The dust is rising; millions of dollars in sound, video and lighting are being freighted cross-country to the middle of the desert, a young generation is stocking up on tents and tank-tops, and local electronics stores are mysteriously completely sold out of Glow sticks – it can only mean one thing. Music festival season is in the air!
These past few weeks, we’ve had the honor of leaving our mark on some of the best festivals this summer in the US and Canada: EDC, Governor’s Ball, Electric Forest, Coachella, Bonnaroo, What the Festival, Badlands, and Le Festival d’été de Québec (FEQ).
Governor’s Ball opened its gates to tens of thousands of fans on Randall Island, New York City. Here’s a shot from Front of House, sometimes known as “the best sounding seat in the house”, but only when conditions are ideal…as they were here! Can you hear it?
Bonnaroo Bonus – we got to set up The Blade backstage during Lauren Hill’s set, killin us softly with sweet melody:
Ok, take the capacity of Governor’s Ball, Bonnaroo, Electric Forest – add them together, and you’re still…not even close to the turnout at EDC this year. EDC hosted the biggest stage ever built in North America, with 130,000 attendees…every night. That’s right, almost 400,000 heads in one weekend at EDC.
Here’s what the biggest stage in North America looks like, and we played it – directly after sunset!
<Tech Talk: Delay Towers>
What you see in the picture directly above (Photo E) is known as a Delay Tower. In photos B and C, you can see more of them – all the towers with speakers hanging away from the main stage. These allow the sound field to be carried far beyond the reach of the Stage (the “Main System”) – allowing an indefinite, scaleable method of reaching as many ears as physically possible, as consistently as possible while still following the laws of physics.
For reference, our show at EDC had about 60,000 people watching our show. It’s easy to lose the scope of that number, so if it helps, think of the city of San Francisco – now take 1/11th of its residents, and put them in front of a ginormous stage in the middle of the desert, surrounded by millions of dollars in production. That was The Glitch Mob’s performance at EDC.
Now, how do you cover 1/11th of a metropolis with full, even sound? Cramming them in together like it’s 6pm in a Silicon Valley office elevator is a good start, but we’re going to have to do better than that if we want the audience to have an enjoyable sonic experience.
We’ll do what you did for your college house party, times 1000; put most of the money into the main sound system, and distribute multiple smaller sound systems throughout the living room and kitchen – sorry, mainstage dance area – aimed at strategic locations using complex prediction software (ie not just “wingin it”).
Here’s the key part: The farther “towers” from the stage need to be “delayed”, in order for the music to lock together cohesively and sound like it is from a single source, covering an absurdly long distance and multiple Delay Towers.
In other words, if everything isn’t delayed properly, it will sound like a bad slapback echo effect is playing continuously along with your favorite DJ or band, throughout the entire set, with utterly no regard to rhythmic delay or BPM.
This is because the tower needs to be delayed in milliseconds according to its distance from the main system. The speed of electricity is slightly slower than the speed of light (983,571,056 feet per second), whereas the speed of sound (also known as Mach 1) is only 1,116 feet per second (varying with temperature and air density).
The electrical signal coming from the DJ’s mixer will potentially the Main system and Delay Towers at the same time, but by the time the sound from the Main System meets with the sound of the Delay Tower, they are out of sync and sound awful. The solution? Insert a delay on your Delay Tower signal, so the two match up.
Not only do Delay Towers need to be delayed – every single speaker and cluster with one source of sound needs to be delayed relative to the farthest driver from the crowd (that is still part of the main system – the one hanging directly in front of the stage).
If it seems like a lot of work…it is. And worth it for good reason – if everything isn’t lined up perfectly, you will have a concert completely inconsistent from one standing point to the next, sounding anywhere from god awful, to merely terrible. But get your delays locked in and as if by magic (though far from it), the music will sound locked in and consistent, hitting that much harder!
I have a basic tutorial on aligning and tuning sound systems in a previous entry here.
Anyways, if you take nothing else from this portion of Tech Talk, remember this – when done right, the delay tower can often be the best sounding (or at least realistically accessible) area of the show – and you’ll still have room to dance!
If you have the option of being in front of a delay tower, or smashed between a sweaty audience member and a sweatier audience member (and yet, still being too far away from the stage to enjoy the show) I would pick the delay tower – it will likely sound better too!
A bit more EDC, since it’s so damned beautiful:
Ok, so enough EDC – what else?
Electric Forest this year could very well be an entry on its own. Actually, it will be! There’s no way I could sum up this experience in a few short sentences, especially since I stayed and camped the entire weekend, and had the time of my life!
Le Festival d’été de Québec will be a hard one to top, and for good reason – this monolithic gathering has been in the running for over 40 years, and just keeps getting bigger – last year saw Stevie Wonder, Guns n Roses, and Tiesto headlining – this year it was Lady Gaga, Journey, and Deadmau5 among others.
The Glitch Mob played directly before Deadmau5 – we all had a blast sticking around for his set after our show, the Mob included! Here was our stage, at the beginning of the day:
I supremely enjoyed Deadmau5‘s set, he recently dropped his new album While 1<2 which I’ve had on repeat. The album title refers to programming language, where While 1<2 is a way of expressing “to continuously loop”.
I have limitless respect for artists who like to “do their own thing” rather than getting too caught up in what’s perceived as “hot” these days, and Deadmau5 paves the road with a double-album full of piano breaks and cerebral dance vibes.
I highly recommend checking it out; these days, you simply can’t beat 24 high-quality tracks for only $13 on Beatport.
Stay tuned for a full Electric Forest recap – up next is more festival madness to Lollapalooza and Osheaga, followed by a full run of festivals across Europe!
Looking forward to our triumphant return across the pond – hope to see you there!