Touring in support of the Humanz album – their first release in seven years – virtual act Gorillaz made the most successful debut in YouTube VR history. Key to the Humanz world tour package is the use of Shure’s Axient Digital wireless mics and d&b audiotechnik’s GSL System.

‘The tour started off with some warm ups in little venues,’ says Production Manager Joel Stanley. ‘Eventually that grew as we added flown scenic elements of video, more lights and ultimately a completely new, and to my mind, quite remarkable PA system. I know [Gorillaz FOH Engineer] Matt [Butcher] is really enjoying using it.’

Humanz‘Any equipment we invest in needs to be right for the tour but also future-proof for ongoing deployments,’ adds Jonny Clark, Head of Sound at Entec Sound & Light, who served the UK leg of the tour. ‘Not only have we found that in Axient Digital but we’ve developed a relationship with Shure that’s second to none.

As RF Tech and Client Manager for the tour, Brown Note Head of Audio Ben Shapiro played a key role in the implementation of Axient for the tour: ‘Having first heard it being demonstrated in the US, I was impressed by just how reliable the system was. Once you have done your scan, your plot and loaded it in, I didn’t have to swap frequencies around. The AD1 Bodypack Transmitter and AD 2 Handheld Microphone are truly phenomenal units, and they sync incredibly quickly – my set-up time has been dramatically reduced, saving me time to focus on more resource intensive aspects of the tour.’

With a fairly complex and rotating cast accompanying Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn, the band features two drummers and six backing vocalists. ‘The audio metering facility is extremely impressive,’ Shapiro says. ‘Having a simple cross-platform of being able to see my RF reception and audio reception/quality from the microphones and instruments, means I can make rational decisions even if sometimes one of those signals might not be where I’d like it to be. I would have potentially made some bad decisions had I not had this feature.’

‘Shure’s support in the initial stages and throughout the tour has been faultless,’ says Clark. ‘Understanding all the new features and digital output options, the suggestion to use Axient Digital was an easy one to make. Being able to fit more frequencies into less spectrum is extremely useful and the overall the audio quality is phenomenal.

’When you get feedback that the sound quality of Axient Digital is as good as any wired alternative, you know you’ve made the right choice.’

‘It’s been great to see how Entec have implemented Axient Digital into the Gorillaz touring rig and hearing compliments from various people on both RF and audio performance is the icing on the cake,’ says Tuomo Tolonen, Director of Pro Audio at Shure UK. ‘Knowing we have a world-class team on the tour – Ben, Jonny, monitor engineer Dave Guerin and FOH Engineer Matt Butcher – Axient Digital is in the best hands.

‘Axient Digital not only replaces UHFR – which is possibly the most widely recognised high-end RF system ever made – but also has to operate flawlessly night after night in a far harsher and congested RF environment than we have ever seen. The reality of a harsher RF environment is what really drove the development of the product as the expectation from any high-end production is that there are no RF issues. The show is phenomenal, with a lot of RF channels on a stage with plenty of LED screens. It’s the perfect recipe for a challenging environment, but it’s precisely what the product was designed for.’

Humanz at the O2 Arena

The d&b GSL System was provided by Brown Note Productions of Denver, Colorado. ‘It is quite a major step forward,’ Butcher reports. ‘It’s been a revelation,’ adds Guerin.

The switch to the GSL system was a combination of Brown Note’s belief in the product and simple serendipity. ‘Brown Note already stock in excess of 200 J-Top boxes and we became an official d&b Partner in 2017,’ explains Shapiro. ‘What we heard [earlier in the year at the SL-Series preview in Germany] was a phenomenal leap forward in technology and accuracy.’

Ryan Knutson, President at Brown Note, agrees: ‘Hearing the GSL system side by side with the J-Series in Germany I knew that what we were looking at and listening to was something special and groundbreaking. We had no idea until the systems were compared just how much better the pattern control could be. d&b has always been great at pattern control, that is why d&b systems are some of the most consistent in the world.’

The demo proved so compelling Brown Note placed an order immediately. ‘Matt was eager to try it,’ Shapiro says. ‘As it happened timing was on his side – Brown Note and d&b came up with agreement to ship our new GSL system from the factory in Germany direct to the tour.’

Humanz d&b hang‘Although it is perceived as a stadium scale system, size and weight is not an issue; we could see good application for it on the arena circuit so the Gorillaz tour made perfect sense,’ said Shapiro.

For Matt Butcher, a long-term user of d&b systems, the benefits have proved abundant. ‘Seriously, stand anywhere behind the mains on stage and you just hear what’s on stage, not the system. Walk behind and you just don’t hear it. So I’m having a very nice time with it.

‘Immediately I notice an added punch out front, the snare sound emerging from the kit is just wonderful. Everything sounds much more direct. Myself and Perttu Korteniemi – my excellent system tech – have Y10Ps out front as desk monitors and on several occasions, we’ve gone to turn them off only to discover they were already off, and what we’re hearing is the main system.’

Guerin on monitors is equally positive: ‘I can now actually hear things in my local wedge that was just not possible before. Things like the low end of an acoustic guitar or the keyboards; those sounds would formerly have been masked by the sound coming off the back of any system. It’s so profound that there have been gigs where I’ve called up Matt out front on talkback and asked if he’s ok because from where I’m sitting it sounds like the PA is turned off.’

After a rigorous 2017 event schedule, the 2018 leg of the Humanz tour heads back across the Atlantic for a schedule kicking off in Mexico and returning to Europe for the summer festival season.

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