Emancipator Ensemble, the live music project of Portland-based producer and DJ, Doug Appling, pulled off an ambitious feat, their first headliner show at the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre. The August 27 show included co-headliner The Opiuo Band, with supporting acts RJD2 and Machinedrum also showcasing EDM beats on the live stage.
Not Just a DJ Show
Andrew Cass, lighting designer, took note early on that this was not a DJ-only show. “It was an ensemble. Unlike general EDM convention, they didn’t want the DJ/Producer to be too much of a centerpiece. I think focusing on soloists gave this show a different feel than the standard EDM experience.”
Cass took inspiration for his design from the ebb and flow of the artist’s music and relied on available technology, provided by Clearwing Productions’ Denver office, to execute his complex design.
“Emancipator’s music is very dynamic. It has moments of subtlety and moments of dramatic build, so I needed a design to cover those bases. The design also had to be realistic for a one-off day build. Not having any darkness to focus meant I had to keep the pan and tilt positioning within reason. The new pan and tilt offsets in grandMA2 version 18.104.22.168 helped that process a lot.”
Local Knowledge Helps
Cass is no stranger to the Red Rock Amphitheatre and is familiar with the inherent challenges of the venue, including haze control and audience angle.
“I’ve found that placing atmosphere all over the venue and running them at a lower output is more effective than fewer units running at full blast. For this show in particular, I had my programmer/assistant, Cassady [Miller-Halloran], running hazers and foggers all night and doing his best to ‘play the wind.’”
To address the fact that much of the audience is above stage level, Cass kept much of his design downstage, also noting, “you need to have elements on the floor that won’t be too blinding”.
Cass used grandMA2 3D to patch and place all the fixtures, do layouts and clone. “I’m a big proponent of using detailed 3D environments while programming so you can foresee potential problems and really get the feel for what each show is going to look like from the audience’s perspective,” states Cass. “This is especially important for Red Rocks, where the crowd is at such a drastic angle to the stage. Once the fixtures are cloned, I will go back and clean up effects and fixture orders in the punt show and start cue stacking songs.”
Co-headliner Opiuo sent a basic backing track that broke his set down into six sections. His band would then embellish over the top of the track. “Cassady would fire the cue stacks, and a timer would start at the beginning of each section so we could make sure the cues were being played at the correct times and I would punt over the cue stacks,” said Cass.
Nuances in Blue
In addition to dexterity, Cass benefitted from his knowledge of the music when it came to programming for Emancipator. “With Emancipator, each song got its own cue stack. Since I was more familiar with the material and it wasn’t as tightly synched, I would fire the cue stacks and punt,” he says.
“The more you know the basic song structure without thinking consciously about it the more you can focus on embellishing the improvisational parts. I really try to focus on balancing the various elements when operating and giving each song a cohesive look. This show was a test of that because so many of the Emancipator songs felt ‘blue’ to me so I tried to give each one a visual focus so they could all be different blues and not get repetitive.”
Cass feels his design style fit well with Emancipator’s music. “I felt a personal connection to this show and it was important to me to represent it in a way that would enhance the experience for the audience. So much of the EDM genre is visual and auditory madness, so I enjoy the intelligent subtlety of the material.”
Emancipator Ensemble at Red Rock