Chilled New Zealand fusion jamsters thrill Ally Pally crowd with Entec lighting

Entec is delighted to renew its alliance with one of New Zealand’s greatest musical exports, Fat Freddy’s Drop, the eight-piece crew whose unique brand of soul-nourishing music is a fusion of dub and reggae with shades of funk, jazz and electronica. Shortly before starting a European festival run, the band visited the UK for a short, four-date UK tour that climaxed with an extraordinary London show for 10,000 blissed-out fans at Alexandra Palace where lead singer Dallas Tamaira, a.k.a. Joe Dukie, was celebrating his birthday and Entec delivered a comprehensive lighting package for LD Dominic Smith.

After a warm-up set from revered DJ Norman Jay MBE, FFD ambled onstage and set about whipping the crowd into a frenzy with ‘Shiverman’, ‘Roady’, ‘Blackbird’ and other select cuts from their four studio albums. It was the latest chapter in a story that began in Wellington back in 1999 when founder Chris ‘Mu’ Faiumu gathered some like-minded musicians to form a jam band.

Also from NZ’s capital is production manager Emma Jensen, a long-time resident of London who has known some of the band members since their youth. She commented: “They came over to play a show at Brixton Academy which had a few technical problems so I offered a few suggestions, at which point they offered me the job. That was seven years ago and it’s been enormous fun ever since, mainly because the whole team is one big family with no sense of hierarchy.

“They’re quite underground but not to the extent that you’ve probably never heard their music. They just like being slightly under the mainstream radar whilst having complete creative control through their own studio and record company, The Drop. Their manager, Nicole Duckworth does an amazing job across the board and they are all great people to work for.”

Led by Peter ‘Pepper’ Schofield, Entec’s crew – Leo Tierney, Tom Crosbie and, making her Entec début, Katie Flanders – assisted LD Dominic Smith in his quest to make the Ally Pally show one to remember. Due to other commitments, Smith’s presence on the current tour was limited to this one performance, although he has been at the helm of the band’s lighting design on European tours for the last four years. “I suppose the difference between this London gig and the rest of the tour is that the lighting has a much more bespoke feel about it,” said Smith, who co-founded event design company Neon Black with Bertrand Paré in 2012, and has designed tours and one-offs for the likes of Blink 182, Rihanna and Pharrell Williams.

He continued: “The band’s budgets are usually set by the local promoter so it’s usual for my designs at venues outside of London to be easy for a local crew to put together. At Alexandra Palace, however, there’s every reason to put on something special with much better definition because, budgets permitting, this venue does beg that kind of treatment.”

CHOICES

While many lighting riders for this show of this kind tend to leave a wide range of options open, Smith was quite specific with his fixture choices, as he explained: “I’m very respectful about how far I’m able to go, financially-speaking, and if a supplier isn’t able to match what is in my head, we will obviously have a conversation about alternatives. There is always scope for compromise. In this case, I knew precisely what I wanted and I was delighted that Entec could deliver.

“Creativity is one of those weird, intangible things and it’s hard to articulate what you have in mind when you come up with design ideas. My brain ‘sees’ music in a certain way. Music is my passion and my design starting point. When I listen to the emotions of songs, my ideas are driven by colours and shapes. Of course, some ideas will be practical but, ultimately, I’m trying create something that looks cool or appropriate to the setting.”

Key to the design was Entec’s provision of Total Fabrications’ versatile LAD moving light truss, which ’Pepper’ Schofield described as a “shrewd investment” due to its versatility. “It’s the same product we used for Deftones in an upright, floor-based tower format, and for Fat Freddy’s Drop we built an overhead truss. This enabled us to have a smoother load-in on the eve of show day because by pre-loading all the lights in the flown rig, we could just wheel it in, clip it together, cable it all up and have it ready in a very short time.”

While the front truss exclusively carried Martin MAC Viper Profiles, the flown truss featured a mix of Viper Profiles and Viper Air FX units. A series of upstage floor towers accommodated MAC Axiom Hybrids and MAC Aura XB compact LED washes, each topped with a Viper. Other hardware included ChromaQ ColorForce 72s, ETC Source Fours and “heaps” of Molefays. In dimmer world, the set-up included an MA2 NPU (Network Processing Unit) to handle the data distribution and processing, and an Entec high-end fibre optic snake system. Entec also supplied truss for suspending a new backdrop, designed to represent the band’s recent ‘Fish In The Sea’ video – a track from their last album, Bays.

Fat Freddy's Drop

Fat Freddy’s Drop Ally Pally poster

Discussing some of his favoured fixtures for this show, Smith commented: “The Aura XB is a huge improvement on the original Aura. It’s way brighter with clean colours and very punchy when rigged in a mid-to-low level position. One of my issues with the early LED fixtures was that it was my problem to find white. Thankfully, all the manufacturers have been moving in the right direction on that score and it’s no longer my problem!

“I think the Viper Air FX is Martin’s attempt to create an alternative to the Vari*Lite 3500 wash/beam. It’s a PC-lensed, multi-function fixture; it doesn’t have many gobos but it does a decent job of delivering a solid beam of wash light. It’s becoming a go-to multi-purpose fixture for me. It can almost stand up against a wash and I like its punch. As a designer, I’m constantly going through different creative phases and at the moment I’m going through more of a solid beam phase – my looks are tending to be a bit sharper and less washy.”

The most unusual items in the lighting spec were the four Portman P1 ‘retro’ lamps distributed amongst the upstage array of towers. Striking from a scenic perspective, they also added a powerful light source to the mix. “I’m always seeking a little addition of tungsten for the Freddy show,” said Smith. “I want something with a warmth that you still can’t achieve with LED, despite all the advances. There’s a beauty in tungsten that I like to see when it’s appropriate. The P1 is interesting; it was one of the options that Noreen O’Riordan and I talked about – a wild card that I felt was worth trying. I love the shape, it’s very architectural and has a hint of the old SkyPan. It has its own built-in dimmers and you can individually dim each of its seven cells, which allows me to do some attractive, twinkly chases.”

FREE-FLOWING

Fat Freddy’s Drop normally visit Europe twice each year and play to a very wide demographic. “They’ve successfully generated a very big following within the festival circuit in Europe and they organise a separate headline tour, although on this particular run we are doing a mix of both,” advised Emma Jensen. “Apart from a couple of guitar amplifiers that are rented locally, they bring all of their remaining stage equipment over from New Zealand because, like Mu’s Akai MPC, it’s either specialised or very personal gear.”

“This is probably the most organic show that I ever get involved in because, musically, it’s incredibly free-flowing,” noted Smith. “These boys don’t ever perform the music as it is on the records, which means I can’t pre-structure my design.

“It was a real education when I did my first tour with them. I wouldn’t use the word ‘busk’ for the way I approach a Freddy show, but I absolutely cannot come to it with any fixed ideas because no two performances are the same. Most songs have a definite beginning or the same kind of crescendo, but quite often the journey in between will be very fluid, and that is very much reflected in the way I handle my end of things which at times is rather scatter-gun, in stark contrast to what I’d be inclined to do with other bands.”

Due to the nature of Smith’s operating, his choice of console is almost critical to the end result. While Entec supplied a grandMA2 lite with a fader wing for the band’s international LD, John Bamford, to operate on the touring portion of the UK schedule, Smith requested an MA2 full-size model for London. “I made the step toward the MA2 very soon after it was launched and that’s been quite a journey for me,” he said.

“For me, a console almost needs to be transparent. A lot of users obsess about the mechanics of a console and all the clever programming facilities it can provide, and while I’m able to do some of that stuff, it can never be a barrier to my creativity. Where the fixtures are placed is way more important to me and the console is literally the link between them and my brain, without arguing with me! Once I got inside the MA2 and discovered how powerful it is, I realised it was a perfect partner and so it has always been the item I’ll ask for.”

Reviewing Entec’s role ahead of the event, Dominic Smith concluded: “It’s always been a pleasure to work with Entec and the company is perfectly suited to projects like this because they’re so good at meeting the demands of one-offs.” Emma Jensen added: “What’s great about Entec is that they love the band, so it’s exciting for them to be involved. It’s not just equipment specs on paper; there’s a genuine feeling of partnership and common respect.”

Fat Freddy’s Drop continue to tour Europe until June 22nd.

Photography by Mark Cunningham