Johnston Audio has a proven record supplying audio for major festivals such as Big Day Out, Homebake, Livid and so it was no surprise that they were appointed as the audio supplier for Australia’s biggest winter music festival Splendour in the Grass.
In it’s third year Splendour in the Grass has become a major event on the New South Wales north coast attracting 12,500 people. Tickets sold out within three weeks of their release. The celebrated alternative rock festival brings together local and international bands at beautiful Byron Bay for two days of music and camping bliss. This year the festival arguably scored its best line-up yet with bands like Powderfinger, The Living End and Coldplay gracing the bill.
The site, in the Belongil Fields, consists of two main venues as well as bars, lounge bars and market stalls. The Supertop, an eight-pole tent that is eighty metres long and holds around 8,000 people, holds the main stage where acts such as Powderfinger and Coldplay performed. The Mix-Up Tent, a hard-core dance venue, is a forty-two metre round tent.
Bruce Johnston, who has mixed front of house for bands such as Crowded House, Oasis and silverchair, was in charge of audio production for the festival. Johnston Audio, based in Melbourne, transported all the audio equipment for the Supertop, and Mix-Up Tent and a smaller dance area whilst hiring smaller systems from a local company for the rest of the production.
As the festival has grown in prominence, the organisers decided to switch their audio supplier and with the Australian winter a traditionally quiet time for production companies, to secure a gig such as this is a welcome bonus.
“In world terms it’s still a relatively small festival although I believe it will keep growing,” said Johnston. “This is the first year they’ve added such popular international bands to the line up and, as a result, they wanted to try a larger audio company that has more experience with these acts.”
Unfortunately the heavens opened and it rained for the entire three days of the festival although Johnston reports that the sunshine reappeared as they were loading out! Consequently mud was the biggest problem with the venues turning into something of a mud bath. Most festivals in Australia are held in the open air so at least the main venues were under canvas. Of course the one leak was right above the mixer but that was soon fixed!
Knowing some of the acts on the bill, Johnston opted for a ‘beefy’ PA system in the Supertop consisting of ten Nexo M3, two Nexo M8 and 12 Nexo B1 cabinets a side plus eight Nexo S2 subs a side.
“The power was quite loud although it didn’t run to it’s maximum,” added Johnston. “Everyone commented on the size of the PA - we had more equipment than specified with us so we just stacked it up until we ran out of room! I know we had more PA than was needed but I just wanted everyone to have a good time.
“For such a difficult venue the sound was surprisingly good. A lot of the bands are fairly hard core and they were quite loud but other bands such as John Butler Trio and Placebo sounded very clean. The festival is unique in that there are no sound restrictions and so the bands that wanted to be loud were really in their element.”
Powderfinger had toured with Johnston Audio before using a Nexo system whilst Coldplay use V-Dosc and Placebo are an EAW act. In fact Johnston were also supplying the Placebo Australian tour with an EAW rig. And with their mind on future work, Johnston made sure they really looked after the various acts.
“Placebo wanted a Heritage 3000 on monitors and we became their new best friends for supplying them with one!” laughed Johnston. “I’ve just returned from playing overseas festivals with silverchair and I found that in Europe the audio companies always supply a lot of gear and really look after you. In Australia, as a FOH engineer, I’ve often been disappointed with the festival systems supplied. We have enough in-house gear to spoil everybody and secure the event for us in the future.”
Whilst the ‘festival board’ was a Yamaha PM4000, Powderfinger, who headlined the first night, had a separate system consisting of a Heritage 3000 and copious amounts of DBX compressors and effects. On the second night a Yamaha PM1D digital console was used out front just for Placebo whilst the Heritage 3000 moved on stage to do monitors. Coldplay bought in their own consoles - a Midas XL4 at FOH and a Heritage 3000 for monitors.
Johnston has a standard effects rack he deploys for festivals consisting of twelve channels of compressor, a mix of BSS and dbx, and eight Drawmer noise gates. Added to that are three or four multi effects units and a delay with a Lexicon included.
“The Nexo is run out of a BSS Sound Web that distributes multiple zones to the Nexo and also splits the processors up so it can control the PA a lot easier,” explained Johnston. “You can control the high, mid, low and sub boxes all from the FOH because the Nexo runs with a processor that has to be in the rack. It saves us from having to go down the front to try adjusting levels. We also have a summing box and all the consoles sum into that.”
Johnston first used a Nexo system on overseas festivals when he was mixing for Oasis who have a reputation for playing very loud. Johnston soon realised that whenever the band used a Nexo system the guitar and vocal sound was particularly good. He was also impressed by its small size and light weight.
“One of my good friends had just got the agency for Nexo in Australia and I was one of the first to buy the product in such a large quantity,” Johnston said. “It has been very good for us particularly at festivals. It also has a good international presence – SSE, who supply the major UK festivals, own stacks of it – so a lot of bands know what to expect.”
The Mix-Up tent had a mixture of DJ’s and dance-related live bands such as Goldfrapp. Whilst the change overs in the Supertop were only fifteen minutes, in the Mix-Up tent they were an hour because guest DJ’s played the gaps. PA consisted of eight Martin Wavefront W8C and twelve WSX cabinets whilst the FOH console was a Midas XL200 and a Midas XL3 as the monitor console
“The Martin Wavefront sub really boots along for that sort of music and shakes your body,” said Johnston. “It’s a totally different sound to the Nexo however we did have some Nexo Alpha E’s for side fill as they’re really good for dance music.”