."

Muse and Velvet Revolver brought their own Digidesign Venue D-Show for FOH and monitors as well as their own effects.

"Martin Luiz and John Britto at SLS Productions did a great job meeting our requests in terms of equipment. This is not a straightforward task in a region such as the Middle East where the options are often limited," he adds.

McInnes says he and Warren were pleased with the end result, as were the bulk of the touring engineers.

"We took particular care in positioning the stage and the PA system to ensure it faced away from the nearby Al Badia residences to minimise any chance of disturbance," he explains.

"The scale of the other entertainment and activities on the site meant that we weren't able to fly delays for the rear of the site as we had initially planned. Despite this, the overall result was very pleasing."

In addition to satisfying the console requirements of each band, a lighting design that could be manipulated to produce satisfactory results for each performance was also required.

Festival lighting designer Steve Shipman, who also operated the desk for 80% of the bands, worked with each act in advance of the festival to create a range of unique designs.

"Coming up with a design that pleased everyone was a challenge given the variation in styles of headline acts such as Velvet Revolver, Korn and Muse," says McInnes.

An MA Lighting GrandMA console was put to use for each act on the bill except Muse, whose lighting designer Oli Metcalfe opted to use his own Wholehog 3 and Catalyst media server software for the band's integrated video and lighting show.

"Each band had its own specific settings for both lights and sound but being able to allot individual sound check and programming time to all of them in advance helped considerably towards making the standard of both work seamlessly during their performances," says McInnes.

"Muse also brought their own hi-gloss dance flooring with them. The reflective finish worked very well to complement the lighting and video design of their show."

The change of venue may have posed some organisational challenges but the new site at Festival City provided several practical benefits.

The increased room for staging meant a doubling in size of the stage to a massive 60m wide and 27m deep, providing plenty of room for crew to in work comfortably during changeovers.

"Muse, Velvet Revolver and Korn each brought [their] own equipment, which required us to organise some considerable storage space backstage."

"The Dubai Festival City site accommodated all of our staging and infrastructure space requirements and the tarmac ground surface made the entire build and de-rig far easier in comparison to working on grass or sand," says McInnes.

"Trying to produce major events at some venues in Dubai sometimes feels like trying to cram an elephant into a Mini Cooper!"

"Muse, Velvet Revolver and Korn each brought all of their own equipment which required us to organise some considerable storage space backstage, in addition to the bands who were using festival desks and sharing festival backline.

"The extra space also allowed us to preset backline risers for most of the bands whilst having ample load-in access."

"The potential for issues arising from the rapid changeover of so many acts within a short timeframe was eased by the stage management team of Chris Taplin (moonlighting from his usual job as Bjork's production manager) and Didi Placzek."

"We also had an excellent local audio stage team headed by James Gamlough and backline team of Grant Collins and Tim Warderman from AAA."

Teperdjian was equally pleased with this year's event and says the company's "Desert" festival brand, which include the Rhythm and now Urban variants, is fast growing international notoriety.

"Machine Head performed for the second time, after appearing at Desert Rock 2 in 2005."

"They said they noticed a big change in the show compared to their first visit," claims Teperdjian.

"It is getting easier to attract the big name bands now. Sometimes we have agents calling to tell us who is available to perform."

"The big difference about being offered a band is that it means they come on our terms, not theirs, which is a big advantage."

"American rock radio station radio station DC101 sponsored the event and did its entire show based on Desert Rock and live from the site."

The station's crew wants to come back next year as well.

"Muse have already said they want to come back and have booked themselves in for Desert Rock 2011!"

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