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May 1, 2019

As live music productions become increasingly complex and festivals demand ever more impressive centre stages, the international staging sector is exploring new materials and methods of handling their heavy load while ensuring safety is the utmost priority. Christopher Barrett reports 

Stages is undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing sectors in live entertainment, propelled by the demands of festival and event organisers, as well as artistes wanting to offer their audience a mind-blowing experience. 

There are not only challenging creative elements to deal with, but an ever-present focus on safety of multi-faceted structures that can weight more than 200 tons.

Headquartered in Belgium and with offices across Europe and North America, Stageco was founded in 1985 by its president Hedwig De Meyer, who has been supplying concert stages since the early 1970s. 

He says the vast operation is flat out supplying structures worldwide, to some of this year’s biggest tours.

“There are a lot of international tours going out, especially in Europe, but less so in American this year.

“For example we are doing European tours with Rammstein, Metallica, Bon Jovi and Muse,” says De Meyer. “In the US we have the delayed Rolling Stones tour and then there are all the festivals that are happening every year, they don’t seem to be getting any smaller.”

As well as providing custom-built tour stages for clients such as U2, Taylor Swift and Coldplay, Stageco provides a wide range of festival stages and front-of-house structures.

De Meyer says safety has been at the heart of his operation since the very start. Stageco was among the creators of the Guidance for The Management & Use of Stages and Temporary Event Structures and part of safety advisory groups including the European CEN TC 152, a technical committee handling temporary structures for events, and the Memento Ensemble Demontables in France. 

“There is a still a lot of focus on safety and new standards have been introduced but nothing dramatic,” he says. “People are looking more closely at standards and there is more awareness than there used to be. In the past some people didn’t seem to realise that these huge structures can do funny things in high winds. 

“Thankfully people are paying a lot more attention to the issues now.”

Launched in the US in 1991 by Clive Forrester and Erik Eastland, All Access Staging & Productions (AASP) has bases in Los Angeles, New York and London, UK. The majority of staff are located in Los Angeles, where its structures are designed and built. 

The company’s distribution bases in New York and the UK enable it to distribute stock items that usually make-up around 80 per cent of a touring client’s stage equipment, to the shows. As a result only the remaining custom-designed 20 per cent needs to be shipped with the production. 

Among the tours the company is supply staging to this year are Garth Brooks, Childish Gambino, Jennifer Lopez and Dave Matthews Band as well as festivals including Coachella (125,000), for which it supplied the stage and roof for the Mojave Stage site, a complete festival band riser package, viewing platforms, crowd control barricades, and a handful of sets.

Sales and brand manager Ryan Funderburg says the company recently opened an additional building in Los Angeles and has expended the amount of rental equipment on offer. 

“The biggest challenges is having enough equipment and enough crew to pull off every request,” he says.

Serious growth

One of the world’s leading stage companies, UK-based Serious Stages has been designing, manufacturing and installing stages for four decades and annually services more than 500 events worldwide.

It was heavily involved in the installation of the Glastonbury festival’s iconic-pyramid stage and continues to work with the 147,000-capacity event, as well as Reading Festival (90,000) and Download (25,000). 

“We do a lot of work in the Middle East, work in Australia, South America and all over Europe,” says MD Steve Corfield. “Over the years we have worked in 34 countries. Antarctica is the only continent we haven’t built stages on.”

Serious will supply more than 90 structures to Glastonbury this year, including its four main stages and everything from front-of-house towers to camera platforms. Among the changes this year will be an increased size Park Stage, from 16 metres to 22m in width.

As well as stages of up to 25m wide, Serious also supplies a wide range of temporary free-span buildings, ranging from single use to touring structures. 

“At Park Life [75,000] festival last year we introduced our 50m span Space Building, giving them a 50m x 90m hanger stage, and we have just supplied our newly developed MegaNova building for use as a 70m span temporary film studio — it can go up to 100m wide and has incredible weight loading,” says Corfield. 

“Temporary buildings offer a new scope of possibilities for the creative promoter.” 

He also notes that Serous Stages is seeing a demand for larger stages with increased weight loading capacity and a move away from scaffolding in favour of more specialist products.

With Serous Stages working across the globe, Corfield says the highest safety standards are maintained, no matter where his equipment and crew are located. 

“In Australia projects are planned and costed with very strict working hours, whereas in other territories shift lengths can be stretched to extremes,” he says. “There are also different working-at-height regulations, so we aim for a global best practice as we want our crews coming home in one piece after every project.”

Feeling the heat

Australia’s Stageset, which is headquartered in Sydney, with a base in Brisbane, provides modular sets, staging, rigging and scaffolding solutions to festivals and concerts, and made its first foray in New Zealand this summer.

It provided stages for three events, including the 25,000-capacity Rhythm and Vines festival. 

On home territory, Stageset worked on the Sydney leg of the Download (25,000) festival, headlined by Ozzy Osbourne and Slayer. The two-date, five-stage event took place in Sydney’s Parramatta Park in March, before heading to Melbourne. 

Stageset provided all five stages to the Sydney event, including two side-by-side 20m main stages.  

Having overcome a market slump a few years ago, Stageset MD and founder Chris Beehan says his business has enjoyed 20 per cent year-on-year growth for the past few years. 

“Demand is really building again and Australia is seeing a lot of big brand oversees festivals starting to hit the market,” says Beehan.

While the standard staging structures have not changes significantly in recent years, Beehan says record-breaking summer temperatures in Australia have sparked a demand for set-ups that help people to escape the sun. 

“The weather is getting hotter and hotter and the promoters are now looking for solutions that offer shade in front of the stages, so we have created bespoke structures that offer that,” he says.


Japan debut for Cube

A leading supplier of stages to concerts and festivals throughout the world, UK-based ES Global’s ancestry goes back four decades to the pioneering Edwin Shirley Staging, whose namesake was one of the first to import American staging to the UK and Europe.

ES Global provides stages and structures for events as far and wide as Japan’s 50,000-capacity Fuji Rock and Scotland’s Belladrum (cap. 20,000).

To add to its offices in the UK and US, a joint venture in the United Arab Emirates with Dubai-based Al Laith, ES recently opened an office in Tokyo.

“We have designed, developed and manufactured the new CUBE 70 stage roof and tower system with our Japanese partners Nihon Stage,” says senior project manager Mark Hornbuckle. “It will be launched at this year’s Fuji Rock [26-28 July].”

All of the company’s stages are constructed from modular kit in order to provide the flexibility needed to meet individual production requirements.

“Clients are increasingly demanding a turnkey approach with the staging company providing all of the resources needed for the install and removal,” says Hornbuckle. 

While live music productions are becoming ever more complex, Hornbuckle says the continued downward pressure on price is seriously compromising the future development of the staging sector.

“The constant squeeze on margins doesn’t allow for the investment and innovation needed
if our businesses are
going to thrive,” he says.

Struggle to find new blood

Germany’s Megaforce has been a key player in the global concert staging business for more than a quarter of a century. Headed by CEO and owner Michael Brombacher, it supplies stages across Europe from Norway to Romania, and further afield in countries such as Mexico and Hong Kong, China. 

Among Megaforce’s many festival clients are Austria’s Nova Rock Festival (55,000), Switzerland’s Greenfield Festival (30,000) and Germany’s Southside (50,000). Touring clients include Phil Collins, Kiss, and Andreas Gabalier. 

The company’s largest stage system is Tower Stage TVG R28. The arched roof structure was built in-house and was designed to accommodate the biggest and most spectacular productions, boasting a width of 27m and load capacity of 65 tons. 

“We are seeing a higher number of requests for round arched stages, many clients like the different contour, especially when the venue is in a city or in front of historical buildings,” says Brombacher.

He say the biggest challenge right now is attracting new blood into the staging business. 

“It continues to be hard to find young people who are willing to develop a career in the stage business,” says Brombacher.

Something for everyone 

UK-based Area Four Industries (AFI) has provided staging for events in Asia, the US and Europe, including Germany’s Lollapalooza (70,000) festival. It incorporates Milos Structural Systems, which was founded in the Czech Republic in 1994 and grew into a global operation with bases in the UK, US, Germany and China. 

Milos became part of the Area Four group when it was founded in 2012 and the Tomcat, James Thomas Engineering and Litec brands were brought under the same roof. 

Litec is also a major suppler of staging and concert and festival structures, it has supplied many large events including Tomorrowland Festival (60,000) in Belgium and Italy’s The Heineken Jammin’ Festival (50,000). 

One of the world’s largest trussing and staging manufacturers, AFI offers a product portfolio that includes custom-made concert stage roofs, aluminium and steel trusses, front-of-house towers, rigging towers and LED screen support structures. 

AFI UK sales and marketing director Glen Brown says the company is able to offer a broad array of unique products to production companies. Among tours currently using its equipment is Ed Sheeran’s. 

“We can look at any individual project anywhere in the world and define what is the most suitable product for the application,” says Brown.

The past decade has seen a significant shift toward more complex stage productions requiring, he says. ever-stronger structures and as a result there is continued research into new high-strength alloys that can handle the extra weight demand, but do not lead to increased transportation costs.  

“Ten years ago we were seeing two or three tonne payload requirements, now it is up to 10 tonnes,” he says. “The overall payload requirements have exponentially increased because artistes are focused on making the majority of their money from tours and that means the productions have to be special.”

Founded by Stephen Lakin in 1999, United Arab Emirates-based Production Technology (Protec) is one of the leading stage suppliers in the Middle East. 

The Dubai-based operation offers technical and staging production solutions involving lighting, sound, audio-visual, staging, rigging, hydraulics, SFX and backline. 

Protec also has bases in Abu Dhabi (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, employs 230 staff and has $50 million of equipment spread across its bases. 

Among acts it has worked with are Nicky Minaj, Flor Rida and Sergio Mendes while it also works on events such as EDM festival UNITE With Tomorrowland at the du Forum (4,500). 

Lakin says the company can build up to 11 stages simultaneously using equipment from its three locations. 

“Every job is different,” he says. “The only problem with the Middle East region is that acts don’t come and do tours here, they fly in and do a one off show and usually don’t have time to rehearse so it means we need to create stages that are very similar to what is being used on the European and/or US legs of the tour,” he says. 

While Lakin has found the safety rules to be “unbelievably weak” in the region, he has made sure his company complies with the most stringent European regulations and says the emergence of highly professional promoters in the region, such as Flash Entertainment, has helped improve the situation.

Raising the roof 

Mikkel Brogaard founded Denmark’s European Staging in 1993, having previously worked with acts including ABBA, Rolling Stones, Prince and Rod Stewart. 

In 2017 European Staging formed a joint venture with UK-based High Post Structures and the operation was rebranded. 

High Post Structures supplies staging solutions to tours, concerts and festivals around the world. It is currently supplying hydraulic stages to Ed Sheeran’s worldwide tour and is in the process of constructing two hydraulic stages for Rod Stewart’s forthcoming world tour. 

“We have built four brand new stages that are all hydraulically raised, we are a completely crane-free company,” says Brogaard.

“There are many benefits of using hydraulically stages but I think the biggest benefit is that the entire roof structure is completed while it is only a couple of metres off the ground. Once it has been raised it is fully locked and you don’t have to have anyone up there working 20m in the air,” he says. 

Aside from the safety benefits of hydraulic stages and the reduced crew requirement, Brogaard says the fact there is no need for cranes is a major bonus. 

“Cranes are expensive and they are getting more and more so, so with hydraulic stages and structures there is a huge cost saving,” he says.


Engineering support 

As well as its joint venture with ES Global, Dubai-based Al Laith provides structures to concerts, festivals and sports events throughout the Middle East, including Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and Saudi Arabia, and also recently began supplying stages for events in Europe and Africa. 

Al Laith has supplied structures for events such as Red Fest (30,000), Dubai Jazz Festival (15,000), Sensation (14,500) and the BAO Festival (12,000). It offers a wide range of structures, from main stages and delay towers to VIP viewing platforms and spot pods. 

Events division manager Michael Clark says that while the company has primarily focused on supplying sporting events this year, it has provided staging for associated concerts such as Gwen Stefani’s 10,000-capacity post-event concert at the Dubai World Cup Horse Race. 

He says that the company continues to see a demand for both arched and flat roofed stages but hydraulic systems that eliminate the need for cranes are becoming increasingly popular in the regions it works in. 

Al Laith’s move into the European and African events market was brought about in 2017 when it became part of CG Holdings, which operates engineering companies in the regions.

“Currently the biggest challenge is attending to the new and vibrant Saudi market, while maintaining staging requirements in our own back yard, Dubai,” he says.

Literally setting the stage for the global live music industry, the leading concert structure manufacturers and suppliers are working to keep crew, artistes and audiences safe while enabling ever more spectacular productions. 

As the staging industry continues to embrace technological advances, with increased automation and hydraulic systems, many believe it will lead to a reduction in workers. 

Looking ahead, Serious Stages Steve Corfield says, “We will increasingly see methods of erection that use more technology and less manpower.”

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