PLASA Focus Leeds review: 'People come here from all over the country because of its location'

Something about PLASA Focus Leeds brings together the UK pro audio industry like nowhere else, discovers Phil Ward...
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A trade show is where those tangential, elliptical and just plain oblong relationships continue: where bases are touched and breezes are shot. Nowhere is this more plain than PLASA Focus Leeds, where the typical reading of the craic is this from Justin Grealy, FOH and monitor engineer and Soulsound tutor: “People come here from all over the country because of its location. That’s not the case with London or Glasgow, which are much more localised. And… it’s not grim up North! I’m a Nottingham lad, and I like coming here despite what happened to Brian Clough…”

For the uninitiated, Clough was a highly successful football manager in Nottingham and a complete failure in Leeds, in which case the contrast with PLASA Focus is well chosen.

Rob Hughes, UK sales manager at Cadac, was busy showing the new compact CDC five and the flagship CDC seven-s. “It’s one of the best shows we do,” he declared. “It has a really good quality of punter, and I think that’s because the ‘Focus’ of it is on the product. There are no big, fancy show stands – all there is to see is the people from the exhibitor and the products they choose to bring. For us, as a console manufacturer, we see that people just want to come and touch the surfaces and play with the console. That’s all they need to do.”

According to Tuomo Tolonen, director of the pro audio group at Shure Distribution UK, “this is one of the trade shows we come to most regularly. People will have noticed that we’ve skipped other trade shows in the recent past, but this one is genuinely valuable. I love the fact that we can have a small, shell-scheme stand and not have to build something big and impressive. We can just put some product on it and that’s it. It’s all about the people that come and talk to us – that’s why we love coming here”.

“This show really works in the evening, when you’ve got all the different stands mingling with the visitors after hours,” believes Andy Dockerty, MD of full service rental company Adlib. “We do most of our business at this time. During the day, it’s a phenomenal opportunity to show off to all the students from all the colleges that are here, and if you come with that mindset it’s a really positive event. The fact that it’s so small keeps it highly sociable, and the fact that it’s highly sociable actually breeds business between all the various resellers, bands and punters.

“We’re renowned as a very student-friendly company as well, so it’s great to see so many of them on the stands. You might arrange a few meetings to coincide with the show, but really it’s about how we might pick up the next young engineer, someone who wants to do some work experience. We have a similar experience in Glasgow, probably for all the same reasons.”

On the Sennheiser UK stand, sales director for pro audio solutions Simon Holley stood beneath a simple message that said: “Evolution wireless G4: evolving with you”. He himself said: “It’s always a very good show for us at Sennheiser. We find that we’ve got the whole industry represented here; all of our dealers come and visit us; and it’s a great place to show off our product – especially this year with the launch of the evolution wireless G4 and the recent Digital 6000 system. Attendance has been brilliant and we’ve had some really good conversations. On our calendar, this show is marked as one of the most important, worldwide.”

“It gives us a great opportunity to take products to our customers in the North of England, albeit a small amount – enough to enable us to meet new people as well as old friends,” added Bill Woods, director of business development at Funktion One. “It’s convenient, relatively inexpensive and a good time of year for us: I haven’t seen anyone we saw at Frankfurt. PLASA Focus people don’t go to Frankfurt.”

But it wasn’t all British: apart from DAS Audio from Spain, you could find Finland’s highly active Aura Audio – a PLASA debutant in 2014, a Glasgow regular and into a second year at Leeds. Founder Mika Isotalo regards the UK as a very important market, even as Aura strikes key deals in Spain, Portugal, Romania and Hungary.

“At the moment there’s a really good vibe here,“ he commented. “Our Manchester-based rep, Dominic Stafford who owns Sixth Sound, and our Irish dealer AVL Systems are both doing really well and Leeds is an obvious rendezvous.

“It’s great for networking and there are no big expectations; we’re seeing concert promoters and installers who seem open to something new, like Aura. Apparently the weather in Glasgow affected some people in January – but being Finnish we didn’t even notice it!”

There was even a genuine global product launch: EM Acoustics unveiled the EMS-41, an ultra-compact addition to the EMS Series sporting a coaxial design, EM’s signature passive crossover and a “sober appearance”. Unlike Brian Clough, then. 

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