Monster's Ball

Lady Gaga beams down into Dubai for one night of music and madness
Gaga performs live for her Little Monsters
Gaga performs live for her Little Monsters

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As Lady Gaga landed in Dubai for one night of nothing but pure pop, Sound & Stage braved the humidity to witness the madness of ‘Mother Monster’ first hand.

As she said herself through tears on more than one occasion during her performance, a Lady Gaga concert in the Middle East is something that many thought would never happen.

The pop star as infamous for her revealing outfits and outrageous ways was always going to be a risky choice. But, while she may have toned it down (slightly) for the regional debut of her artRAVE: The ARTPOP Ball tour, Gaga certainly didn’t disappoint the scores of fans who gathered to sweat it out at Meydan on September 10th.

With eclipse staging services charged with putting together the outdoor concert, the racecourse venue was transformed into an all-singing, all-dancing arena of lights, lasers and, of course, all things Lady Gaga.

While the decision to put on an open-air gig in the humidity of early September is one that still remains somewhat questionable in our book, those that managed to keep their cool were treated to nothing less than a stellar performance, with production values that more than lived up to the colourful on-stage explosion that was Gaga and her crew.

Unsurprisingly, facing up to the elephant in the room was high on the list of factors that needed careful consideration from eclipse. With temperatures in the mid-30s even after sunset, the challenge of putting on an outdoor show saw a new air-conditioning concept being brought into play to try and keep Gaga’s “Little Monsters” comfortable.

Local distributor, Flow Air and Power Solutions, provided over 100 units of various sizes to ensure a cooler climate for areas such as the stage and refreshments sections around the venue. Powered by large industrial coolers, the chillers produced over 7,500kw of cooling in certain spots, propelling cool gusts over 20 metres into the air by jet diffusers.

However, catering for the demands of September weather in the desert requires some pretty hefty power, something that Aggreko were called upon to provide for by supplying the generators needed on site.

Michael Kennedy, HOD Power at eclipse, explained to Sound & Stage: “The power supply is pretty straightforward for a normal setup as most concert sites require pretty much the same equipment. The big difference with this site was the AC solution which had 4 megawatts of power.” Quite a feat, considering that a total of 6.6 megawatts of generated power was provided to the site in total.

Kennedy continues: “With regards to the main stage power, differences in local and touring production equipment voltages (415v/230v for local production and 120v/208v for touring production), meant that three 500 Kva generators and two 350 Kva generators were needed. Almost 14km of cabling was required to cover the entire site, including 240mm Powerloc all the way down to 16 amp TRS. Eclipse also supplied every power outlet to all hospitality and catering areas and ten 110v transformers to cater to all backstage needs.”

And all that power was certainly not wasted. With some of the most extravagant lighting designs we’ve seen at a mainstream concert for a while, the ‘rave’ element of the artRAVE ball proved a hit with the audience as dazzling laser displays flew across the top of their heads and the stage pounded along to strobe effects.

Main stage lighting was comprised of 27 Martin Mac Vipers, 67 Clay Paky Sharpys (of which 16 were placed in the audience areas), 11 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1500s, 150 Chauvet LED Pars, 24 Clay Paky Sharpy Washes, four Gladiator Followspots, one Lycian Truss Spot and six DF50 Hazers. Eclipse also provided 32 brand new Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FXs, which were purchased as a result of a direct request from Lady Gaga’s production team.

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But it wasn’t just the on-stage action that took the spotlight. Tom Ralston, project manager at eclipse, explains: “There were a number of lighting fixtures flown from the delay towers and audience lighting towers in order for us to sufficient illuminate all audience areas. These lighting fixtures were all controlled via a GrandMA2 so that once the main show started, we could dim/change the look of the audience lighting, so that it did not distract from the main show.”

Eclipse was also responsible for the three 9mm ROE video screens located on the main stage, which consisted of two 6.6m x 3m IMAGs, each located on either side of the stage, and an 18.6m x 4.8m upstage screen.

Ralston says: “The main stage layout itself would have been the same whether this show was in Meydan, Media City or at the 7s Stadium. The changes were made mainly around the audience areas, in which a relay LED screen was placed just after the VIP platform. We also needed to ensure we could get maximum trim height from the trusses, especially the downstage lighting trusses and touring projection trusses. As such, spreader beams were used in the roof rather than rigging bridles, so that we could maintain the maximum trim possible and keep the roof looking neat.”

But, when compared to Media City Amphitheatre for example, how does the long and narrow layout of Meydan weigh up? From a spectator point of view the venue as a whole does feel rather detached and, for want of a better word, a bit skinny. Perhaps it’s this that meant, even from a variety of different spots, we felt quite far removed from the stage and probably wouldn’t have seen any of Gaga’s on-stage antics were it not for the aforementioned screens.

Luckily, however, the venue’s configuration didn’t have any effect on the sonic quality. Delta Sound were called on to supply the PA system for the show, while the control system was brought by Lady Gaga’s touring production.

Al Woods, engineer at Delta Sound, explains: “Meydan is a difficult site; it is extremely long and relatively narrow. There are also lots of concrete and glass windows in the Grandstand — it’s important to try and keep as much direct audio off these surfaces as possible. The Grandstand is only on house left and VIP stands on house right so it’s not symmetrical.

The site also slopes from house left to house right by 3m, so keeping the PA visually correct and the angle consistent is a real challenge. Delta Sound have done many shows here at Meydan in this configuration, so have a formula that works.”

And work it did, as the crystal clear sound quality rang out loud and proud across Meydan thanks to an L-Acoustics system.

Explaining the set-up, Woods told us: “The main hangs are a flown system comprising two hangs of 12 x K1 with 3 x Kara Down fills. The down fill is a wider dispersion box so this gives better near field horizontal dispersion.
The out fills again are a flown system comprising two hangs of 8 x K2. Delays comprise two hangs of 12 x V-Dosc, and the front fills comprise of ground stacked pairs of Kara along the front of the stage.”

With an artist such as Lady Gaga, however, were there any specific requests or instructions that Delta had to account for in terms of the audio? After all, a pop star who changes outfit — and wig — between (seemingly) every song surely has some demands on how she wants her music to come across?

Woods says: “For this show we provided racks and stacks, the touring production carried full control. So once we had integrated their console outputs with our speaker system and made them happy it was over to them. Delta advanced the proposed system with the touring production well in advance. We sent Chris and Mike (Lady Gaga’s audio engineers) screen shots of our Sound Vision system simulation, to which they both responded positively.”

While the heat may have been on full blast for those unable to get near any ‘outdoor AC’ and the somewhat distant view of the stage a little disappointing for some, the overall vibe of artRAVE definitely won out in the end. Transforming a racecourse into a solid concert venue takes some skill indeed, and eclipse certainly proved it has the know-how, man power and experience to do so.

Whether or not Gaga will be invited back to the region remains to be seen. But, after two hours of solid entertainment, more wigs and costume changes than backstage at Fashion Week, and a “Shukran, I love you” from Lady Gaga herself, a legion of Little Monsters wore a (sweaty) smile as they filed out of the venue, and we’re pretty sure those working tirelessly behind the scenes were probably left grinning as well.

Full kit list on next page...

KIT LIST

LIGHTING:
- Martin Mac Viper – 27
- VL3500 Wash FX – 32
- Clay Paky Sharpy - 67 (51 on stage 16 in audience)
- Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1500 – 11
- Chauvet LED Pars – 150
- Clay Paky Sharpy Wash – 24
- Gladiator Followspot – 4
- Lycian Truss Spot – 1
- DF50 Hazer – 6
- (Tour provided) 72 x Clay Paky B-Eye K20

AUDIO:
- 24 L’Acoustics K1 Loudspeaker
- 12 L’Acoustics Kara Loudspeaker
- 12 L’Acoustics K1 Subwoofer
- 24 L’Acoustics SB28 Sub Speaker
- 16 L’Acoustics K2 Loudspeaker DF
- 16 L’Acoustics LA-RAK (3 x LA8 amplifiers)
- 24 L’Acoustics V-Dosc Loudspeaker
- 4 L’Acoustics LA-RAK (3 x LA8 amplifiers)

AUDIO CONTROL:
- 1 DiGiCo SD9 Console - V685
- 1 DiGiCo DiGiRack 56i24o - MADI
- 1 Soundcraft EMP6 6/2 mixer
- 1 Tascam RW900SL CD Burner
- 1 SMAART 2 Channel USB Audio
- 1 FOH PC & Tablet c/w Smaart & Analyzer Mic
- 1 BSS Soundweb London BLU-160
- 2 Sennheiser G2 - Receiver - EM100
- 2 Sennheiser G2 - Handheld - EW135
- 4 Shure SM58 Switchable Microphone
- 4 Mackie SRM350 Powered Speaker

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