West London production rental company provides lighting and sound support to American metal icon

It has been nearly 30 years since Ohio-born visionary Brian Warner invented his controversial alter ego Marilyn Manson, setting off on a career journey that would help define modern metal through albums including Antichrist Superstar, Mechanical Animals, The Golden Age Of Grotesque and Heaven Upside Down. The latter, his 10th and most recent full-length release, emerged halfway through his latest transatlantic tour.

It was the first to be supported by Entec, the west London rental company that provided a comprehensive lighting and sound package for the 20-date European leg, culminating in a show at Wembley’s SSE Arena where guitar-slinging Hollywood legend Johnny Depp made a guest appearance with the band.

Manson’s British fans were lucky to see him at all in December. Towards the end of American leg, after escaping a road crash in Moscow, Manson broke his ankle at a show in Pittsburgh but worse was to come the following night in New York when a 750kg stage prop fell on him, knocking him unconscious and breaking his fibula in two places. Miraculously, he was back on stage within five weeks and able to fulfil his European commitment despite still recovering.

“Although we had pared back a number of the visual gags in favour of a more musically-driven show than he’d had in previous years, Manson’s accident forced us to bring in a number of strategic props, notably the motorised wheelchair in which he starts the show,” explained production manager Matt Doherty. “It’s uncanny how good it looks. When we first brought the wheelchair into rehearsal it just looked like something a paraplegic would use so we got a props guy in L.A. to ‘trick’ it up with a church-style back to it and now it looks ridiculously good. He ‘plays’ it really skilfully and uses it for two songs only because he will never over-do a gag.”

The Heaven Upside Down production was designed by Manson in partnership with Doherty and lighting director Nico Riot of Nantes-based Chirac Design. “Manson is very involved,” insisted Doherty. “He’s a good artist in his own right and he’ll send us pictures of things that we’ll later turn into reality. It involves me running around Los Angeles, bringing back things for him to look at discussing ideas such as kabuki drops. We have 50-odd solenoids running up to seven drops, from simple velvet through to a UV design and one we call the ‘True Detective’ which is his own artwork of him with an automatic rifle.”

Doherty entered Manson’s world in April 2016 and later instigated some changes that took effect for last year’s European summer festival tour. One of those changes was to hire a package from Entec, a company with whom he had developed a relationship while working as Damon Albarn’s PM. He said: “Entec is a great fit for me. I get along with the people very well and maintaining relationships is what it’s all about. I’d spent 21 years running Big Day Out in Australia and wasn’t touring throughout that period. When that festival started to fall over, Craig Duffy threw me a bone by offering me a Damon tour, for which Entec was the provider.

“I’m a supporter of the independent; I really don’t like it when big companies get bigger by eating up smaller firms. Loyalty is a two-way street – if you’re good to your suppliers, they will be good to you, and Entec really have been. I really liked the idea of having lights and sound from a single source, and Entec do that so well.”

Nico Riot had been touring the world with French band Gojira for six years when he was asked to cover six Manson shows last summer, however, Doherty was keen for him to remain permanently. “I thought he was absolutely the man for the job,” the PM commented. “It was the first time that Manson hadn’t come offstage complaining about the lights. He was very happy with the way it all looked and it reinforced my hunch that Nico instinctively knew exactly what Manson needed.”

It was on the summer run that Riot first struck up a bond with Entec lighting crew chief Peter ‘Pepper’ Schofield. On this latest tour, they were joined by Tom Mumby and Darren Hatherley. “Manson is a very clever performer,” said Riot. “He doesn’t want a light show as such. Instead, he will use light as a prop, moving and weaving in and out of beams to create drama.

“This was quite difficult to understand at first because it was so against the grain of what is normally required of a rock’n’roll lighting guy, but I soon realised this is just one of many examples of Manson’s genius. I just have to get inside the song, appreciate what he’s saying, constantly observe what he’s doing and provide the kind of lighting that will complement his movement. If I’ve been using overhead light and then switch to the six [Thomas] PAR 64s on the floor, he will instinctively move towards them, put his face into the field of light and use it to look menacing.”

Riot built his design around 36 GLP X4 Bar 20 LED zoom/tilt battens that were positioned on the floor to create a moody, creepy vibe. Interestingly, Manson himself requested 16 GLP JDC-1 LED strobes for use both upstage and downstage. “I think he saw them on another show and decided that was the look he wanted. It was so new that it was the first time I’d heard of it, but I could soon see how effective it would be and I’m completely sold on the product. It give you three fixtures in one: there are the wash and strobe elements, but you also get pixel mapping.”
MANSON TOURS EUROPE WITH ENTEC

Twenty-two Claypaky Sharpys and 12 Philips Vari*Lite 3000 Spots were included on the spec although Riot’s spot use was minimal. “I tend to use the spots more as washes,” he said. “The Sharpys were more important to the design because Manson’s brief prohibits too much movement, so I needed a really good beam that will offered a range of powerful looks.

“Another fixture I love is the Claypaky A.leda B-Eye K20. I have 12 of them in this design; the zoom is brilliant and so is the richness of the colours. I’d used them before and I just had to use it on Manson. When the zoom narrows down, it goes from wash mode to a beam effect and you can control the elements of each of the 37 LEDs precisely. It’s an amazing tool. The show is about Manson, obviously, so the band are in darkness most of the time but I have [14] Martin MAC Aura XBs as side washes for pick-ups during some parts of the performance.”

As well as plenty of traditional Molefays for audience lighting and a battery of Martin Atomic 3000 strobes, an oddball addition to Riot’s spec was the request for a ‘fuzz’ working light that Manson held about his face during his cover of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’, against a UV-painted backdrop lit by Altman cannons.

Riot ran the show from a ChamSys MagicQ MQ500 Stadium console, supplied with a wing and a back-up. “I’ve been a ChamSys user for three years,” informed the LD. “MA desks were always the norm for me because so many French venues have them as standard, but when I was touring with Gojira, one of the venues had a ChamSys. I immediately liked its features and since then it’s what I’ve been requesting. It seems to generate interest from other LDs every time I use it on a festival.

“There are 200 universes onboard, you don’t need any nodes and it’s perfect for live busking, which is essential for me on this show. I program with Cue Stack but Manson can be so unpredictable that I have to maintain the freedom to immediately change things and the MQ500 is great for that.”

ON WITH D-SHOW

Since filling the role of FOH sound engineer in late 2006, George Chapman has been virtually glued to the full-size Avid Venue D-Show as his mixing desk of choice. “It was an easy decision because there was already a D-Show in place when I got the gig!” laughed Chapman. “The board accommodated the show very well, not least because at the time it offered the Eventide plug-ins that we needed for Marilyn’s voice. The rack units were getting harder to find in good working order although we currently have Eventide H3000 D/SE Ultra Harmonizers on the tour for the same application.

“Over the years I’ve used the board, I’ve found ways to manipulate it and make it sound the way it needs to for this show. Maybe in the next year or two, I’ll move on to something different but it continues to do a great job and it’s one of those boards you can pick one up anywhere, as well as parts. At the moment, I’m running 48 input channels so I’m close to needing another snake head or some more channels because the board is structured around banks of 48, but in the States, the drummer’s kit is a little smaller, so we might be OK in most situations. But it’s always nice to have a few extra channels. For instance, tonight we have a guest [Mr. Depp] coming on to play guitar and I need to accommodate him.”

The subsonic element of Manson’s sound can be physically intimidating at times, however, Chapman manages to preserve intelligibility. “The music relies so much on that sub energy,” he said, “but there’s a lot of high and high-mid going on, and I have to achieve clarity within that. It‘s a fine balance of knowing which instruments you can have in those lower frequencies and which ones you want to keep out of that area while trying to control your PA system within any given environment. In the end, proper use of gain structure and hi-pass filters, and knowing the music well, are key to the job in hand.”

While Chapman applies plenty of compression on the drum overheads and bass, the kick drums and toms only have gates over them. “Some of the backing tracks go a little further than I need them to in a live situation so I have to compress them quite a bit as well as vocals. The overall mix, however, is not compressed. I run it through a Midas XL42 analogue pre-amp to warm up the general sound of the show and trim a little of the system EQ.”

Also in the outboard rack, Chapman had a pair of Avalon processors for Manson’s vocal. “The EQ section and pre-amp help to give his vocal some presence. It gives me a quick go-to EQ knob so that when he’s talking between songs, I can duck the lower end of his voice so it’s not booming all over the room.”

MIXING MONITORS

An audio pro for 10 years, Sam Coy was brought in mid-tour to take over monitors although he had already racked up some previous Manson experience. In 2009, when the band booked in to rehearse at Swing House, an L.A. company at which Coy worked, he was hired for the sessions. “As time wore on, they kept calling me for more rehearsals, even when they moved to other studios,” he said. “On this tour, I came in for the Berlin date [November 25th] and I’ve been having a lot of fun – the band are fantastic.”

Although a long-time DiGiCo user, Coy has been mixing on Avid’s smaller Venue Profile console. “It’s the standard package and, like George, I inherited the Avid situation and, for now, I’m happy with it,” commented the engineer. “My predecessor ran a lot more plug-ins than I use. In monitor world, I find that keeping things fairly basic so that the console can function a little faster and I don’t have to worry about any glitches when I’m changing from page to page. So I keep it to the must-haves, such the C6 multi-band compressor on vocals just to level all my frequencies out before they hit the in-ears.”

Externally, Coy is almost mirroring Chapman’s Eventide outboard. “The slightly detuned flavour we get with it has been such a major part of the Manson sound on his recordings, so they won’t be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.”

In the universe that Manson inhabits, microphones are a means of expression as well as regarded as disposable assets, as Matt Doherty explained: “A number of custom mic props have been developed for Manson, from the knife and AK47 versions to others shaped like a video camera or a cross. They all form part of the artist’s iconography.”

On a more functional level, the tour carried Shure UR4D diversity receivers and hand-held transmitters with SM58 capsules, four of which were main mics on a switcher while another four acted as back-ups on the same frequencies. Coy grinned: “We have to apply some damage limitation because Manson can be rough on his mics, tossing them into the crowd or dropping them – mics go everywhere!”

With 2018 already looking busy with return visits to North America and Europe, Chapman stated that there are plans to upgrade to the Axient Digital system within the year. “I’m aware that Entec has invested in a good supply of that new Shure system. I’m confident that it’ll offer a lot of improvement and a bunch of new features including frequency switching on the fly.”

For Manson alone, Coy generates six separate mixes: a left/right mix into a pair of d&b M2 wedges either side of him, facing upward and “ripping his face off”. Said Coy: “Behind him we have four ‘butt fills’ because he comes in from the rear of the stage at the start of the gig. Guitarist Tyler Bates uses a single M2; Paul [Wiley] has a pair cranked up pretty hard and although drummer Gil Sharone has one M2, I’m only sending sub frequencies through it because he on hard-wired Shure in-ears as well as a buttkicker. The M2 is a very tight-sounding monitor – you don’t have to push to get a good top end and really move some air.

“My responsibility is to get it as loud onstage as I can… and then turn it up a little more! That’s been a consistent request from the artist. I’ve measured the SPL a few times without the vocal and averaged around 104dB, so in real terms it’s probably nearer 107dB. We are, after all, trying to get over the level of the backline, so we need that kind of firepower, and the reason we have so many [18] M2s is so I can deliver as much clarity as possible.”

ABOVE THE STAGE

For the European tour, the main PA was Entec’s trusty d&b J-Series, powered by D80 amps and containing main hangs of 14 J8 boxes each with two J12s underneath. While 10 V8s were rigged per side as outfills to cover the bleachers, there were nine J-SUBs in a flown sub-array and 20 B22 subs across the front. Onstage, eight J8 sidefills and a further two B22s per side reinforced Manson’s vocals as well as covering the top outer parts of the audience.

The system was ArrayProcessed to help achieve even coverage and, according to system technician Bertie Hunter, make the sound sparkle, as he explained: “I’m amazed at the difference it can make. You can sit anywhere, even in the top row at the back of the room, and still get a good representation of what it sounds like standing at the front. In the high mids, it’s incredibly smooth and it throws very well. You certainly feel the power of the snare drum 80 metres away with the same detail.”

Unlike crews in other situations, this team does not use a venue preset as a starting point for the set-up. Hunter: “George has a certain sound that he wants me to create from the system. Now that we are this advanced into the tour, I’ve increasingly understood his preferences and how to achieve them. I did the drawing for Wembley and then come in to simulate what I think the system will do. From there, I build five or six ArrayProcessing settings and George and I listen to each one in soundcheck to see which of them will work best for the room, bearing in mind it will inevitably change during the gig, depending on temperature and humidity.”

The onstage volume was incredibly loud at Wembley, although it didn’t seem to faze Chapman, who said: “When we’ve played some of the smaller venues, however, the challenge was about how to blend the stage sound into the PA and that could be quite tricky. The thing is, it’s Marilyn Manson so it’s going to be a loud show; the audience expects that and our responsibility to make it as loud as possible without hurting people’s ears.”

Accompanying Bertie Hunter in the audio crew were Entec senior technician Peter Eltringham and monitor tech Arthur Mazzer. “I like these guys,” commented a visually satisfied Chapman. “They’ve done a great job and the d&b rig sounds fantastic, thanks to Bertie’s help. It’s fun because you can literally make it sound as good as you want it. Isn’t that every engineer’s dream? We have some more European touring with Entec coming up and I’m really looking forward to getting back with them next year.

Matt Doherty, meanwhile, was mindful of a looming golden anniversary. “Entec is the oldest full service production company in Europe and you don’t get to 50 years without doing things right,” he said. “What an achievement for a company that hasn’t sold its soul! That really appeals to me as a client and working with Noreen [O’Riordan], Adam [Stevenson] and Jonny [Clark] has been a very rewarding experience. I’ve had good crew from them every time we’ve been out together and the service back-up is always solid. So whenever I have a client that suits the Entec model, I will remain with them.”

Photography by Mark Cunningham

www.marilynmanson.com