By Cat Strom.
Grammy-Award winning artist Drake toured his record breaking Boy Meets World tour around Australia and New Zealand. As a massive influence in the hip-hop and contemporary music space and the most streamed artist on Spotify and Apple Music, Drake has never not been in the Hot 100 charts since debuting in the Billboard Hot 100 in 2009.
The photos of his tour overseas looked promising but often budget constraints sees production cut down when a tour travels to Australasia. Time and time again, I visit shows expecting the technical wonder I’d already read about only to find a poor replica.
Drake decided to go the other way, turning his end stage show into a massive in the round spectacular just for Australasia. Several elements were retained but essentially it is a new production that is incredibly generous for only nine shows.
Technically, it’s an amazing piece of work with fireworks, light cages, 1000 kinetic glowing LED balls undulating in time with the music, and a giant globe for Drake to run around, to help remind us of the tour’s title: Boy Meets World.
The production set up was built in Las Vegas a few weeks ago and after some exhaustive programming, everything was shipped over in two 747 aircrafts and onto a fleet of thirty plus trucks. The system was tried, tested, and brought to life in a giant hanger not far from Las Vegas by Drake’s Tour Director and Designer, Steve Kidd, and Lighting Director and Designer, Guy Pavelo. They’ve both worked with Drake for more than five years to deliver the most hectic stage designs and to achieve the most non-tourable productions.
“Drake is at the point where it’s not about the dollar,” commented Guy. “It’s about the image, the progression of his career and of his brand. He wants the best. This time everything is out in the open. Drake loves the super clean, sharp line approach on everything so there’s so many effects coming from different angles that nobody will know where they’re coming from.”
Lighting fixture placement was tricky due to the gap required in the middle of the stage for the inflatable globe and of course, all of the Stage Kinetic/Glow Motion Technology LED balls that have been stealing the limelight.
The Glow Motion balls emit quite a bit of light and in some numbers they are the only fixture switched on and there is plenty of light. Most of the kinetic numbers see the balls run at 50% especially as patterns read better at a lower intensity.
The kinetic spheres are a collaborative project between Stage Kinetik and Glow Motion Technologies, who supplied the spheres which are actually two different components: the physical plastic sphere and the LED chip inside. The winch elements are from Stage Kinetik although Glow Motion Technologies handled acquiring all the necessary elements of assembly.
“In the past we had all of the lighting mixed within the globes, but in this format weight can be a problem so we keep the kinetic trusses as light as possible with only SGM XC-5 LED strobes inside. We’re basically at maximum capacity through Australia with our weight.”
Consequently Guy placed most of his fixtures around the perimeter of the stage but that did leave a large black hole in the centre.
“We would love to place a truss right down the centre but because of the inflatable, we can’t,” he said. “We have the diamond truss in the middle and all the Icons on the floor which really help surround and evolve the show, ending up a core element.”
The sixty-four PRG Icon Beams on the floor coupled with the seventy-six new PRG Icon Edge fixtures in the air around the perimeter work together very well. The diamond truss in the centre held PRG BestBoy HP’s as well as some GLP JDC1 strobes. More JDC1 strobes and High End SolaSpot 2000 fixtures were also located on the outer ring.
“We’ve been using PRG for quite some time and they really look after us,” said Guy. “They go the extra mile to ensure we have what we want.”
For 99% of the show Drake in onstage alone, working the large space with a lot of effortless sprinting around. It’s a bit of a nightmare for the PRG Ground Control operators who certainly have their jobs cut out for them.
Guy worked closely with Strictly FX to create a laser system that actually tracks the information from the kinetic and follows those along.
“We actually trace the laser into all the balls and patterns as they move,” he said. “However we’re not quite ready to give up all our secrets as to how we did it! We wanted to have a visual tracker; with the winches we can track up and down but the problem is air current especially when the balls are suspended on a thin wire. We wrote a lot of custom software to accelerate the information and actually align the systems back into place.”
Strictly FX supplied twenty15w Arctos lasers, ten 6w Arctos lasers and eight 3w laser audience scanners. The lasers are programmed in Pangolin Beyond but are triggered out of the grandMA2 console as is the kinetic, lighting, and video. The only element not triggered by the grandMA2 are the three lifts in the stage.
In Europe the grandMA2 was dealing with 140+ universe of information and the system began to slow down. MA suggested using a third ‘driving’ console as a final compiler that the stream comes out of so it has the high CPU rate and no glitches.
“The guys at MA are always there to teach you something new and they have helped us out a lot,” said Guy. “We worked closely with MA Lighting to evolve the kinetic elements and build new objects that MA can utilize and relate to, to make the kinetic spheres work in 3D.
“The in the round set up is totally different to an end stage. Some looks you may only understand the pattern if you’re to the side of the stage, some you need to be north or south and others everyone can understand.”
Previously, Drake’s tours have been very video driven but this was quite a departure for him. There were four I-mag LED screens located on each corner of the truss that were constructed by 224 x Galaxia Winvision GL12 LED tiles. The stage was wrapped in 372 x Roe MC-7H 7mm LED tiles. Projection was by eight Christie 4K 30k Boxer projectors with a Panasonic AV-HS450 switcher and five Grass Valley LDX 80 Cameras (two hand held and three with 99x long lens).
The show builds starting with just lighting, then adding the balls and finally the lasers. The show finishes with the inflatable globe and everything else is switched off including the follow spots. It’s just Drake lit by the projection on the globe and hundreds of mobile phones.
The inspiration for the globe came from an art installation that happened in Toronto called Death of the Sun, a 45-ft round sphere on top of a projection-mapped pedestal over a 12 to 15 minute progression on the different stages of the sun. Fortunately, the creator had worked with Drake before, so one phone call secured the ideas and the original needed to get the ball rolling. The eight Christie projectors, four double-stacks in quadrant, drive the globe itself with d3 and Blacktrax to map and track the ball as it’s inflated during the show, so Guy can realign and hit it completely.
Demetrius Moore is the kind of FOH guy who is as cool as the act, hangs out with the act and, according to the lighting crew, waltzes into the venue at the last moment! Joking aside, he pulled off a thumping big sound in difficult circumstances.
“I’d had some experience of doing sound in the round,” he remarked. “I was the monitor tech for an in the round Prince tour and seeing and hearing how the PA was set up, I was able to prepare myself and know, years later, where I’m going with it.”
Demetrius said his biggest hurdle was that his FOH location is different at each venue. With the subs only pointing east and west and Demetrius usually positioned to the north or south of the stage, he has no subs pointing directly at him.
“We have to steer the subs to fill the whole room which is a bit of a challenge but Arno, my FOH tech, is great at low end,” added Demetrius. “I can’t take credit for it, he has dialed that in to a thunderous, booming low end and I don’t even miss having subs at north or south.”
There were forty-eight pant-shaking B22 subs on the floor, sixteen stacks of three high. The d&b audiotechnik PA was very wide due to the design of the show, having speaker cabinets amongst the balls or in the centre just would not have worked or looked right. There were ten hangs, eight of which are twenty deep d&b J8 cabinets and hung four a side east and west. In the centre are two smaller hangs of eight d&b V8s to cover anywhere missed north and south. There were also four d&b Y10P centrefills and eight d&b Q7 stretchfills.
“The d&b is great for this design particularly because of its weight and size,” said Demetrius. “You come and you see the picture of the show, you actually miss the PA so it really ties in together. Our aim was for a big sound but it had to look aesthetically great and tie into the show. I can’t tell you how many emails, phone calls and meetings we had about PA placement – but in the end it is perfect and I’m totally happy.”
Demetrius ran the show on a DiGiCo SD7 with an Ableton computer rig for his vocal effects coming through a MOTU 112D digital from the computer back into the SD7 for reverbs, delays and special effects.
“Drake uses a Sennheiser 9000 microphone fed to me digitally at 96K, and my SD7 is 96K but I do have a little secret source of the Avalon VT-737 to give it warmth of the analogue,” added Demetrius. “There are no other outboard effects, everything is done in Ableton … I have some UAD plugins, a couple of tc electronic plugins, Waves H-Delay, Soundtoys EchoBoy and MaxxBass for Waves plugins. I also use one Ableton delay; the Ping Pong delay which is great and an AMS RMS 16 reverb from UAD.”
Demetrius commented that Drake has great mic technique, that the vocal chain has been set and has been that way no matter what stage configuration or set up is being used. If he’s in front of the PA or behind it, he still delivers the same.
On previous tours, Drake has spent much of the show performing in front of the PA and spill into his microphone was always a threat. In this set up, the PA does not bleed onto the stage as much which makes it better for him and Demetrius said that with this design, they are all working a little less.
Monitor world was located in the bowels of the stage with Sean Sturge from AK Sound also running a DiGiCo SD7.
Eighth Day Sound were the local sound production company.