The Warehouse Project
December 2009 Issue 124
As the cars leave on a Friday evening, Ear To The Ground rolls in to install Manchester’s phenomenal temporary live /club space...
Temporary events come with their own strains and stresses, but none are quite so pronounced as that of Manchester’s The Warehouse Project.
This pop-up live/club venue takes over a former air-raid shelter beneath Piccadilly Station each weekend to host a cutting-edge line-up of live acts — Friendly Fires, Groove Armada, La Roux, Faithless, Simian Mobile Disco, Roni Size, Jack Peñate and Little Boots — and DJs, such as Erol Alkan, Richie Hawtin, Sasha & Digweed, Annie Mac and Deadmau5.
Until 6pm on a Friday the space is a fully functioning car park, but by 9.30pm the doors re-open to 1,800 people who enter a completely different world. The prospect of levying full production, dressing rooms, chill out area and bars into the venue, and making it look like it never existed by 7am Monday morning sounds like a logistical nightmare, but it’s a clever installation that production company Ear To The Ground (ETTG) has mastered, along with a host of Manchester-based suppliers.
“Once there was one remaining car in the car park right in front of the stage which was a bit of a nightmare. It got to a certain point and we had to call out to get it removed. They were just about to take it away when a man came running in apologetically!” said ETTG production manager Tom Sabin, who shares the job with Alan Green and Fran Martin.
Before the fourth season of events this year, which launched on September 25 with Goldie and will finish on January 1 with Tiefschwarz, the production team spent four nights working on the infrastructure for the event, chemically fixing rigging points into the brick ceiling, attaching trussing, building the stage and installing the PA and lighting, most of which stays in the venue throughout the winter and just gets partitioned off and covered up during the week.
The space is separated by a series of arches, with the cloakroom and exit to an outdoor area with catering in the first arch, followed by the main room and rear portaloos in another arch, followed by two separate bars and a second room in the third arch, and a chillout area spills over into a fourth.
This year, the lighting, video and sound systems have been re-designed, with the Funktion-One system now being flown to give more room on stage and the venue has also become a hotbed for testing new i-Pix products.
Long-standing supplier DBN Lighting has returned once again with Pete Robinson project managing. Dance lighting guru Simon Barrington has created the lighting design, working closely with DBN.
The lighting fixtures were all chosen for their small sizes and high impact. There’s a total of 16 Martin Professional MAC 250 Entours, eight Clay Paky Alpha Wash 300s and six CP Alpha Wash 575 moving lights — distributed across the Slick Litebeam trusses — together with eight Atomic strobes and 16 Studio Due Archiled wash lights, which are flat and unobtrusive.
In addition to the DBN kit, some i-Pix BB4 and BB7 LED fixtures also grace the rig. Chris Sirey operates the lighting via a Chamsys MQ100 Pro Console with a PC Extra Wing, supplied by Simon Barrington, who also runs the main room lighting.
Said ETTG’s head of production, Jon Drape: “We’re working with Chris Ewington at i-Pix because we’re using the venue as a test bed for some of his new products. We like what they do and are very excited about where LED is going.”
The second room has a distinctly retro vibe, so DBN supplies High End Trackspots, along with two Atomic strobes, more Archileds and an Avolites Pearl Tiger for control.
Last year saw two screens flanked left and right of the stage, but this year the whole visual package has been stepped up a gear. PS Events, led by Phil Sturrok, supplied a combination of Sanyo and Ecki 5k projectors totalling seven in the main room, along with cable routing. These project on to the brick roof and arches for an immersive experience.
There is also a 14 x 10 rear projection screen custom built by PS Events above the FOH position and Lighthouse R16 LED screens are supplied by LED Screen Hire for added impact on stage for certain events.
Chair TV’s Jimma Green created the visual content for The Warehouse Project, which is sometimes custom made to match certain acts. Chair TV operates the visuals most nights from an Edirol V4 and several DVD players. New this year is the Project’s introduction of Green Hippo technology — a Hippotizer Critter, which replaces the Edirol when Chair TV is not attending.
Barrington commented: “We essentially control all the video in the club from one position, using my lighting desk and the visuals desk. With a series of matrix signals we can send the signal to anywhere in the club.”
Underneath the visuals, the venue remains true to its name, stripped of any décor and with minimal branding, so as not to detract from its main qualities — the sound system and visuals. The Warehouse Project has not always had a great reputation for sound, especially when it first launched at the city’s old Boddingtons Brewery in 2006.
Fortunately it’s a different story at the current location, as Rob Ashworth, from sound supplier Audile, explained: “Being an old air-raid shelter, and the supporting structure to much of Piccadilly Station, its walls are very thick!”
Added co-production manager Alan Green: “As soon as it moved to the Store Street car park it took on a whole extra level. It had an old school warehouse feeling and it could have been an illegal warehouse rave of the early ‘90s but in reality no one would have put in a cloakroom, bars or anything like that.”
The main system comprises six Funktion-One Resolution 5 mid/hi speakers with 10 F-218 subs. The Res 5s are flown three per side in a standard L/R configuration, giving a narrow dispersion that keeps the energy tightly focused on the crowd and away from the walls and roof.
A Res 1.5SH mid/hi horn is flown under each cluster to provide downfill for the front of the audience. The system was fully ground-stacked in previous years, but flying has opened up sightlines and so increased usable stage space.
The distance of the speakers to the stage frontline is increased, also, which is an added benefit for live performances. Ashworth said of the subs: “The ratio of these to the mid/hi may seem somewhat excessive, but this is to allow an array that gives extremely tight control of horizontal dispersion, keeping the bass energy within the main arch.
“This system design gives extremely high output on the dancefloor, but with significant drop-off in the arches to either side, and minimal external spillage.” A pair of Res 1s provide fill in for the bar arch, and a flown pair of Res 2SHs provide delay in the main arch.
Amplification for the system is all QSC Powerlight, with XTA drive and EQ, and either a Midas Heritage 3000 or Soundcraft MH3 48-ch console at FOH for live performances, depending on the level of acts playing. Inserts are XTA, Drawmer and BSS, with Lexicon, Yamaha and TC Electronics effects.
On DJ-only nights a side-stage Midas Venice replaces the FOH console. Monitoring is provided by 10 Turbosound TFM-450 wedges, with a Yamaha M7-CL 48-ch console on stage. The stagebox comprises four Klark Teknik DN1248 active splitters, and the multicore and patch system is by Van Damme. A wide selection of mics by Shure, Sennheiser, Beyer and Audio-Technica is available, with BSS DIs.
DJ mixers can be selected from a wide range — Pioneer DJM-800, DJM-909 or DJM-1000, Allen & Heath Xone:92, Rane TTM-57SL or MP-2016, and Vestax PMC-05 or PMC-06. A Pioneer EFX-1000 and a Dope Real Model-3300 isolator are available for effects, with six Pioneer CDJ-1000s and six Technics SL-1210s.
The second room is served by four Res 4 mid/his with four F-218 subs, again with QSC amplification and XTA drive. A pair of TFM-450s serve as DJ monitors.
Collinge Engineering handles the power and plumbing for the event, using a mixture of generators and hard power. A pre-existing air ventilation system is apt for keeping the air fresh and the entire venue is jet washed down at the end of the weekend.
Manchester Light & Stage provides the 12m x 6m main stage and 10m x 4m second stage, as well as steel decking and barriers. Local crew company Handball provides four additional crew for set up and break down.
Jon Drape initially laughed at promoters Sacha Lord-Marchionne, Sam Kandel and Kirsty Smith when they explained the concept they had for the Project. But now, four years later, the pop-up live/club venue has propelled itself to critical acclaim in the UK and internationally.
Ticket sales have soared year on year, with 2009’s figures over 100% up on last year. The shows are almost exclusively sold out this year, with a live performance from Faithless swallowing up tickets in just six hours. Plans for next year, including whether the Project will remain at Store Street car park or take up a new residency, will be announced next year.