It's a place where Skrillex DJs in an igloo, The Prodigy once (allegedly) played so loud the cows didn't produce milk for three weeks, and PA equipment is ferried 2,000 metres up a mountain via cable car. Welcome to Broadwick Live's Snowbombing - the greatest show on snow, which TPi discovers, is far from the usual run-of-the-mill festival.
Nestled in the foothills of the Austrian Alps, less than an hour’s drive from Innsbruck, is the town of Mayrhofen. The last week of the ski season (6-11 April) sees the town welcome over 7,000 ‘Snowbombers’ who get their kicks on the slopes - and on the dance floor - with a snow-fuelled mix of skiing, boarding and bass-heavy beats from the biggest names in dance music.
Ryan Esson took the reins as Snowbombing’s Production Manager for the second year running, contracted by Manchester-based Ground Control. “Being a working ski town means that there are venues already in place,” he explained, “so we utilise most of these, and then create additional temporary venues.
“This creates a really unusual mix of smaller intimate experiences, combined with large-scale outdoor events. It requires a very tight production to coordinate everything efficiently, especially due to the distances between the mountain venues and ground venues.”
With 16 venues in total, spread across two kilometres - and an additional two kilometres in altitude climbs - it’s no easy task. The largest permanent venue (a tennis hall which is converted into a music venue) is the 3,000 capacity Racket Club which this year saw artist Mark Kitchen (MK), Fat Boy Slim and Skrillex take to the stage. A series of smaller venues welcome between 150 and 400 people, and provide the traditional après ski.
But the events that really capture the festival spirit are the 6,000 capacity Mad Hatter-themed Street and Forest Parties, which take place on permanent outdoor stages built in the town. Basement Jaxx headlined this year’s Street Party, with Rudimental taking the top spot on the Forest Stage.
Esson continued: “The Forest Stage is a 100-year-old wooden chalet and is surrounded by these little wooden huts which form the bars and FOH. Although we reinforced the stage last year with steel beams, the production you can have in a location like this is nowhere near what you’d expect some of the headliners to perform with. In fact, the Forest Stage’s footprint is probably the same size as the FOH on other festivals.
“The buy-in from artists is the beauty of the town and the uniqueness of the event. There is a long-standing relationship with agents and promoters, with many artists wanting to return year on year. It’s just really special.”
To ensure punters can still enjoy the music whilst skiing and boarding, Snowbombing creates performance spaces at the top of each of the three mountains that surround the town.
“There’s Arctic Disco, which is in an actual, real igloo - Carl Cox was among the DJs who played there this year - then there’s the Mountain Stage which has loads of crazy content, including Mr Motivator,“ laughed Esson. “The Reggae Shack is a reggae venue and then the Board Park is a mixture a DJ-led program and extreme snow sport stunts.”
These venues are part of the Mayrhofen’s existing infrastructure, but the production equipment - PA, branding and staging - is all brought in by Snowbombing. With no road access, all equipment is ferried up via cable car and taken to the venues via ski pallet.
“There is a lot of coordination and careful planning with the local authorities to make sure we can get the equipment up there safely, without interrupting the day-to-day business,” continued Esson. “The authorities are fantastic though. The residents and businesses in Mayrhofen love having us here, as we bring in a lot of additional revenue at a quiet time of year.”
One of the main challenges for Esson and his team is the weather, which ranged from glorious sunshine to -10 degrees, with a blizzard thrown in for good measure. The approach to one of the mountain parties had to be changed last minute due to an avalanche threat.
Esson said: “When there’s this much unpredictability, contingency and scenario planning is paramount. The Backcountry Party is the prime example. Although we didn’t need to move the venue, the way we managed and structured the event did need to change.
“Bear in mind we send 10 people to manage that event, and it’s so remote that there is no phone or radio signal, so you can imagine the detail in which you need to plan. I’ve never worked on a show where the scheduling and movements of things is so dynamic throughout the show.”
The event works hard to support the local economy - using local suppliers where possible, such as Conrad which supplies additional stage decking and risers. There’s no crew catering company either. Instead, Snowbombing has a long-running partnership with a local restaurant which caters for the 200+ staff.
Esson continued: “We try hard to benefit the local economy as much as possible, but due to a tight budget - and the sheer logistical scale of the production - we utilise our long-standing relationships with other UK and European suppliers too.”
The UK office of Mojo Barriers supplied the festival’s stage barriers. Mojo’s Kevin Thorborn said: “We provided 90-metres of our standard aluminium stage barrier across the site. The product is ideal for an event like this where you need to be able to quickly and efficiently move the barriers and reconfigure for each of the day’s events. Each section of barrier is easily assembled by one person.”
Mojo also provided 25-metres of bar barrier, an increasingly popular item of stock which enables event organisers to set up temporary bars on any terrain or location.
SOUND, LIGHTS, ACTION!
Manchester-based Audile is the sole supplier of sound and lighting, working across all venues. Rob Ashworth, the company’s Project Manager is a Snowbombing stalwart, with 14 years of experience under his belt. The festival itself is in its 16th year, with the last 11 spent in Mayrhofen.
He said: “The production team here work incredibly hard. Unlike normal festivals where our crew is onsite for a week at most, with three show days, we’re out at Snowbombing for 13 days with six show days. With all the one-off events there isn’t a day that goes by when a show isn’t being rigged or de-rigged.”
There’s an impressive list of kit across the venues to cope with this ever-changing demand, with Audile choosing a mix of some of the most established brands on the market.
The Racket Club features the most extensive set up of the indoor venues, with 12 Funktion One Resolution-5 mid / hi speakers, eight F-221P powered subs and two Resolution-2SH infill speakers. Turbosound and d&b audiotechnik were the brands of choice for monitors with d&b V-series side fills and Turbosound TFM-450 wedges. Two Pioneer DJ DJM-900 DJ mixers are the in-house mixers which accommodate the majority of DJs.
d&b’s J-Series, C-Series and M-Series are also in location across the Street and Forest parties whilst the Arctic Disco utilised the Q-series. This left the remaining indoor and on-mountain venues to be serviced by Funktion One Resolution-4 and -5 mid / hi speakers with F-218 bass speakers. The extreme environment of Snowbombing requires resilient kit, and both brands have proved themselves in this respect.
Ashworth continued: “We’ve had bass bins completely buried in snow for two days at the Arctic Disco. But then the other extreme is the pool party, where artists are playing in humid 40⁰ heat. There really is no other event like it and the kit we choose reflects this. It’s the best kit available that we know can stand up to the various environments.”
Clay Paky Sharpy moving lights featured prominently, installed at The Racket Club and Street and Forest parties. Stormy CC LED strobes are a new addition to Audile’s stock, put straight to use on the Street and Forest Parties. There’s a huge mix of manufacturers elsewhere on the Racket Club’s house rig, comprising everything from Martin Professional MAC 700’s to Robe Robin 600 and 100 LEDs, and Showtech Active DMX Sunstrips. Control-wise the house desk was a Chamsys Magic Q Pro 100, augmented by an MA Lighting grandMA2 full size control desk with grandMA2 Light for backup during Skrillex’s appearance.
Fat Boy Slim’s performance saw the addition of an Avolites Tiger Touch II and Fader Wing, controlled by Stephen Abbiss. “I always use an Avolites for Fat Boy Slim shows,” he noted. “The shows are so hands on; I need a desk with great live access. We’ve got set looks for set songs which we try to do on the fly. It was a bit more free-reign than normal. Norm [Cook, AKA Fat Boy Slim] threw in a whole load of new songs, which meant I could be creative.”
Abbiss, who also owns a Titan Mobile, which he uses for smaller shows and pre-programming was quick to praise the functionality of the updates to the cue stacking in Titan. “It works nicely,” he said. “Fixture exchange is further improved too”
Outdoor shows on the Forest and Street Party stages featured drum and bass quartet Rudimental, Basement Jaxx and 2manydjs. For these events Colm Whaley operated an Avolites Expert Pro as the house desk.
Other Avolites equipment used on the festival included an Expert Pro on the Bruck & Stadl stage, operated by Jonathan Godsmark; a Tiger Touch and Mobile Wing on the Europahaus stage with Chris Sirey and Tim Hawes, and a Pearl Tiger at the Back Country Party, operated by Tim Hawes.
Given the festival’s high-altitude location, they had to put up with the extremes of the alpine winter. Audile owner Bob Leach enthused: “The consoles coped well with the extreme weather out there,” said Leach. “It was very cold with lots of heavy snow early on. It’s great that they can survive those sorts of conditions.”
Ashworth continued: “We have a really diverse range of equipment because - with so many de-rigs and kit movements - it needs to be flexible to meet the needs of every artist and venue. Artists are always really happy with the production, although sometimes in advance for the on-mountain venues we’ll get an artist querying why their full tech rider can’t be supplied.
“That’s when you have to say, ‘You’re playing in an actual igloo made out of ice on top of a mountain, and everything has to be brought up 2,000-metres up in a cable car then moved by a snowcat’. They understand then, and when they get out to the show they really enjoy the uniqueness of it all.”
Heading to the mountains for the first time was Bermondsey-based Made Up, managing the SFX and laser installation at the Racket Club. Ben Annibal held the role of laser and special effects tech, backed up by James Draxler as laser operator.
The company brought across one truck of equipment including two 18W RGB lasers controlled by Beyond, and 10 BeamNet lasers, all controlled from a Chamsys MQ60 desk, part of a new generation of small, lightweight consoles specifically designed for travelling lighting designers. Four CO2 jets completed the set up.
Annibal said: “We’ve specified to what Ryan (Esson) needed, but the whole idea is that we have a set-up which we can use to create a different look and feel each night for the different artists. We meet with the video and lighting guys each day, along with the visiting production teams to come up with the creative design and programme in any colours or requests they might have.
“The kit has been chosen to allow this flexibility, such as the BeamNets, which give a really different look as they are single beam lasers. With them, we can do really nice chases and have a bit more creative freedom.”
Made Up looks after the touring production for DJ and producer Andy C, who performed on the Sunday night. Annibal and Draxler built a pyramid using laser arrays and pixel tape, recreating his on-tour aesthetic.
“It was a nice coincidence that Andy was playing here, as we were able to bring across his touring kit and create something that made him stand out,” concluded Annibal. “Once he’d performed we took his set and repositioned everything to suit the needs for the rest of the week.”
Another newbie to the Snowbombing scene was Video Design, contracted by production to provide the screens across the Racket Club and Arena venues. Rhodri Shaw led the installation of 72 Panels of WinVision Air 9 : 9mm LED at the Racket Club and 14 Panels of WinVision Air 9 : 9mm LED for the Arena.
The Arena LED compromised of a 4.2-metres by 2.4-metres ground stacked split screen whilst at the Racket Club, the 72 LED panels were split into nine columns behind the back of the main stage and 20 LED strips - or pods - hung from the venue’s roof, above the crowd. Both venues were controlled via WinVision 2012 HD processors.
Shaw commented: “Rob Leach at Audile came to us with the design, and we sourced the right equipment for the job. The main thing was that it needed to be incredibly lightweight. The WinVision Air 9 is perfect, as it weighs just 6.8Kg per panel.”
Richard Bagshaw of Digital Insanity led the content and programming for the screens, controlling the Racket Club as one canvass. “A lot of it is stock motion graphics from our library,” he explained. “But some content has been provided by the artists. It’s generally very laid back and we have a lot of creative freedom each night. I’d say it’s a 70 / 30 split of freeform and then artists dictate the rest.
“We’re mainly using lots of geometric patterns and shapes, re-coloured in real-time to match the lighting. The video screen content isn’t really something you’re meant to stand and watch, it’s more about creating ambience which fits the genre of music and the style of the event. Having such a fragmented array really makes its lots of fun to operate, when you can’t work out where lighting stops and video starts - for me that really makes it special. It’s great to be back at Snowbombing,” he said.
The playback system was a Green Hippo Hippotizer HD media server, stable and so flexible it makes operating and mapping such an screen setup a pleasure, with the added bonus of having mudvu2 (our own propriety software) feeding real-time visual analysis of the DJ’s audio output into the DVI capture of the Hippo. It really adds another dimension to the show.
A significant change for the event this year was the introduction of cashless payments across all of the main venues; Europahaus, Bruck ‘N Stadl, The Racket Club and the Street Party and Forest Parties.
Organisers Broadwick Live entrusted the complex job to cashless payment and access control specialist Intellitix. The company supplies some of the most well-known events in the business from TomorrowWorld to Coachella, and Snowbombing marked a noteworthy step in the company’s integration into the European and UK markets.
The onsite team was led by Intellitix’s Carl Martin and Barna Jardany, installing 160 cashless point-of-sale terminals, 40 top up stations and 15 access points which was supported by 32 handheld scanners and eight swap stations.
Serge Grimaux, CEO at Intellitix, said: “Snowbombing isn’t your usual greenfield festival site; it takes place across various venues in a busy working town, so we needed to take a completely different approach to setting up our system. Typically we would use cables, but this wasn’t possible, as you simply can’t cable across a working town like that.
“Instead, to ensure 100% signal coverage across the entire site we positioned an RFID antenna 1,250-metres above Mayrhofen. This gave a faultless signal reach spanning a massive radius, which powered the cashless and access system below.
“This was a very unusual deployment and worked faultlessly, despite the ever-changing weather. Not only did we setup and maintain the performance of the permanent venues, parallel to this we continuously built and took down one-night temporary venues such as the Street Party and The Forest Party. There were events around the clock.”
Commenting on the introduction of the new technology at Snowbombing, Broadwick Live Director, Alexander Bennett, said: “The location was a challenge, but Intellitix provided fantastic support. The pre-loaded top-up levels from customers were better than expected, as was the ease with which customers took to the technology.
“The data we have gathered from this is also incredible, and now that we have tried the system once, I don’t foresee us not using it again at Snowbombing. In fact, we’re now keen to develop this further, as well as looking to roll it out at other Broadwick Live events.”
For Intellitix it’s a further step in showcasing the robustness of the system, within Grimaux concluding: “Snowbombing is proof that cashless and access systems can work in even the most unusual of locations. The fact that we can go from the blizzards of Snowbombing to the dessert of Coachella, definitely showcases the system’s integrity.”
As well as the significant benefits that going cashless brought the event, the access control aspect gave additional real-time information to production. Ryan Esson commented: “The RFID has been really useful as it allows us to track the movements of people and target our resources appropriately, such as security personnel. One of the key things we do throughout the week is to encourage audience movement around the town through drinks offers and happy hours. That’s how we manage the flow of 7,000 people.”
Logistics is one area that requires careful attention to detail and Esson restructured the team this year, separating out transport from production with the appointment of Alex Webster as Transport and Logistics Manager. Webster, of newly-launched Event Trucking Services, ensures all equipment arrives safely from the UK, and keeps a close-eye on on-site logistics. To ensure clearer communications across the vast site. Webster also introduced a new radio system, with coded names.
Esson is backed up with the capable hands of Event Manager Charlotte Denton, managing security deployment and local authority liaison alongside event control operations and Technical Assistant, Dom Morris. With a team of over 200 production personnel and event staff on site, one thing is clear; that despite the undeniably long working hours and heavy workload, people love working this event.
Audile’s Ashworth said: “I can’t think of any other show that is so punishing, but most of the crew keep coming back year-after-year. There’s a few reasons for this; firstly there’s great camaraderie among the crew, who approach the job in hand with a huge amount of energy and good humour.
“Secondly, Mayrhofen is a beautiful place to work - the views are stunning, the air is fresh and when it’s not freakishly dumping with snow, the weather matches of any UK summer festival.”
Esson agreed, and takes the final word: “It’s one of the most stunning environments - aside from the sometimes drunk punters! - the mountains offer some of the most breathtaking views imaginable. I really love working with the local people; we have a really strong relationship with them and they are of paramount importance to the delivery of the event. It’s also the first festival of the season and it makes a lot of decisions for me about who our team will be on other shows throughout the year.”
Photos: Danny North, Andrerw Whitton, Jenna Foxton, Gobinder Jhitta, Richard Johnson, and Brooke Nolan