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The Unique Sound of Gorillaz Heard Across the World

Matt Butcher. Photo: Mark Cunningham

What started off in the hip confines of The Printworks, London March 2017, the Gorillaz tour in support of their latest album Humanz has grown to be their most successful ever and the hot ticket of the year in the USA and Europe. With dates booked in South America for the new year followed by festivals across the summer, 2018 is looking equally busy.

Part of that success is down to some nurturing tour-craft by production manager Joel Stanley. Lighting designer Matt Pitman is quoted as saying, "Joel's remit to us was to give the show something better than they'd had before. He gave us a generous production budget, even at The Printworks." Stanley was more descriptive, "The tour started off with some warm ups in little venues. Back then we carried a minimum production. Eventually that grew as we added flown scenic elements of video, more lights, and ultimately a completely new and to my mind, quite remarkable new PA system. I know Matt Butcher is really enjoying using it."

Butcher has been Gorillaz front-of-house engineer since the band's inception, accompanied by Dave Guerin on monitors, neither are shy when it comes to extolling the virtues of their new d&b audiotechnik GSL system as provided by Brown Note Productions of Denver, Colorado. "It is quite a major step forward," said Butcher; "It's been a revelation," chimed Guerin.

"Brown Note has worked with Joel on several previous occasions," said Ben Shapiro, Brown Note's client manager for the tour and head of their audio department. "He approached us to support Gorillaz in the US across the summer of '17. We've been investing in d&b since 2007 and our clients value the products for their consistency of performance. For the North American leg of the Gorillaz tour we supplied stacks and racks of d&b J-Series for mains with V-Series for sides, and B22 Subs."

The eventual 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 two hundred J-TOP boxes and we became an official d&b partner in 2017," continued Shapiro. "That tighter relationship with d&b gives us access to future products and I happened to mention to Matt that we had been invited to Germany earlier in the year for a preview of the new SL-Series. Myself and company owners Ryan and Sara Knutson attended and what we heard was a phenomenal leap forward in technology and accuracy."

Ryan Knutson agreed, "hearing the GSL system side by side with the J-Series out 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. This consistency is what initially drew Brown Note to their systems in 2007."

The demo proved so compelling, Brown Note placed a purchase order immediately. "Matt was eager to try it," continued Shapiro, "and as it happened timing was on his side. Brown Note then partnered with Entec, the British company who run the main contract, on the European Leg of the 2017 tour. All desks, control, and IEMs came from Entec, Gorillaz is their long-term client. Meanwhile, Brown Note and d&b came up with agreement to ship our new GSL system from the factory in Germany direct to the tour."

For Butcher, a long-term adherent for d&b systems, the benefits have proved abundant. "It's so good I'd like to think I'll never use a J-Series again," he joked. "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. We're at the point where, for example, we have V-Series for 270 degree far side fills to the mains and when you walk behind them you really notice their presence. That's how effective the GSL pattern control is."

Of course, in many ways that's a benefit to the monitor mixer and the band, what about for Butcher in the house? "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."

Even so, Butcher put his neck on the line, he took the new system out purely on spec' having never actually heard it before? "No, I'd not heard it, but I'd heard from people who were at Glastonbury where d&b beta tested it. But the bottom line is when d&b say they have a new system and that its cardioid way down, then of course I'm interested. We had one day to listen to it before the first show. We did our normal playback sound check off the desk and immediately it sounded very clean, very clear, and very near. As I said, we use the Y10P monitors to set what is pretty much a broadcast mix, and then put it through the system. Perttu, who has for years been doing great things with K1, has been very swayed by this experience and thinks the system is excellent, and he is very sharp on the detail. A good example of just how effective the GSL is are the audience mics: typically positioned where they are you'd normally experience that low/mid quagmire, but no, they are much cleaner. Overall, I've got 12-15dB of headroom; not unexpected from a system this size for these room. Even so it's still very impressive. The L/F from the flown system is just incredible."

Guerin on monitors is equally enthused, "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."

The GSL is a large format PA system and Brown Note recognized this when they made the purchase, "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. "In the hands of Matt, it has proved a phenomenal thing. There is no one better at FoH and no better tour to try it out, he really does it justice. If you're going to buy a new PA then as an operator he's one of the best to give it a try. With the European leg of the tour now compete the GSL has shipped to the US and this amazing new system is already available to our US clients."


(9 February 2018)

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