Now becoming an annual fixture on the UK’s ever-expanding festival calendar, the Camden Crawl brings a brand new approach to the genre. Instead of multiple stages in the countryside, the Crawl has brought together 15 different indoor venues - pubs, clubs and restaurants - to put on a wide array of different acts and styles of music, from the famous to the unknown, mainstream to the esoteric.
For the first time, this year the Crawl took place over two days. 19th-20th April saw thousands of incomers joining the north London borough’s well-established population of young people and students to enjoy over 80 acts for the single price of either a day or two-day ticket.
With so many acts and so many venues, the logistical challenge of providing sound to the event was huge. Changeover times were minimal, many of the venues were compact and few were designed for live music. But it was a challenge that live audio specialists Britannia Row rose to, with Yamaha’s compact digital consoles proving the ideal solution to the event’s inherent challenges.
Brit Row prepared seven similarly-specced compact systems in its Wandsworth warehouse, combining Yamaha digital consoles with Turbosound self-powered speakers which were then dropped off at all the relevant venues from a single truck in the course of one day.
The systems in the Oh Bar, Black Cap and Cuban all featured an M7CL-48 console, those in the Camden Tup and Enterprise an LS9-16, while the Earl of Camden featured a DM2000.
This year was the first time that so many Yamaha digital consoles were featured, but it wasn’t for previous lack of wanting to, as Brit Row’s Roly Oliver explains. “Last year we wanted to use more, but as the latest generation Yamaha digital desks had only just come out, we couldn’t actually get them,” he smiles.
“But this year we were where I wanted to be with the audio. The combination of the digital consoles and self-powered speakers was the perfect solution for both us and the artists. For us it’s a lot less hassle, while the sound engineer for each artist could set up their sound and recall all the settings instantly. With analogue systems in that situation, most people just mark down the gain settings and hope.”
There are, of course, still many sound engineers who are resolutely analogue users and to whom the use of digital consoles is something of a leap into the unknown. However, the nature of the festival meant that Brit Row had to run the systems in a certain way which, coupled with the inherent user-friendliness of the Yamaha consoles, meant that any potential resistance never actually materialised.
“We had the systems set up as ‘standard’ across all venues,” says Roly. “We didn’t send out requests for channel lists or anything because, once you open that door, people think they can request things. With so many bands and such short changeovers, there just wasn’t time to give each band unique set-ups and so on.
“So we were effectively running every system like an analogue one, the only real difference was the flexibility, audio quality and that the soundcheck settings were instantly recallable. There was absolutely no resistance from anyone, no problems at all”
Sound engineer Liam Halpin was acting, as he puts it, as ‘schoolmaster’ - helping to prep the consoles and providing assistance to visiting engineers at sound checks, which comprised 30-40 minutes in the morning. The next time the engineer came to the console would be for the performance.
“Everyone seemed to get on really well with the Yamaha consoles,” says Liam. “I was teaching several guys from scratch - they seemed a bit nervous before I showed them the desks, but they relaxed really quickly.”
He adds: “There was one guy who said that he preferred the Midas Venice to the M7CL and that if it took him more than half an hour to learn the M7CL, he’d go back to the Venice for good. He learned the M7CL in less than half an hour…”
The Yamaha digital consoles also enabled all the systems to be run using just their onboard processing - the lack of outboard being a key consideration with the small size of the venues, the space for the audio equipment and mix positions therefore being minimal.
“Each venue was rammed with people, so the footprint for both PA and consoles had to be as tiny as possible. But thanks to the minimal footprints and there being no need for outboard equipment, we managed to get good mix positions in all of them,” says Roly.
“Everything was focused on practicality, but of course we wanted to provide excellent sound quality and also to raise the hopes of the artists in such a situation,” he continues. “I was an engineer for years doing club gigs, having to rely on inadequate house systems and I know I would have loved to have had this sort of rig. There was a whole myriad of new acts on the Camden Crawl that we really wanted to help out. We were determined to provide the most up-to-date system available for these sized spaces, to take the pressure off the sound engineers and make it a great experience for everyone.”
It certainly seems that Brit Row’s aim was achieved, the quality of the products ensuring that everything went smoothly.
“There was so little setup needed that the whole event was surprisingly relaxed,” says Roly. “The systems were so straightforward yet versatile that changeovers were extremely quick, after each set ended literally just pressing a button to recall all the settings for the next band. All the engineers were very happy - it went incredibly smoothly, largely because of the quality of the product.”
Liam Halpin was also on hand to help out if need be during the performances, but was happy to report he was rarely needed. “Everyone was fine,” he says. “I only hung around for about five minutes maximum because nobody had any problems - even the guy who’d had a major hangover when I was teaching him the console that morning! From all the conversations I’ve had, everyone had a great time.”