5 Seconds of Summer in Paris
Australian pop rockers, 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS) descended on The Zenith in Paris last month to perform a high octane set to an audience that was so loud, the sound engineers had to plan their show around them. This is a common theme at their shows, I should point out – in Chicago, for example, the audience alone was hitting 120dB(!), which might give you an idea of the Beatlemania-esque excitement that surrounds these four lads from Sydney. Let’s dive in... Words Paul Watson
5SOS made their name as somewhat of a YouTube sensation, but rose to international stardom after touring with UK mega-boy band, One Direction, during their 2012 Take Me Home tour. 5SOS have since released three studio albums, headlining three world tours in the process; we’re with their touring team during the band’s current global jaunt, the Meet You There tour, which supports their 2017 hit record, Youngblood. And it’s quite the spectacle.
On arrival at The Zenith, which is located in one of Paris’s nice parkland areas, there were quite literally hundreds of excited teenagers eagerly waiting to get a glimpse of the band – some looked like they’d camped out. This was 2pm, six hours before showtime!
After negotiating a backstage barrier or three, and holding on for dear life to my working pass, I am greeted by system tech for the show, Sam Proctor, who works for Liverpool-based audio company, Adlib, who are looking after this show.
“You made it, then,” Proctor smiles, guiding me up to front of house position. The Zenith has an almost ‘in the round’ feel – it’s as wide as it is deep, and although reverberant, not quite as harsh as an empty arena, despite the drummer’s best efforts, who is relentlessly hammering at his kit throughout this period of ‘downtime’.
I ask Proctor about the setup, and the preparation for a show like this.
“Well, everything is up and plugged in by 12.30, which gives Phil [Gornell, front of house engineer] a chance to do a virtual soundcheck, have a listen to the RF mic, and make sure he is happy; then we have about two to three hours of downtime before we get round to doing a soundcheck.”
It all feels very calm, I mention to Proctor - there’s a lot going on, but no-one seems to be getting in anyone’s way. This, I am assured, is very normal on this 5SOS tour.
“They’re all good guys to work with: the management, tour management, and production team are really friendly and efficient, so everything is pretty smooth, really,” Proctor explains, as we grab a coffee. I ask him about his role as system tech on this tour – and about the evolution of the role in general, especially since PA systems have got smarter, and production levels continue to rise almost exponentially.
“A system tech is able to walk the room, and make sure it’s consistent throughout the venue; so I need to check for anything from standing waves, to reflections going on, whereas the front of house engineer can’t really leave the desk too much,” Proctor says. “Also, the way they’re analysing is with a much more artistic edge; Phil is listening to where instruments fit in, and maybe adding effects on top of things, whereas I am looking for, dare I say it, more of the intelligibility. My job is to make sure everything can be heard properly, without it sticking out too much, as well.
“My working relationship with Phil at front of house is fantastic here, though – we know this system, and our setup, totally inside out.” The PA system is by Coda Audio: 5SOS are touring 14 AiRAY boxes per side, with four ViRAY for downfill per side, and two SC2 boxes per side, on top of the arrays. According to Proctor, this is the most flexible setup, because this tour incorporates different sized venues.
“Adding the Coda SC2s gives us that pattern control, and helps us to add some weight to it; and the ViRAY down set to 120 [degrees] gives us that nice horizontal dispersion,” Proctor explains. “So when you analyse, you can really pick things out; it’s quite a bizarre sensation, but it’s true!
“To be going into a small club venue where you might have a half-tonne weight limit, and know that actually, you can fit your whole touring PA in without any compromise, is pretty mindlowing. You can put the same box in, and still keep that same tonal balance and impact, so the consistency of the system is just unbelievable.”
This is a view most definitely shared by Phil Gornell at front of house.
“The Coda system is so flexible to our needs,” he says. “If you look at the rooms we’ve played in on this tour, they range massively: from Sheffield Academy, which is under 2,000 people, to this place today, which is a 9,000- cap arena. The same box being able to deliver the same kind of clarity and punch everywhere is pretty special.”
It’s the Coda system’s transparency which has really surprised Gornell since working with it:
“It’s so clear, and so responsive to literally everything you do, so if you’re mixing a show badly, everyone in the crowd will know! But if you do it right – man, if you can get it to sing, it’s beautiful; the low end response is second to none, as it’s a transient, not a wave - an actual transient that you hear and feel. For such a small box, it’s insane.”
As 5SOS’ drummer continues to bang away, I decide to ask Gornell about his setup – I can’t see any overheads, for a start...
“Yeah, we’re actually spot-miking the cymbals,” he reveals. That would explain it. “The whole kit is miked up using a Shure package, and downstage, we are on Shure KSM8s with Axient handhelds.
“All the guitars are Kemper [profiling amps], so there are no cabinets on stage. The Shure package brings a great consistency and familiarity that the guys are used to for their in-ears, which is as important as it is for me out here, actually.”
A Shure Thing
The KSM8 mic is great for headroom, Gornell says – which I guess is pretty useful when your audience is peaking at 115-120dB!
“[smiles] It’s the detail that the KSM8 gives us - and also, the guys are kind of everywhere with their mics on stage: they can be off axis, go really quiet, then really loud, and it’ll still pick them up perfectly, without picking up the whole stage,” Gornell continues. “We have a loud rock and roll drummer up there (really?!), and he isn’t blaring down our vocal mics, which was very important when it came to our mic choice on vocals.
“I then have a Waves MaxxBCL, which is a limiter that goes on the end of my mix buss chain, which brings everything to life nicely; I am also using SoundGrid for my FX, which makes it easier for me to travel with all my favourite Waves plugins.”
On the kit, there are Shure SM91s, SM98s, and a bunch of SM57s, with Beta57s for a couple of the snare drums.
“It’s a great all-round package, and it is very tight; because we have spot-miked his cymbals, everything has to be close and tight, and that allows us to get true definition everywhere on stage. The Kemper element definitely helps quieten the stage down.” Which is more than can be said for front of house, right?
“We upgraded to Roxannes for this tour, and I have to say, the difference in sound has been absolutely incredible...”
“Yeah, it’s actually 100dB at mix position, so it’s tough, as we have to keep a quiet stage, as we want to have the full control [of the Coda system], so we can control what comes out front. The audience is made up of a lot of 13-year-old girls who are at their first ever show, and are screaming at 115-116dB.
“I can’t compete with them, so I have to get some kind of clarity so they can enjoy the show, and feel what they want to feel, and not ruin their hearing. The band play a game with every crowd, seeing how loud they can get them, so we always have our ear defenders at the ready!”
Mixing on the Coda PA has certainly made everything that little bit easier though, Gornell admits:
“Every day we fire it up, Sam [Proctor] just shrugs and smiles; we are so used to it, and have tailored how he and I work together with it. There have been a few shows where we haven’t been able to take the Coda PA in, and ironically, when we don’t load in and fly our own PA, it’s actually harder working on those days than when we do throw ours up in the air!”
Next stop is monitor position, for the VIP soundcheck, where I am about to get a small dose of what the engineers have to deal with from a 5SOS crowd: 200 (approximately) excited teenagers will shortly descend on the arena for what is essentially a private pre-show. An up, close, and personal 30-minutes or so with their heroes.
Before they start piling in, I chat with monitor engineer, Pavan Grewell. He’s working from a DiGiCo SD7 console.
“I really love the mic pres on the SD7,” he says, adding that he is running an SD Rack and a Micro SD Rack to accommodate the additional inputs for this show. “They’re so transparent, and that’s what I really enjoy – and need - for working monitors, because I am trying to give the band the truth of it!
“No colouration, unless they ask for it. The drummer might ask me to jazz up a mix, or something, which is cool, but with this console, I ultimately get more of what is actually plainly happening.”
Grewell use snapshots for everything, to make the process as simple as possible:
“I also have a snapshot for anything that needs to be done every day; for example, there is a portion in the set where Michael [Clifford] and Callum [Hood] switch vocal mics, so that happens with my snapshots. And I take timecode to trigger that.
“I use the internal FX within the console, which are great – and I use some Waves plugins, because there are a few extra tools I like to have: the Waves PSE is a lifesaver for me; I find that it helps me keep their monitor mixes consistent from show to show, as I use it on their vocals to eliminate the room sound when they’re not singing. Then I have the Waves L2 Ultramaximizer on my master fader, as well as the SSL buss, or the API2500 - depending on who it’s for. And I love the R-comp; I use it on vocals a lot.”
In-ear monitoring is another very important element on stage. Grewell is a big JH Audio advocate:
“I really like JH Audio, because [founder] Jerry Harvey has been in the game as long as anyone else who has been doing it at that level, and I simply cannot say enough about the support they give me,” he declares. “I find that’s important with something as personal as an in-ear; the sonic quality, and their philosophy behind how that comes first for them is fantastic, and something that I share; we are kind of like-minded like that, I think.
“I have always worked with JH16s - which I have had for a long time – but we recently upgraded to Roxannes for this tour, and I have to say, the difference has been absolutely incredible; we have a much fuller, outstanding sound, and the band loves them. I like as often as possible to be on the same ears as the artist I am working with, so I made the switch. In fact, I am gradually building my JH collection up! [laughs]”
Lighting it Up
Another key element of the tour is the light show, which has been handled by experienced production designer, Steve Bewley. He has a long relationship with GLP’s advanced LED lighting fixture portfolio, and has been working with 5SOS since getting a recommendation from their in-house production team.
Bewley has deployed 60 JDC1 hybrid strobes, and 56 of the GLP battens - divided between X4 Bar 10s and Bar 20s - from the UK depot of Christie Lites, where Andy Strachan has been a long time friend and supporter of the LD.
“I have worked with Steve many times over the years, and he is one of the most talented LDs around, currently,” Strachan insists.
Within the set design, the JDC1s formed part of the original concept, and according to Bewley, were always destined to be a major part of the current show.
“We use them for a range of purposes - from strobes, blinders, side lights, ego riser lights - and as a big block of colour wash,” he reveals.
The X4 Bar 10s are placed inside flown custom mirror pods, and shone through the two-way mirror, not only to project beams, but to create effects on the surface of the mirror itself. The X4 Bar 20s are used as backlight, and to radiate blades of colour from the floor. Bewley is a big fan of the Bars: “They are great for the blades of light they throw out, and also the effects that are created with the pixels,” he explains. “The colour of the LEDs is always top notch, as is the reliability of the fixtures. On top of that, these fixtures are available in most territories around the world, which is a big advantage for consistency.
“As for the JDC1s, we have incorporated 60 in the rig, and they are great; we have had zero issues in the 40 or so shows so far.”
Having worked with the hybrid strobes for a while, Bewley knows how to use them to optimum effect:
“We use both the strobe and the plate as big blinding lights for key moments in the set - but also, more subtle crowd light during talking moments. We also use both elements as multiple different strobing effects and tempos, as well as the pixel effects.
“The plates themselves are used as a colour block to represent certain drum sequences and instrument parts. They also double as colour backlight and audience lights in certain parts.
Summing up the tour so far, Bewley praises the role of the GLP fixtures.
“They have really contributed to the creation of a big and bold show - both with subtle moments, and huge arena-like states.”
And while both GLP and Christie Lites were on hand to lend support should it have been needed, he said ‘this had not been required, as the fixtures were almost bulletproof.’
“The light output, colours, reliability, size, power consumption, and weight are all big factors for a designer, and GLP have addressed the needs and restrictions of LDs very well, which is why I use the products time and time again.”