Half-walking, half-running through Brighton’s back streets, Jon Crawley dodges tourists, music fans and the occasional performer as he heads to the Dr Martens shoe store.
“I want to check out the queue management,” he says. Pulled Apart by Horses are doing a turn in the ‘pop-up’ venue, and Crawley is concerned as “we’re expecting a lot of kids there, and we didn’t do a road closure. They are a big act to get into a 30-capacity shop…”
When we arrive outside, there’s nothing to worry about. Both the stewards and the fans not lucky enough to squeeze onto the premises are perfectly at ease. The band will perform again later, in the Corn Exchange, so not to worry… and, anyway, The Great Escape offers more than enough alternative entertainment on this Friday night.
It was two years ago when PSNEurope met technical manager Jon Crawley (pictured below) during the annual TGE music conference and festival. For the 2014 edition, he has a lot more to manage: with the fringe acts, the number of bands appearing over TGE’s three days has increased to around the 400 mark, while the number of venues across Brighton has swollen too, supposedly increasing audience capacity by around 1,000.
“We’ve 27 core venues – five ‘alternative’ Escape venues, which we’re now managing as though they are core – plus one-off pop-ups like the Spiegeltent.” This is a marquee, stage and bar constructed on a grassy public space not far from the famous pier. It’s proved to be a popular spot with the festival’s delegates, and adds an Oktoberfest-like vibe to proceedings. “That’s been really positive – like having a greenfield site in the middle of the town,” says Crawley.
Reflecting on his vision of two years ago – when he talked about setting up a mini-trade show of sorts for the pro-audio business alongside the festival – Crawley says: “In the end, the policy of the festival is to focus on the music, so we had to look at that and focus on promoting the festival and the artists to the industry. We still have a relationship with the pro-audio brands, but it’s not as we discussed it might become.”
The profile of TGE, run by the MAMA Group, has grown internationally, he explains. More agents want their acts on the bill, and that has required a slicker operation. “We have a core team that fly over from [US music showcase] SXSW, and the two festivals are managed in a similar style, especially on the ground: everything’s been tightened up – modelling of flashpoints, roaming teams, an updated noise management plan, so that’s a lot more robust…”
Have the rules on noise become tougher? “I think [the authorities] have a better idea of what is classed as a ‘nuisance’…” In Brighton, of all places? You’d think they’d have had a pretty good idea years ago. Crawley laughs. “But second day in, we’ve not had a single noise complaint,” he continues, “and that when we have a lot more outdoor activity than before.”
Crawley’s PA rental outfit is C3, who have worked closely with MAMA for some time now. The productive relationship will see C3 manage five stages at the Lovebox festival in London’s Victoria Park in July, and they are in talks about other events. Plus, C3 will supply a stage at Bestival on the Isle of Wight this summer.
“We’ve really focused on pro-audio and production management this year, and having that clear direction as helped. We’re recruiting for a client manager for corporate communications: we already do a number of conferences, but that’s a side we are investing in and hope to grow, to fill in the quiet times. We want to give our guys work all through the year.”
Once again, TGE has been a magnet for all the sound engineers in the area. “Everyone who can push a fader up – even some who can’t, it seems…!” he laughs. “Since we last spoke, [C3] has started a work experience scheme with two of the local colleges, BIMM (Brighton Institute of Modern Music) and Northbrook [College in Worthing]. They send us students every two weeks, they learn how to prep jobs, build PA systems, shadow our engineer, etc., as part of their college course. That’s been a really positive experience, as we’ve met some really good young people who are intelligent and enthusiastic. This summer, C3 will cherry-pick “guys who’ve been exceptional, and take them to the festivals”. Five technical students are working The Great Escape as we speak.
How has the equipment inventory changed since 2012? “We’ve focused on L-Acoustics as our main PA – that’s [KARA] in the Corn Exchange tonight.” An Avid Profile has added to the mix, too. But C3’s main focus has been an investment in “a lot of lights. For a lot of our corporate shows we were having to hire lights. High-powered LEDs, hazers and dimmers, control software. We bought ourselves a lighting desk! We’re going towards that one-stop shop thinking, but audio remains our passion, and where most of our events are based.”
“We recently acquired a Turbosound monitor system – that’s in the Corn Exchange,” says Crawley. There follows a short off-the-record discussion regarding the weight the brand now carries. “Everyone still agrees their wedges are still very good,” he states. “They are loud and powerful, they look corporate too, so that was a good investment.” KARA inventory will increase later in the year, he says, in readiness for the summer programme.
C3 isn’t big enough to supply all the kit required for TGE, so there are sub-hires in place to make it happen when the house system, or C3’s warehouse, won’t provide. The festival presents opportunities for smaller local firms to scoop up a venue where they can. Crawley is quick to highlight one particular venue – the Warren, one of Subfrantic’s STM undertakings – as particularly impressive. And this from an L-Acoustics fan.
(Later, Subfrantic proprietor Steve Davies tells me over email: “This is our third year running the sound at the Warren for Jon as part of the Great Escape and it’s one of my favourite shows of the year. It’s knackering with long hours and the load-in’s a bit of a bastard, but the bands that come through there are amazing and it’s a privilege to work with some of their engineers.”)
What has Crawley heard that’s impressed him, both in terms of the talent and sonically? “Cherub, from America – like deep house pop, with a real California vibe.” (Cherub played the Prince Albert pub – the one with the huge John Peel mural on the wall, Brighton fans.) “Then Little Dragon down at Coalition – the guy who was mixing did an exceptional job – he made the Turbosound club system sound like a stadium.”
For the lucky few – including the PSNEurope photographer, Tony Ackroyd – this year’s TGE staged a ‘secret’ kick-off gig for the Kaiser Chiefs’ UK tour at the Concorde 2 (pictured). “The house system: old L-Acoustics, an ARCS system. Looked and sounded great,” says Crawley.
With all these dozens of venues, and all these great sound systems, which is the one venue he would advise disenfranchised Pulled Apart fans against going to? He hesitates and won’t name it, but lets slip why: “Only because it’s furthest away…”