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Sziget goes live with Meyer Sound LEO

Sziget isn't your average festival; this week-long annual spectacle began life 20 years ago as a low-key student affair and is now one of Europe's largest music events. At the audio helm this year was Meyer Sound's LEO - and it was quite the talking point.

First things first, Sziget is bloody big: 1,000 bands fill 60 stages over seven days, and the daily capacity is a whopping 70,000 people. The site, too, is huge at 266 acres, and also unique: Obudai-sziget (Old Buda Island) is a real island situated bang on the river Danube in the north of the Hungarian capital Budape In 2011, Sziget won Best Major European Festival in the European Festivals Awards. The line-up for 2013 included Blur, Franz Ferdinand, Biffy Clyro, and Mika. This year also marked the 10th anniversary of Meyer Sound providing PA equipment to the festival: approximately 400 boxes were deployed over several stages, and LEO made its Sziget debut on the main stage, which has been managed since 2004 by sound designer, Károly Molnár, who says it left a lasting impression. Molnár’s company, Animative Ltd., was responsible for production management. “Every year we’ve tried to improve the system design and we’ve always been supportive of new ideas, so bringing LEO into the fray is a real leap forward; it’s a fantastic system with a huge throw, which means the audience’s experience is better than ever,” he explains.

“One of the biggest advantages in using LEO at this festival is that the music styles are so varied, and this system will work with any of them – it’s not just a rock ‘n’ roll PA. Every engineer is able to find the tonality they need, and because LEO is so linear with a flat frequency response, it’s easy to achieve, which means they can spend all their time on the console rather than have to fiddle with system settings.” @page_break@ The LEO system was provided by Polish rental house, GMB Pro Sound, with additional equipment support from UK-based Capital Sound. Adam Szczesny of GMB was on-site to oversee the rigging process.

Forty-eight LEO-M boxes were deployed in total: two hangs of 16 for the main hang, and an additional 16 for the out-hangs. A sizeable ground-stacked sub system centred around 40 1100-LFC low-frequency, which were supported by 24 700-HP subwoofers: 18 1100-LFCs were stacked per side in a two-stack, deep end-fired configuration; a line of 12 700-HPs provided centre fill; and six cardioid-configured 700-HPs were positioned underneath each of the two LEO out-hangs. All delay towers were made up of MILOs and 700-HPs. “I’ve rigged many different systems in my time, but what I’ve found when working with LEO is that because two or three people can rig the whole thing, it’s such a quick and easy process,” Szczesny explains.

“For me, there are a few key things that a system must have: good motors, good cables, and good power signal – and we have all of that when working with LEO; it’s so important to have a good quality coverage at a festival these days, and with LEO I’ve had no problem with wind or any other weather conditions when playing in wide open spaces, so I have no complaints at all.” FOH chief at Sziget is Tamás Dragon (pictured), who has been riding festival faders for some 20 years. The festival game has changed somewhat, he says, much of which is down to the digital evolution and increase in loudspeaker intelligence. “I’ve got to have a knowledge of all the main digital consoles these days, and the Avid [Venue] and Yamaha [PM5D] desks are really good for festivals; everyone knows them, and if there are any minor issues, which is rare, I’m there to lend a hand,” he says.

“The quality of the shows goes up every year, too; 20 years ago, it would be simple rock ‘n’ roll with a few guitars being taken on and off stage, but now it’s a complete package. There is now real demand for a huge sound, which is really helped here by the 1100-LFC subs as they have such carry and thump; and as far as the audience is concerned, the live show needs to sound just like the CD, which means more work for the engineers as well as the bands. To put it into perspective, 10 years ago we took one day to build everything, and now it’s three just for the sound!” @page_break@ A Yamaha PM5D and Avid Venue were also deployed for monitor world, which has been manned at Sziget by Zsolt Palocska for the last nine years. Gone are the days of analogue, he says, and rightly so, it seems. “Digital technology at monitor position is so much better for us, because we don’t have to reset knobs for different groups or change settings between acts,” he says. “Half-an-hour is ample time for a changeover at Sziget as all parameters can be pre-set, from the effects to the inserts and compressors.” What’s makes Sziget really special, according to chief festival organiser, Karoly Gerendai, is the location, the atmosphere, and the attitude of the event. When he started Sziget back in 1993, it was already attended by different civil organisations, and that civil element is something that he has managed to grow and develop with the festival. “Back then, we primarily invited civil organisations that helped us in our efforts to improve drug and alcohol prevention, but later on we thought the NGOs could get involved in bigger issues, from the protection of the environment to human rights,” he explains.

“We invited government and EU organisations along as well as embassies and other institutions, and now they are being selected to attend the civilian part of Sziget on the basis of official competitions. “Our aim with these organisations is to provide useful programmes and information during the day that can help young people. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity for these organisations to introduce themselves, so their messages can reach many young people from a line of different countries around the world.” Gerendai also insists it’s much more than the music – it’s a holiday for the people attending. “We endeavour to establish a temporary city for our guests; there are many interesting concerts and other cultural events, and we try to provide services and an environment that ensures a holiday atmosphere for the people. We are very fortunate that the venue of the festival is beautiful in addition to being in the heart of a world-renowned city; you can go out to look around Budapest during the day, then come back to the island in the evening to party!” How can you not like that? Post-event, Molnár (pictured) reflects on a job well done: “The feedback from engineers, managers, and the audience was excellent. The Galileo Callistos worked very well, so tuning LEO was easy; and the headroom was really impressive, too. We never reached limit – now that is very unusual at this festival, since there is no enforced SPL limit for the main stage – and we even got some nice comments from the lighting guys, who liked the small footprint and the elegant, narrow look of the arrays. That’s even more unusual!”
Paul Watson