Dusk, down the seafront at Brighton’s annual Great Escape. The familiar late afternoon mix of beery students, cheeky seagulls and families gobbling chips has been dispersed by a chilly breeze and an unpredictable sky. How’s the festival been so far for Traction Sound’s Jonny Goodwillie?
“I got soaked yesterday,” he begins. “After loading in two venues in the rain, I got drenched by a taxi hitting a pothole. A good way to round off the morning!”
Things could be a lot worse for the former DJ. After all, this is the first year Brighton Sound System (BSS), the PA hire he co-runs alongside his loudspeaker business Traction, has been asked to participate in the annual music-showcasing, town-spanning, sleep-prohibiting event. (Pictured, courtesy of Tony Ackroyd, is Hooton Tennis Club on the BBC Introducing stage.)
PSNEurope readers may recall interviews with head of production, Jon Crawley of C3 Productions, last year and three years ago (see Escape to the coast: TGE 2014). Crawley oversees three days and nights of The Great Escape (TGE), whereby dozens of venues host hundreds of upcoming bands, while record label execs flitter between them in attempt to spot bankable talent.
For the 2015 edition, Crawley has engaged Goodwillie’s crew to supply a sound system for the BBC Introducing stage at beachside club Shooshh and Carousel's fish and chips shop next door; BSS is also engineering the sound for nearby subterranean hangout The Hub.
The chip shop job is a one-night-only ‘pop-up’ venue, an increasingly common occurrence at TGE, says Goodwillie.
“There’s the Alternative Escape – fringe events which are mostly free – but there are also ‘alternative’ Alternative events popping up too! It reminds me of the first time I went to SXSW [South by Southwest, another talent showcase], where people were setting up on the corner of the street, using any venue they could. It’s getting more exciting!”
Traction Sound launched four years ago at PLASA. “That’s how it started, by making speakers for our little hire company, Brighton Sound System,” explains Goodwillie. “That’s a great way of marketing and road-testing our speakers: using them hard, lifting them, seeing if they’ve got enough handles and in the right places. There’s no better way of testing a product than putting it on the road for six months before we take it to market.
“But, almost accidentally, we seem to be quite good at it! The hire company is rapidly expanding and people love the speakers!”
Goodwillie (picturedright) notes how, ahead of the interview, the head of FatCat Records had been in Shooshh a few minutes previously, listening to his new signing C Duncan, and had remarked how both the speakers and sound the engineering were “amazing” and couldn’t have come at a more important time. “So that’s a big tick!” smiles Goodwillie.
The Traction rig for the Introducing stage comprises two single 18s per side, plus two 12” mid-tops per side, each with the SDS (soft dome source) tweeter, “which is what Traction’s all about,” adds Goodwillie. “A pretty simple set-up, but we have to rig and de-rig everyday because it opens as a club after the last band.”
Powersoft amps power the Traction speakers; there’s a Yamaha LS9-32 console in the mix position, and Traction Kodiak 12” monitors around the stage.
The ‘chip shop’ rig is smaller: two single 18s per side but only one pair of 12” mid-tops. “And our new Allen & Heath Qu desk. We bought a 24 and a 16, and we love ‘em! Fresh out of the box, it’s a really nice-sounding desk for the money, perfect for a lot of the jobs we do. We don’t need 32 channels and super expensive tech-spec stuff: we hire that in if we need it.”
Along the shingle at the Hub, BSS are only on engineering duties, though Goodwillie reckons he spotted an old Traction Zeus bass bin alongside the battered Funktion One Res 2s.
Maybe next year, Traction will be supplying more systems to TGE?
“We’re investing heavily in our Traction Raptor rig, that’s three new boxes: the twin 21”, a twin 18” and a new three-way biamped mid-top – we should be able to do 5,000-6,000 capacity venues by the end of the summer.”
Raptor employs six Powersoft K10 DSP amps, “which are beasts. We love them, we use their Class-D modules through all of the active systems.” Goodwillie notes how the Italian company has been supportive of Traction from the start. “They saw that we were trying to innovate with the horn and the soft domes. And they are independent like us.”
Social media watchers may be aware that the last time PSNEurope met with Goodwillie, it was when he’d invited to participate in an infrasonic installation at Tate Britain (see Traction Sound brings the living dead to the Tate). Traction delivered three bass bins for the event, only to find that certain frequencies, played at any kind of volume, made the windows rattle. “There was a weird 40Hz shockwave went down the gallery while we were setting up, and the Tate were a bit worried about it.
“Still, we didn’t destroy any priceless works of art.” Things really could have been much, much worse for the former DJ, then…