Blending into new surroundings

A new breed of festival was welcomed into the UAE last month
Festival, Analysis, Content production
The Blended set up process in Dubai's Media City Amphitheatre, using the stage inherited from Lionel Richie's recent visit.
The Blended set up process in Dubai's Media City Amphitheatre, using the stage inherited from Lionel Richie's recent visit.
Locally based Delta Sound were on audio duty for the weekend's festivities
Locally based Delta Sound were on audio duty for the weekend's festivities

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A new breed of festival was welcomed into the UAE events sphere last month, under the multifarious sounding moniker ‘Blended’ - incorporating a ‘grown up’ feel with a mix of Blues, Roots, Jazz and Folk melodies. We chatted to Patrick Loy - head of live events at Done Events -about producing the new concert kid’s debut...

With Dubai’s social scene fairly saturated with familiar concerts and events that have been doing the rounds a while - from the Rugby Sevens to the Dubai Jazz Festival, to Taste of Dubai and Atlantis’ Sandance - it’s always refreshing for us here at Sound & Stage to learn of a new form of event being brought to the Emirate’s sunny shores.

In Done Events’ latest concept Blended, we have just that, a two day festival lovingly honed for a more – shall we say – ‘mature’ crowd.

While teeny boppers will no doubt have been placated with the likes of Aloe Blacc and perhaps even Maverick Sabre in the line-up, the inclusion of experienced artists like Elvis Costello and Joss Stone was a deliberate move to fashion a explicitly ‘chilled out’ event you could take your parents to.

“The programming strategy that Thomas Oveson (Done Events’ CEO) put together was really to have a mixture of your classic artists like Elvis Costello - who you’re not going to hear on the typical radio stations – with other artists like Aloe Blacc and Maverick Sabre, who you do perhaps hear a lot,” states Patrick Loy, head of live events over at Done.

“So it’s a matter of crossover artists, enabling you to attract two segments of an audience.”

Loy continues: “Whenever you start a new festival brand -and it is a brand, it’s designed to be an annual event and not just a one off show – we looked and assessed at what was out there in the local market and really examined what we could improve, targeting what we felt would be the market demographic attracted to that sort of event. We weren’t really in the business of duplicating or copying.”

The location plumped for was once again the Media City Amphitheatre, a regular choice for the Done Events team and one that –as Patrick confirms to us – was the only real option for an event of this ilk.

“We like it here, it’s a good venue and the right location in terms of our core audience which is western expats,” supports Loy – indicating the outdoor theatre space nestled in the shadow of Dubai’s bustling media district. “It’s very accessible and has great connections with the Metro, and the tram upcoming in November, it’s the most well connected venue in Dubai.”

While the venue is a home-run from a prominently placed standpoint, what about the logistical aspect for Patrick and his team? With Lionel Richie playing only a couple of weeks earlier, was there any crossover problems?

“Inheriting the site from someone else, it’s pretty much a formulaic blueprint with what you can do at the Media City space. And even though the Lionel Richie promoters were a competitor, we had to make sure what they were planning benefited us in our production,” says Loy.

“The venue was never designed as a live music venue - that much is clear - and the build in Media City can vary, but because of the challenges of the site, whilst the main bowl and stage area are fine, the site obviously drops away quite a lot so you have to build big structures at the back.

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We had about eight or nine days on the site, but with Lionel being there recently – a lot of the infrastructure was still there. For example, the stage from Al Laith and the majority of the structure from the VIParea.

Loy goes on to outline that the crucial element in an event held at Media City, is to ensure the grass bowel (that arguably serves at the Amphitheatre’s biggest attraction) is kept clear of all vehicles in the initial set up process, “particularly for this event where people were sat down on blankets, you don’t want to be sat in a sandpit,” he adds.

It was this relaxed ambience, not regularly seen at mainstream Dubai events, that was a big push for the Blended festival, as the Done Events team endeavoured to create an environment that wasn’t solely localised or restricted to the musical happenings on the main stage, actively encouraging visitors to sample what else was going on around the space during the event.

“With a festival concept it’s also about trying to create other areas of interest away from the main stage, so for Blended we created a concept called the promenade – which was basically trying to be something a little bit different and a bit quirky,” outlines Loy.

This ‘quirkiness’ extended to Done bringing in around 12 different retailers – a mix of fashion, craft and jewellery vendors, creating a ‘market’ feel, or in Loy’s own words: “something akin to the market at Safa Park.”

Not to say something wasn’t on offer for those patrons looking for a bit of a livelier end to proceedings, with varied entertainment offered when the curtain went up on the main stage.

“We were conscious the line-up was a chilled one, especially on the Friday night – so we put in a DJ on both nights who came in and did a closing set on the promenade area as the main stage went down, they played for 90 minutes offering a sort of after-party environment, ” states Loy.

Turning to the stage production, despite the numerous acts playing over a two day period – Loy insists that the productional execution for such a programme was not as difficult as it sounds. With a similar model and set-up utilised across the board for all of the acts, from Aloe Blacc to Costello’s songstress wife, Diana Krall.

‘It was a festival stage format, so obviously all the artists were working to a certain extent to the same sort of lighting rig and so on,” says Loy. “A lot of them were paired down performances, Diana Krall had her piano, Elvis Costello was a one man show – Aloe Blacc had a full complement of backing artists. It varied a bit but generally the mould was pretty much the same. It was just a matter of moving some stage rises and bringing the backline in and so on.”

From a technical standpoint – Blended worked with SNAP for the lighting and video requirements, with Delta Sound picking up the audio slack. For the latter, Blended’s main PA consisted of an L`Acoustics system, eight pairs of dV-dosc frontfills, and outfills comprising of 10 v-Dosc and 3 dV-dosc downfills per side, with the system powered by mix of LA8 and LA48.

“It was pretty straight forward, and there was not a big input count on stage with any of the acts, so changeovers were very slick and we always had time in hand,” explains Delta’s Al Woods to Sound & Stage last month.

“The festival had a varied dynamic from Aloe Blacc and Joss Stone through to Diana Krall. So the system had to be very accurate and flat but still musical. The whole event was a great change from the norm – nice to see more live music and less PRO Tools.”

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Even as far as the screens flanking the stage were concerned, Loy explains to us that Done’s aim was to create a “point of difference”, with full LED screens being selected over other options.

“We weren’t about creating letter box style IMAG screens – if you saw from the stage, we had full LED screens which obviously came at a cost – but then you didn’t have branded screens,” asserts Loy.

“You had the full video, which at certain times incorporated the artist performance, the ads that go in between performance but most importantly reinforced the visual identity of the event, which is very important.”

With all of these factors contributing to the variety and original nature of the festival, we asked was there anything Patrick and the Done Events team felt didn’t catch or that they would do differently next time round ...

“Well I feel the picnic style seating was very popular. We didn’t know how people would react to that. The picnic rug was included in your ticket price, and I only saw one that was left on each night. People took them home clearly, so that was successful,” Loy muses.

“Whether we need to simplify some of the seating categories I’m not sure,” he concedes diplomatically. “We haven’t had the full wash-up yet but yeah next year it may be about simplyfing the offer.”

For Done Events, Loy stresses what’s now of paramount importance is ensuring Blended is back in the festival mix next year.

“It’s an expensive game but there is a commitment to see it back in 2015, and fortunately the feedback we have had – particularly on social media – has been amazing. People seem to have appreciated the line-up and the quality of experience most of all.”

Indicating the deconstruction process around us he adds laughing: “You don’t launch a festival to see it retired it in year one! So yup...We’ll be back.”

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