With any major performance venue, a solid technical team is essential. With more and more touring productions relying heavily on the in-house equipment of venues, the demands and expectations of these productions increase.
Step in the preferred provider, a production company who can step up to the challenge of providing a venue with the extra resources, both equipment and personnel based, necessary to ensure that the venue can meet the requirements of visiting productions. The Roundhouse is no exception to this, with a strong link with London’s Britannia Row Productions, who are the venue’s preferred provider for all things audio.
First built in 1847 by the London and North Western Railway, the building’s original purpose was to house a railway turntable. However, the building only served this purpose for about a decade, before being used as a warehouse for various different purposes throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. After this, the building fell into disuse shortly before the Second World War.
In 1964, the venue reopened as a performing arts venue, when the playwright Arnold Wesker established the Centre 42 Theatre Company and adapted the building as a theatre. The venue hosted its first gig in 1966, and over a decade went on to see performances from Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Sex Pistols, Fleetwood Mac and The Doors. Come the turn of the decade, Wesker’s ability to achieve his ambitions for the venue where limited by an inability to raise funds, and in 1970, he resigned. The venue continued through the 70s and early 80s as a performance venue, seeing performances from David Bowie (with The Hype), Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Genesis, Marc Almond, Elton John and The Rolling Stones.
However, come 1983, the venue once again fell into disuse, facing an uncertain future. The building went through several appraisals, but remained empty until 1996, when The Norman Trust, led by local businessman Sir Torquil Norman, purchased the building and set up the Roundhouse Trust to bring it back to life. Performances were once again a common occurrence at the venue, until in 2004, when the venue was closed for a £30m redevelopment. Architects John McAslan & Partners were tasked with bringing the performance space back to life, equipping it with advanced technology and restoring some of its original features.
In 2006, the roundhouse reopened, and since that time more than 16,000 young people have benefited from creative opportunities provided by the venue. The space has since grown to become one of London’s most unique and treasured performance venues, playing host to both big names in the world of music, as well as theatre, dance and installation.
Ziogiorgio.com spoke to Steve Brookes, technical manager at the Roundhouse, to get an insight into the technical workings of the historic venue.
ZioGiorgio.com: Steve, tell us about yourself and your in-house technical team here at the Roundhouse:
Steve Brookes: I am the technical manager here at the venue, and I have been working at The Roundhouse for 14 Months. Previous to working here I was the technical manager at a theatre in St Albans, the Alban Arena. Also at the venue we have Steve Royle, who is our Chief LX. We then have 2 Senior Technicians, as well as 2 full time Venue Technicians. We also pull from a large pool of freelance technicians, that we can bring in per event as and when required.
ZioGiorgio.com: Tell us about your relationship with Britannian Row:
Steve Brookes: Britannia Row is our contracted supplier for all things audio, but beyond the contract Brit Row and the guys are an integral part of the Roundhouse operation. Using Brit Row gives us the flexibility to meet all the varied requests made from visiting productions, events and toured shows coming to the Roundhouse. For example, if they want a specific console, then the odds are that Brit Row will be able to provide it. Most events at the Roundhouse use Brit Row, and it is rare that an incoming tour or production would use any-one else.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is your current in house audio system?
Steve Brookes: I am very happy to report that the current house system has only just been installed and is an L’acoustic K2 line array system. For a long time we have had an L-Acoustics VDos System. This was a great system and very user friendly but possibly a little large for the space in all honesty – It was more a stadium PA. As for sound desks, our defaults consoles are Midas Pro6 at Front of House, and a Yamaha PM5D for Monitors.
ZioGiorgio.com: What is your current in house lighting system?
Steve Brookes: We have quite an extensive in house system, of both movers and generic fixtures. In terms of intelligent fixtures, we have Robe 100 Beams, Robe Robin DLX, Robe 600 Wash, Alpha Spot 800, 4 Cell Blinders and Mac 2000s.
ZioGiorgio.com: I notice that you have a rig that is mainly Robe. Was this a conscious decision?
Steve Brookes: A couple of years ago before I started at the Roundhouse the decision was made to update and upgrade the house rig to something that could accommodate both corporate events and music gig without lots of changes and costly re-rigs whilst at the same time dramatically reduce our carbon footprint. LEDs were obviously the way to go in terms of energy savings and Robe had, at the time made the greatest advances in this area. I think the rig that Steve Royle chose for his final design is one of the best venue rigs I’ve seen.
ZioGiorgio.com: Of course, the Roundhouse was not originally built as a performance space. With this in mind, are there any particular considerations that you have to take into account when working within the venue?
Steve Brookes: Actually, we do not have any. Except the obvious one -the main space is round. I actually think this a huge benefit when putting on a creative show because you are less restricted by the profile of the room. Your imagination and budget then becomes the limiting considerations. In terms of technical infrastructure, the venue was carefully redesigned at the refit stage in 2006 in terms of power, data etc, and we seldom have demands in these areas we cannot fulfil.
Also the venue was carefully redesigned in terms of power. We have a large amount of power coming into a multitude of points within the venue, which means we are more than adequately suited to accommodate the needs and demands of all forms of visiting productions.
ZioGiorgio: Speaking of visiting productions, what are the most challenging productions that you have worked with here at the venue during your time?
Steve Brookes: There are several types of performances that can be difficult for various reasons but in particular circus, performing arts shows and very large corporate events are the most technically challenging. One off, effects heavy, non-tours gigs like last night’s DJ Kygo show can also present some very interesting on-the-day challenges.
We also spoke to Dave Compton, technical liaison from Britannia Row.
ZioGiorgio: Tell me a little about Britannia Row’s involvement with the Roundhouse:
Dave Compton: Since the renovation was completed and it reopened in 2006, we have been involved with the venue. We originally installed an Outline butterfly system into the venue, but this was replaced with an L-Acoustics system in 2010. This system, a V-DOSC array, remained in the venue until a few months ago, when we replaced it with a new K2 system, also from L-Acoustics. We provide enough equipment to the venue to be able to accommodate for three bands, so that support acts are taken care of as well as the main act. But out involvement is not just equipment-focused. We also have a multitude of Engineers on our books, who regularly come to engineer at the venue for us, for example Robert Plant and Peter Gabriel’s engineers.
ZioGiorgo: Tell us some more about the current in-house PA system here at the Roundhouse:
Dave Compton: The current L-Acoustics system is made up of eight K2 flown per side, along with four K1-SB elements on either side. The K1-SB are flown behind the K2. Ground stacked SL and SR are six L-Acoustics SB28 sub bass units, with Ground Fill taken care of by four ARCS Wide. Front Fill is taken care of by three KARA units, with the balcony having six further KARA elements, along with four SB18 elements. There are also two L-Acoustics 112P full range speakers flown in the VIP area. For monitoring, we use Turbosound 450 wedges for monitoring. These are the classic standard for “rock and roll” wedges, in that they go loud, and don’t blow up. The two most important factors for rock and roll!
ZioGiorgio: What system will Mac DeMarco be using here tonight?
Dave Compton: Mac DeMarco will be using the in house system tonight. He has no touring system on this current tour, and this level of touring is generally going in that direction. With the standard of resident systems at most major venues now being so high, more and more productions of this scale are choosing to use these in-house facilities.
ZioGiorgio: How is the system designed to accommodate for production companies who have a different specification of what they require?
Dave Compton: It is not uncommon for larger touring productions to bring in their own FOH consoles. With this in mind, everything at the venue is designed to be modular so that it can easily move around. Other than the Midas Pro6, we quite often get DiGiCo consoles requested, so we have a good stock of these ready to visit the venue should they be requested.
ZioGiorgio: Are there any considerations that you have to take into account when visiting the venue, that you may not have to take at other venues?
Dave Compton: Even after 10 years of working with the venue, Trucking and Logistics can still be our biggest challenge. We are not allowed to load or unload before 8am or after 11am, so this can sometimes create quite a challenge. Also, the venue itself is now so flexible that our turn around times can almost be non-existent. The seating takes less than a couple of hours to remove entirely, so the room can be used for a seated performance one night and a corporate event the next day. This can mean that we don’t have that “comfort zone” of a turn around period, so we have to keep on our toes and keep moving quickly. Everything in the room can change, from the height of the stage, to the complete layout of the seating plan.
ZioGiorgio stayed at the venue that evening to listen to Mac DeMarco, and the new L-Acoustics K2 system certainly delivers. The system provides crisp and detail sound throughout the venue, even in the far reaches of the balconies, and is punchy and powerful without “booming” around the circular venue. It is certainly a performance space in which the history and ambiance of the past can be felt, and one that we are sure has a long and exciting future to looking forward to, with the technical backing to take it there.
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