Rene van der Linden: Say you want a (sound) revolution16 July 2014
Graduating from playing guitar in a “strictly non-professional” rock band, to pioneering the then-nascent L-Acoustics brand at StagePro, to his current role as audio systems account manager at Sales-All and Rent-All, Rene van der Linden is synonymous with the Dutch live sound industry.
But it is for his long association with L-Acoustics’ groundbreaking V-DOSC line array system that he is perhaps most highly fêted. Introduced in 1993, the V-DOSC’s reliability and highly targeted coverage capabilities have led to it earning an enduring profile in dance, rock, classical… indeed, pretty much any genre you care to mention.
For the , Rene (pictured) agreed to look back on his 40-year career in live sound – one that he is happy to admit has been blessed with its fair share of happy accidents…
How did you come to be working in live sound?
I had been playing guitar in a band called Warlock in the late ‘70s – on a strictly amateur basis, I might add! – and had been looking to purchase a larger, more professional PA for our gigs. A conversation in my local music store in Utrecht led to a recommendation that I seek out a then-new rental and sales company called Ampco, from whom I purchased my first Martin Audio PA system. I really struck up a rapport with the Ampco team and that ultimately led to my first role at a PA company, working mainly in the flightcase department, from 1978.
Having been in my own band, it was fascinating to ‘cross the fence’, as it were, go into the real world and start working with some famous names. But by the mid-1980s, I was ready to see if I could do other things in pro audio. Around 1987, I happened to have an enlightening conversation with Ed Wijnker, founder of a loudspeaker company based in Hoorn called Stage Accompany, which was really starting to produce some very high-end systems. Wijnker was in the process of establishing a network of companies to support the Stage Accompany brand, and that led to my company, [sales/rental operation] StageShop (part of the Stage Accompany Franchise group), fulfilling this function in the Netherlands. Over the next few years, we involved the Stage Accompany products in a number of great projects – including an installation at [legendary concert and cultural venue] the Melkweg in Amsterdam and a tour with [German power metal band] Helloween.
Although this was an exciting period, it was arguably only a warm-up for your all-important 1991 encounter with a certain French loudspeaker brand…
The boss of Chevin Research, Martin Clinch, with whom we had been working as a distributor, recommended that we go and listen to the loudspeakers developed by a new company based out of Paris… and that turned out to be L-Acoustics.
In the meantime, you had founded pro audio company StagePro with partner Ben Brouwers, with whom you had already worked with Stage Accompany…
As luck would have it, StagePro was in a period of transition at that point. We didn’t want to carry on with Stage Accompany for various reasons, and were considering working with the d&b brand instead. So we went to Paris for a demo, where we encountered a system comprising four boxes, hung underneath each other, which was very unusual at that time. We were invited to walk back about 50 metres from the boxes, they turned on the sound… and wow! We were astonished. It was the V-DOSC system in its earliest incarnation and we knew right away that it was going to be a revolution in pro audio.
What was it about the system that so impressed you, and how quickly did StagePro start to serve as a network partner?
Dispersion, coverage, quality and overall impact of sound… it was just so clearly steps ahead of what we had heard up until then. But there were a couple of factors that prevented us working with the brand right away: firstly, the system wasn’t completely finished; and secondly, [L-Acoustics founder] Christian Heil had not at that point decided whether to rent it himself or supply via a European network. In the end, he decided upon the latter, and we started to work as a network partner about two years later.
These were still early days for L-Acoustics, but was there a specific event when you thought, “Ah, this system is really starting to break through”?
Yes – the Escape dance event in Amsterdam, which was really one of the Netherlands’ first dance music shows, in about 1993 or ’94. We had agreed to trial the system in the main hall so went along, set up the PA and went out for dinner. A short while later, we received a call from the organisers asking when we were going to build up the PA. On telling them it was fully in place, they couldn’t believe it! They were used to a wall of speakers and found it hard to accept that we could get the necessary sound with just four or five boxes per side. But we assured them, the show went ahead with that configuration, and everyone was just knocked out! So many people told us they had never heard sound like it before.
Dance event systems at the time were mainly conventional stacked PAs, and while they were OK for their time it was obvious the L-Acoustics system was light years ahead. So, with our first investment in two V- systems, we rapidly started securing work at major pop and dance events. Nowadays, the L-Acoustics V-DOSC and K1 systems [are] the worldwide dance standard.
As we expected, the system quickly started to be regarded as an industry standard. And when Westfalen Sound [now part of the POOL Group] bought a V-DOSC rig and took it out on the road with Supertramp, it really started to cross over on a global level.
The system consistency guaranteed by the L-Acoustics Rental Network, which allowed easy cross-rental, clearly played a decisive role in building the brand’s reputation. What are your definitive tour/event memories from this period?
There were so many great tours and one-off shows from that time: David Bowie, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tiesto… What I recall in particular, though, was how quickly [V-DOSC] also achieved traction for classical music and opera. The reliability and consistency of the system were the key factors, and La Traviata at Ahoy Rotterdam and Aida and Carmen at Amsterdam Arena were among the great productions that spring to mind.
2007 turned out to be a landmark year for StagePro, when it was merged into Rent-All. What prompted the move?
There was already very close cooperation between the two companies, which were both clearly working at a high-end level. I think that, as StagePro, we also realised that a new generation of systems was on the way and that it would be almost impossible for us to make the necessary investment on our own. Christmas 2007 wasn’t much fun, as we basically spent most of it deciding whether to go ahead and [consequently] lose our own brand name, but we had a good feeling about the merger and that has turned out to be correct. Seven years later, business is great and there is no doubt that we simply could not have got as far on our own.
With operations in Germany and Focus Amsterdam, Rent-All and sister company Sales-All have an increasingly strong profile across Europe. But what do you make of the overall health of the PA market?
I’d say there are several key trends at work. For sure, the market is becoming more competitive and budgets are more important, but the industry as a whole is also more professional. With Sales-All as a certified sales provider and systems integrator for L-Acoustics in the Netherlands, and Rent-All for the rental part of the business, our focus [with regard to maintaining competitiveness] is on ensuring even better quality. The fact that we were right in our thinking was recently confirmed by a prestigious contract for a whole new PA system for the Eindhoven-based Frits Philips Music Center. But whatever progress is made, experience tells me that there is always more that can be done!