Ten days before Christmas Eve 2014 our Editor’s Corner team went to see the concert of the singer-songwriter Paul Van Haver, better known as Stromae, at Mediolanum Forum Assago, a 11.500-capacity multi-purpose venue in Milan, Italy.
Stromae (which is “Maestro” with syllables reversed), came to wide public attention with his European number one hit “Alors on danse” (2010). After that great success his career escalated on a constant incline. Stromae released hit after hit, increasing his celebrity status, as well as his art in performing. Known for his eccentric personality, Stromae continues to play with styles and is able to combine unlikely sounds with great elegance, so it’s quite difficult to pigeonhole his music. French Pop? EDM? Rumba? His influences are far and wide and have had a large impact not only on his eclectic sound, but also for his distinctive physique, clothing and performance style.
His most recent album, “Racine Carrée” (2013), was a great commercial success, and the tour as well, with about 150 tour dates in one year, most of them sold out.
So we were very interested to attend this show, rumored to have a great impact, both visually and sound-wise, and to listen (once again) to the Meyer Sound LEO (and LYON) system. Who better than Stromae’s sound engineers Lionel Capouillez (FOH), Johan Millet (Monitors) and lighting designer Paul Chappet could give us some more technical information about the production?
ZioGiorgio.com: You’ve just finished the sound-check, what do you think about the venue?
Lionel Capouillez: Let’s see what happens tonight with the audience. When you’re doing the sound-check, there is always some reverb and slap back, but we’re getting around it pretty easily. We’ve been in worst than this.
Johan Millet: The Forum is kinda cool. The only thing we’ve had trouble with is the access for the trucks, because you can only make one trip at a time. It’s taken a bit longer, normally we’re ready pretty quick, but there have been a lot of little delays. But we’re not worried about that, we’re ready anyway.
ZioGiorgio.com: Lionel, could you please tell us about this Meyer Sound PA system?
Lionel Capouillez: It’s a LEO/LYON system. We’re using as main PA 24 LEO-Ms, 12 by side, and 24 sub 1100. The 9 subs by side are hanging right behind the main LEO arrays and 6 are placed on the floor, in front. The subs are in a cardioid configuration. 22 LYONs (11 by side) are used as outfill. 10 MINAs are used for downfill and 8 MINAs and 6 UPAs as leapfill. The whole system is controlled by 1 Galileo AES, 2 Galileos and 4 Galileo Callistos.
ZioGorgio.com: I can see you’ve got quite a big console!
Lionel Capouillez: Yeah! It’s a Midas H2000 full analog mixer …
ZioGorgio.com: You don’t use a digital desk? I would have guessed that for this type of show you would use one. Why not?
Lionel Capouillez: Because I like analog. [laughs] I don’t know how to work with digital, because for me it’s not instinctive enough. When I’ve got a problem on a frequency I want to be able to go immediately to the right button and fix it. Not to enter a menu, scene, or open a snapshot or page. I hate that. For this type of show I need to send a lot of delays, I constantly make volume adjustments, using maybe two reverbs at the same time … I can’t do that with digital.
ZioGiorgio.com: If you are using such a big analog desk you will have some outboard too…
Lionel Capouillez: Oh yes! I’ve got some stuff! [laughs] There are a lot of DBX 160s for the seven backing voices of the musicians. There’s a DBX 1066 in insert on the group I created for all the synthesizers that are used in the show. It has a side chain input, that I feed with the kick drum signal for the typical pumping effect. I like that, because it allows me not to have to push too hard. I really like to work with delays and reverbs so I’ve got an Eventide Eclipse and a M1, a D1 and a M300 from TC Electronics to do that.
ZioGiorgio.com: What are you using on Stromae’s voice?
Lionel Capouillez: I use a Distressor on the lead voice. Then I’ve got this de-esser from SPL, it’s so good! Really amazing! Some time ago it fell down and broke … it was horrible. [laughs] I can’t do without it. So the chain on Stromae’s voice is: Midas preamp from the desk, then the signal goes through the Distressor, into the de-esser and turns back to the console.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is that Avalon for?
Lionel Capouillez: I use the Avalon 747 in insert on the master bus. It’s fantastic. The EQ section is really good, and I know it very well, so I can immediately get what I want. For the last month of the tour, I used a Tegeler Audio Crème on the master. It’s a compressor with Pultec EQ style from Germany. It has total transparent compression, really good. Unfortunately I couldn’t bring it to Italy because it’s mine and it wasn’t possible to take it with me on the plane and to use it for these last shows.
ZioGiorgio.com: So the signal goes from the 31 band EQs into the Avalon 747 and then into the Crème compressor?
Lionel Capouillez: Right! The Crème is the last piece of the master chain, it’s because I don’t like the compression of the Avalon 747 that much. I use it only for preamp and EQ, and the compression is made by the Crème.
ZioGiorgio.com: How many concerts will you be doing on this tour?
Lionel Capouillez: About 150 gigs in one year, in Europe and the USA.
ZioGiorgio.com: Wow! Do you always bring the H2000?
Lionel Capouillez: In the USA we did some smaller venues too, and there wasn’t enough space for the H2000. I used a small digital console, the Digidesign Venue. It’s a good console, but as I told you before, it’s not what I prefer.
ZioGiorgio.com: Do you have other special technical stuff to mention?
Lionel Capouillez: All the tracks from the stage come from the computer. I’ve already worked out the EQ on the computer itself, because I mixed the record in the studio too, so I don’t use the console’s EQ on these tracks. Channels 27 to 39 are dedicated to all analog signals coming from the stage. On these I use the Midas EQs.
ZioGiorgio.com: So you are producer, studio engineer and FOH engineer for Stromae? Quite unusual.
Lionel Capouillez: I know, but Stromae likes it this way. He always says “when I see Lionel out there, everything is going well!” He puts a lot of trust in me. I’ve known him for a long time. Actually we started with his first EP nine years ago, then 2 years later we made the hit single “Alors on danse”, and in 2010 the first studio album “Cheese”, followed by the first tour. Then in 2013 the second album “Racine carrèe”, and here we are on tour again.
ZioGiorgio.com: What program do you use for sequencing and what gear is used for the sounds?
Lionel Capouillez: It’s all from Reason, to mix the album I received a Reason file. I took every track I needed and mixed it in ProTools. For the live show I re-did the mix in Reason. Every musician has a computer on stage, with the Reason session, and decides on his own which synth he wants to play.
ZioGiorgio.com: So, it’s type of coming from the computer, but it’s live …
Lionel Capouillez: Yeah, exactly! It’s real live. Every musician has three midi controllers, with multi-outputs. We have no sequences. There’s only a click track that gets started by the drummer.
ZioGiorgio.com: What do you care about most, when it comes to mixing Stromae’s show?
Lionel Capouillez: It’s really important to understand the lyrics well, so I care a lot about that. I love to work with the kick drum too. For the rest it’s all about finding the right balance.
ZioGiorgio.com: Before, you told me that if you have a sound problem, you prefer not to touch the EQ on the H2000, but to modify the EQ of the PA System?
Lionel Capouillez: Yes. If a mix has worked well in 9 out of 10 occasions, the day you have a problem it can’t be the mix. It has to be the PA-System or the venue. Working with Meyer Sound LEO means that the PA-System will never be a problem [smiles], so the only thing to do is to fix the master EQ to compensate the venue’s acoustical problems. I never change the EQ of the mix on the console.
ZioGiorgio.com: You’ve already done a lot of shows, what do you think is the best sounding venue?
Lionel Capouillez: No doubts, the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. It’s quite big, it has a 14.000 audience capacity, but the acoustics are fantastic. It’s a wonderful venue, everything is in the right place, and the sound is amazing.
ZioGiorgio.com: Johan, please talk about the equipment you’re using for monitoring.
Johan Millet: On stage I’ve got an DiGiCo SD7, and a bunch of PSM 1000 in ear systems from Shure. I use a Midas XL42 preamp and two Distressors from Empirical Labs. I’ve got two external reverbs, a Lexicon 960 and a PCM 91. That’s pretty much it, a simple setup, because I wanted to keep it very compact. Sometimes we do clubs and I can fit myself and all my rig in good places.
ZioGiorgio.com: So you can fit anywhere …
Johan Millet: Yeah, that’s the point. We first started with a Soundcraft Vi4, when we did the clubs last year, but then we went into a bigger setup, with the SD7. I’m quite a fan of DiGiCo.
ZioGiorgio.com: I can’t find one wedge on stage …
Johan Millet: Yep, the monitors are only in ear. There are five on stage, and they actually have all their own mixes, with their own reverb on it. The musicians, who are doing backing vocals too, as well as the lead singer, use the PSM 1000 and that’s it. No need for wedges.
ZioGiorgio.com: Please tell us about the Shure Axient Wireless System.
Johan Millet: It’s the first time I’ve used it on tour and I’m really satisfied. Every microphone can be controlled remotely by WiFi. Whenever there is something going wrong the program tells me what’s happening and it switches automatically to another frequency. I can control that manually too if I want to, and I can do other cool things with it. The Axient has a frequency analyzer, so I can analyze the frequencies every day. All my rig is on a single network, so I can control every PCM1000 and all the actions together. I can put my frequency plan wherever I want and with the Shure Workbench and my computer I can set up my rig in 15 minutes. It’s pretty simple and really cool. The belt pack’s batteries are remotely controlled by the software as well, so I can know everything about them whenever I want, e.g. if the batteries are like two minutes from being full, or whatever. It’s really nice to work with that.
ZioGiorgio.com: What about the rest of your set up?
Johan Millet: Close to the main patch you can see the stage box from DiGiCo, it’s an Optocore-to-SD7. The SD7 is configured to be a dual machine, it’s actually like mirrored. If there’s a problem with one machine it switches automatically to the other. That can happen, but it hasn’t happened at all to me.
The Optocore does the transport from the stage-box to the console. So, I’ve actually got machine A that is connected on Optocore with machine B which is connected via Optocore with the stage box and then the Optocore goes back, it’s a loop. You can’t have any problem with that. The board is actually on my main frame of PCM 1000 actions, batteries, splitters, and the XL42 and the two Distressors, and that’s it. It’s all packed, it’s a compact thing. That’s what I wanted.
ZioGiorgio.com: Do you use only Shure microphones?
Johan Millet: Yeah, they are all Shure. We’ve got a KSM9 on lead voice. All the musicians doing backing vocals use wired beta 58s. I’ve got some Neumann microphones for the ambiance. Two KM184s on the sides and two KM185s just in front, in the proscenium.
ZioGiorgio.com: What about the channel count?
Johan Millet: I’ve got 56 channels on monitors, actually the whole DiGiCo rack is full, that means all the outputs and inputs are full. We’ve got talkback mics for the musicians, ambient mics, talk back mic for the backliner, for the assistants, for myself, for the Front Of House; we’ve got a line of timecode going to the video, to get the video synced with the music the drummer starts. Even if there are practically no “real instruments” on stage, all the sounds coming from Reason have separated inputs. So …
ZioGiorgio.com: Who provides the equipment?
Johan Millet: All the audio material comes from France, provided by DUSHOW.
ZioGiorgio.com: This lighting looks really interesting. What are these four squares hanging in the air?
Paul Chappet: These suspended squares are Ayrton MagicPanels. We usually use seven of them, but in Italy we use a smaller kit. They are assembled as matrices and can be moved with the help of motors.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is the idea behind your lighting design for the music of “Racine Carrée”?
Paul Chappet: Stromae wanted a show with a real nude stage, and not to have a big light show. As you can see there are not so many spots, there’s not much rig, only one truss at the back and one in front, some fixtures on the floor. There is a lot of video in the show.
ZioGiorgio.com: So you had to put the right fixtures in the best place so as not to disturb the video stuff?
Paul Chappet: Actually I don’t have to fight with the video, because we have a very powerful LED screen. It’s a Black face LED 6mm pitch. The screen is also on the moving rig, controlled by a Cyberhoist system. We really work together to create the show, because the moving rig is very important in this show. Each of the four corners of the square is controlled by a hoist, so that they can be moved to different positions.
ZioGiorgio.com: What lighting desk do you use?
Paul Chappet: GrandMA2. We have a lot of DMX Universes, because we use the MagicPanels both for light and video, and we merge the Catalyst media-server with the lighting desk.
ZioGiorgio.com: I have seen some Clay Paky B-Eyes on stage …
Paul Chappet: I really like them and all the other stuff from Clay Paky, like the Sharpys. The company we work with in France has got a lot of Clay Paky material and I’m happy about that. But actually the B-Eye is my favorite.
ZioGiorgio.com: Other equipment?
Paul Chappet: We also use Martin MAC Viper and Atomic 3000, and some LED strips where we play video too. So we have video in the LED strips, in the MagicPanel and on the LED screen.
To see Lionel Capouillez working on his huge Midas console is pure fun. Let’s put it like this: he isn’t really the ‘set and forget’ guy. His hands are constantly moving on the faders and knobs with a very creative approach, sending delays, opening reverbs and making dynamic changes, but he’s never overacting, everything he does fits perfectly to the music. The sound was BIG, but the volume never too loud. The LEO can certainly deliver higher SPL levels (I’ll never forget a Green Day concert at Montreux a couple of years ago), but that’s not Lionel’s cup of tea. He prefers a powerful, warm, but very clean sound, where all the nuances can be heard easily. I’ve seen a lot of concerts at the Forum in Milan, but this was for sure one of the best sounding ever. Kudos to the “big ones”: Lionel, LEO and the Midas H2000.
The lighting and video show is incredible. What Paul Chappet and his crew deliver is a very dynamic show, full of ideas “extraordinaire”. The show design is a perfect synergy of real and virtual elements: lighting, video, the automated squares, the musician’s stage elements that can be moved too. Though the show is really spectacular, it never looses the great poetry and style that characterizes Stromae and his music. “Chapeau!” M. Chappet.
Paul Chappet: Lighting Designer
Cedric Babin : Operator
Boussad Brahimi: Blocker
Michel Malinge: Tech auto
Clement Laurent: Light tec/follow spot operator
No doubts, this is one of the most impressive shows you can see around. It doesn’t matter if you like Stromae’s music or not, from the first second you will be captured by his great charisma, the band’s power and precision, great sound and stunning lighting & video, made by a team of top notch technicians. What they create together is always surprising, there’s not one floppy moment during the whole show, and every song is perfectly suited with a beautiful colored ‘dress’, made of sound, lighting, video and visual effects. Great job!
© 2001 – 2015 NRG30 srl. All rights reserved