Gorillaz “Humanz” Tour

by FOH Staff • in
  • March 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: March 13, 2018
Band co-founder Damon Albarn plays along with animated characters on the big screen.

Gorillaz was formed 20 years ago when Blur frontman Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, co-creator of the Tank Girl comic book, fused their respective skills to create a virtual band with virtual band members. Since then, the project has continued to evolve, as has the size of the production. These days, the shows are very much about the real players (and frequent guest stars) along with the animated characters, and Albarn and company are often more than 20-strong when they hit the road.

The 2017-2018 Humanz tour includes shows in North America, the U.K./Europe, South America and Asia. Tony Wooliscroft photo courtesy Claypaky

‡‡         Big Tour, New System

After some performances in London and New York earlier in 2017, the Humanz tour, which continues this year, would emerge as the biggest touring production for the band yet. The global trek began in earnest with shows in the U.S. and Canada (along with a few dates in Asia) that ran from July through October, followed by a sweep through Europe and the U.K. in November and December. This year, the tour, helmed by production manager Joel Stanley, continues with more shows in South America, Mexico, Europe and Japan.

Ben Shapiro, Brown Note’s client manager for the tour and head of the company’s audio department, talked about how the Denver-area soundco, which had worked with PM Joel Stanley “on several previous locations,” got the nod to supply a d&b system for the Humanz shows in North America.

FOH engineer Matt Butcher at the DiGiCo SD7

The tour started off with “stacks and racks of d&b J-Series for mains with V-Series for sides, and B22 SUBs,” Shapiro notes. Having provided d&b systems since 2007, and becoming an official d&b partner last year with “more than 200 J-Series top boxes” in their inventory, according to Shapiro, both soundco and band then jumped on the chance to venture from the tried-and-true to the cutting edge of audio technology.

“That tighter relationship with d&b gives us access to future products,” Shapiro notes. “I happened to mention to Matt [Butcher, Gorillaz’ FOH engineer] that we had been invited to Germany earlier in the year for a preview of the new SL-Series,” Shapiro adds, detailing how he and Brown Note owners Ryan and Sara Knutson all attended the demo. “What we heard was a phenomenal leap forward in technology and accuracy.”

Ryan Knutson agrees. “Hearing the GSL system side by side with the J-Series out in Germany, I knew that what we were looking at and listening to was something special and groundbreaking. We had no idea until the systems were compared just how much better the pattern control could be. d&b has always been great at pattern control, that is why d&b systems are some of the most consistent in the world.” (That consistency is what initially drew Brown Note to d&b systems back in 2007.)

After that demo, Brown Note didn’t hesitate to place an order. But instead of the speaker systems being sent from Germany to Colorado, they went from the factory direct to the tour, with an assist from Brown Note partner, U.K.-based Entec Sound & Lighting. (Entec, based near London, was already supplying Gorillaz with the desks, control and IEMs for their U.K. and European shows.)

The Gorillaz audio team was also more than eager to give the new d&b sound system a try. The verdict: Both Butcher, at FOH, and Dave Guerin on monitors, agree with the Brown Note team, calling the d&b GSL system “a major step forward” and “a revelation,” respectively.

“I’ll never use a J-Series again,” Butcher joked, before detailing what he likes so much about the GSL setup. “Stand anywhere behind the mains on stage, and you just hear what’s on stage, not the system. Walk behind, and you just don’t hear it. So I’m having a very nice time with it. We’re at the point where, for example, we have V-Series for 270 degree far side fills to the mains, and when you walk behind them, you really notice their presence. That’s how effective the GSL pattern control is.”

While that level of pattern control primarily benefits monitor mixer Guerin and the band, at FOH, Butcher describes “an added punch.” The snare sound emerging from the kit is “just wonderful,” Butcher adds. “Everything sounds much more direct.” He notes that he and system Perttu Korteniemi, who use d&b Y10P speakers as FOH desk monitors have, “on several occasions, gone to turn them off, only to discover they were already off — and what we’re hearing is the main system.”

Tony Wooliscroft photo courtesy Claypaky

‡‡         Big, Big Mixes

From an audio perspective, this show is huge. The FOH and monitor consoles (both now DiGiCo SD7s from Entec — Brown Note had provided SD12 desks for the North American shows) are maxed out at 192 inputs. Plus, there is an SD11B deployed for the shout system and monitoring for the playback and the keys tech. “He can monitor off the Optoloop rather than the submix of something,” notes Butcher, “so he can see all the individual channels off the Optoloop. Furthermore, we have a [Waves] LV1 that the RF guy uses to monitor all his RF; that’s on a patch from the SD11 to get the channels to him.”

The stage is also as packed as the mixing consoles. In addition to Albarn, who’s on guitar and grand piano, there is a drummer, a percussionist, a bassist, guitarist, two keys players, six background vocalists and, for a show in London, five-piece brass and string sections. Every show is recorded using 128 inputs and a DiGiGrid MGB running off two MADI streams at 48kHz. It would not be possible, both engineers concur, without the SD7s.

“With this sort of sized show, we have to be on top of things,” Butcher explains. “Dave [Guerin] writes the spec, and we all add to it. Rack-wise, we have three SD racks and one [DiGiCo] Orange Box, and that’s got two MADI outs — it is the digital in for the keys and tracks, and sends for record. So we’re patched for that as well.

“I’m also running a Waves SoundGrid package on an external rack, but I love a lot of the internal stuff, too; I love the dynamics and multiband compressor on the SD7, and I am using the Waves stuff for things like distorted snares, a gated fuzzbox with reverbs… basically all the daft stuff.”

Guerin also uses much of the internal processing within the SD7. “I have a couple of [Empirical Labs] Distressors, which are great for limiting vocals, then everything else is coming from the console, and all the FX and processing is great. I’ve got 30 stereo mixes and 20 monos. All the ears are stereo, the sidefills and front wedges are stereo, and you can do BVs left, right, and front, and Damon’s vocal sits in the middle. Everything sounds better in stereo, and it gives him that bit more space, too.”

The DiGiCo SD7 at FOH is joined by one at monitors.

‡‡         Touring Without a Net

Butcher’s willingness to take out a new P.A. system purely on spec amounted to a leap of faith. But although he had never actually heard it in use, he had “heard from people who were at Glastonbury where d&b beta tested it.” And, he adds, “when d&b say they have a new system and that it’s cardioid way down, then, of course I’m interested.

“We had one day to listen to it before the first show,” Butcher continues. “We did our normal playback sound check off the desk, and immediately it sounded very clean, very clear and very near. As I said, we use the Y10P monitors to set what is pretty much a broadcast mix, and then put it through the system.”

System tech Perttu Korteniemi, Butcher adds, “has been very swayed by this experience and thinks the system is excellent, and he is very sharp on the detail. A good example of just how effective the GSL is comes from the audience mics: typically positioned where they are, you’d normally experience that low/mid quagmire. But no, they are much cleaner. Overall, I’ve got 12- to 15-dB of headroom — not unexpected from a system this size for these rooms. Even so, it’s still very impressive. The LF from the flown system is just incredible.”

Guerin on monitors is equally enthused. “I can now actually hear things in my local wedge that was just not possible before. Things like the low-end of an acoustic guitar or the keyboards; those sounds would formerly have been masked by the sound coming off the back of any system. It’s so profound that there have been gigs where I’ve called up Matt out front on talkback and asked if he’s okay, because from where I’m sitting, it sounds like the P.A. is turned off.”

Mavis Staples and Pusha T performed with the band last year.

‡‡         Not Just for Stadiums

The GSL is a large-format P.A. system, and Brown Note recognized this when they made the purchase. “Although it is perceived as a stadium scale system, size and weight is not an issue,” says Shapiro. “We could see good application for it on the arena circuit, so the Gorillaz tour made perfect sense.

“In the hands of Matt, the GSL has proved phenomenal,” Shapiro adds. “There is no one better at FOH and no better tour to try it out — he really does it justice,” Shapiro adds. “With the [2017] European leg of the tour now complete, the GSL has shipped to the U.S., and this amazing new system is already available to our U.S. clients.”

Brown Note supplied d&b J and V series along with DiGiCo SD12’s last year before the setup moved to a d&b GSL system driven by SD7’s.

Gorillaz Humanz Tour

CREW

  • Sound Cos: Brown Note Productions (North American tour leg); Entec Sound & Lighting (U.K./Europe)
  • FOH Engineer: Matt Butcher
  • Monitor Engineer: Dave Guerin
  • System Tech: Perttu Korteniemi
  • RF Tech/Brown Note rep: Ben Shapiro
  • Audio Stage Tech: James “Kedge” Kerridge
  • Stage Right P.A. & Crew Chief: Johnny Winkler
  • Stage Left P.A.: Michael Leikvold
  • Production Manager: Joel Stanley
  • Tour Manager: Craig Duffy
  • Lighting Designer: Matt Pitman

P.A. GEAR

  • Mains: d&b audiotechnik GSL
  • Side Fills: d&b audiotechnik V-Series

FOH GEAR

  • Consoles: DiGiCo SD7; SD11B
  • Outboard: Waves SoundGrid rack, (3) SD Racks
  • Drive: d&b DS10 Dante/Network Bridges

MONITOR GEAR

  • Console: DiGiCo SD7
  • Outboard: Empirical Labs Distressors
  • Near Fields: d&b V10Ps
  • IEM Hardware: Shure PSM 1000
  • Vocal Mics: Shure UR4D+ with SM58 heads

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