Live Events

Intense Armin reaches for the sky

Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:16
 armin, intense
Armin van Buuren concert at The Coca-Cola Dome

A glowing white ball descends from darkness to the stage. Flashes of light send irises into a panic. The hum of the growing ambiance pulls excitement from the adrenal glands and the anxiety in the venue starts to pulsate. God-sized hands appear. They lift the glowing ball back into the void from which it came and reveals the man everyone has been waiting to see and hear: Armin van Buuren.

EDM – electronic dance music for the uninitiated – seems to be gaining constant momentum worldwide with an increasing penchant for spectacular, mind blowing visual effects and chest thumping sound to quell the dance-thirsty masses. EDM artists are constantly raising the bar and that is evident in international tours such as Tomorrowland, Sensations and Ultra; the latter two already having visited our shores with great success. Who knows what comes next? What can ultimately be achieved and what is the limit? The sky, it seems.

The latest international EDM tour to touch down in South Africa was the one-night-only Armin Only Intense, brought to us by electronic music giants Big Electronic in collaboration with Big Concerts, G&G Productions and Rusco Events, held at the Coca-Cola Dome in Johannesburg on 14 June 2014. The show set a couple of records in both the lighting and the audio domains along with notable video effects on a virtual behemoth of an LED wall rig that is sure to have people talking until the next tour comes around and raises the bar once more.

However, when talking about pushing the limit on this scale from a technical point of view there’s a pretty good idea of the company that could have been involved. Of course, I am talking about the Gearhouse Group of companies that all machinated to bring Intense to fruition. However, they were not alone. Other companies involved included Fireworks for Africa that supplied the pyrotechnics displays; LaserX and that supplied the laser effects and Tadco that sent out their DiGiCo console guru Kyle Robson for support and configuration. On-site project manager for the show was Gearhouse’s Anthony Banks assisted by Trevor Mojela along with a technical crew of 48 personnel. Mushroom Productions handled production management. Needless to say, this show was absolutely massive on all ends so let’s dig a little deeper and take a look at who did what.


Being a one-man show, the stage element of Intense was very important and therefore set the scene for what transpired. Disregarding the LED screens (comprising a wall behind the main stage, a wall on the front skirt of the stage and two sideways L-shaped screens either side of the stage), which we will get to later, the main stage was 3m high by 20.7m wide and 8.54m deep and consisted of two levels; the lower level was occupied most of the show by Van Buuren while the upper level was reserved for entertainment. The total height, including the LED backdrop, was 14m.

Probably one of the most interesting aspects of this unique stage is that the main stage included trampoline acrobatics. Two at 5m wide and 3m deep trampolines of strict proportions were nestled right into the floor of the main stage area with safety platforms in between the two. For further safety the trampolines were International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) certified.

Flanking each side of the stage and positioned slightly forward into the crowd were two 2m high by 4m wide by 4m deep satellite stages where additional instrumentation – a piano on one and a drum kit on the other – was placed for live performances along with Van Buuren at specific points in the show. Guitarists and singers also joined the throng. This broke the show up nicely and brought a bit more of an organic feel to the performances, which for the most part was electronic. The six-hour show ended with Van Buuren even playing an ‘old school’ vinyl set from FOH where an additional stage was placed behind the audio console and brought a more up-close and personal conclusion to the event.


According to Gearhouse audio operations manager Jako De Wit, the audio system was the largest Gearhouse has rigged in the Dome in the venue’s history. It is a widely known fact that the dome is a troublesome venue for sound for a variety of reasons – mostly because it is a circular venue with a dome-shaped roof with lots of reflective surfaces – so the utmost care must be taken to make sure coverage is controlled in all areas. But with a bit of planning a suitable system configuration was agreed upon by all parties.

“We negotiated a bit with them (Van Buuren’s team) with some of the hangs, which was weight-related,” says De Wit. “From there on we just met what they requested. They had a very detailed rider of what they wanted, where they wanted it and how they wanted it so we gave it to them and they were happy. A good crew and a good rider: that’s pretty much what makes a successful show.”

The central point when discussing the intricacies of delivering the technical requirements that Armin Van Buuren’s team requested was the specific nature of their rider. The show was highly choreographed which obliged all parties involved to work together towards the final result. The tour rider was the bible for this as far as all parties were concerned.

“To give you an idea, their rider even had the names that they wanted to appear on the belt packs they requested,” says De Wit. “So, for example, beforehand they want eight packs and they must be labelled as requested. If the rider is on point you can do 70% of the work in prep so it makes a pleasant experience for everyone.” The audio system for the event was simply massive. The main hangs comprised of 14 L-Acoustics K1 enclosures per side with an additional 9 Kudo out fills while low end duties were handled by a staggering 48 SB-28 subs.

An additional 12 Kudos were positioned for front fill, six KARA were utilised for additional fill and five hangs of four V-Dosc elements were hung for delay fills. “Deploying an intricate system of this size in a successful manner required a very long trail of emails between their production office and the team at Gearhouse,” says Adriaan van der Walt, audio crew chief at Intense. “In particular Llewellyn Reinecke, who did various revisions of Soundvision to predict coverage of the system and Jako de Wit who took care of operational delivery, spent a considerable amount of pre-production time to ensure that our team had a fairly easy task of rigging and testing the system before handing it over the international team. [Wouter] Asselman and his team only requested minor adjustments after they physically walked the venue which meant all the planning and refining of many ideas paid off.”

The sound design for Intense is based on DiGiCo SD8s: one for FOH and one for monitors, which are run by Armin van Buuren’s Wouter Asselman and Casper De Jong, respectively. Both consoles were supplied with their own SD Rack (48 inputs, 16 outputs, 8 AES/EBU i/o) while the system was driven by a Dolby Lake LP4D12 system drive controller with wireless remote access.

Lighting and lasers

The lighting rig for Intense was staggering and quite possibly one of the largest South Africa has ever seen, according to our sources. As with the audio, the Intense tech rider was very specific about their requests and it took a massive effort on Gearhouse’s part (through lighting subsidiary Splitbeam) to source all 668 fixtures which included 555 intelligent moving luminaires; the rest being used to light the VIP areas and the surrounds. Interestingly and to put things in perspective, as far as we understand every single Martin Atomic 3000 strobe in the country was deployed at the gig.

Intense lighting designer Marc Heinz and operator Michael Steeverens were the brains behind the system and all in all the show was run with over 5 000 individual pre-programmed cues and in conjunction with the fixtures at their disposal this created a fantastical extravaganza of beam effects, blinding strobe effects and a smoky, washy ambience of colour. Light was even shone through the LED screens, which were requested to be 50% transparent.

Stuart Andrews, lighting operations manager at Gearhouse, was highly involved in the lighting organisation aspects of the show and worked very closely with Van Buuren’s team to make sure the lighting rig met their standards. However, there were challenges and of course, as you would imagine, sourcing all the requested fixtures was the greatest.

“We were in constant contact with their team as we were trying to get equipment lists to line up on both ends,” says Andrews. “They come from a European market where every fixture they want is immediately available but here it’s a little different because not every brand they requested is represented. So, there were a couple things that they asked for that weren’t available so suitable substitutes had to be found. Sourcing available fixtures from other sub-hires was also quite a logistical challenge.”

The lighting console of choice for Intense was the grandMA2 for which Van Buuren’s team would accept no substitutes as stated in their rider. All in all there were over 20 universes utilised which ran on a redundant fibre network (to another grandMA2) and a hefty rack of NPUs were placed behind the stage to distribute the DMX.

“It’s a very versatile control system,” says Steeverens. “At Intense we used a lot of tracks that are time-code programmed which is a very powerful tool in the MA2.”

Gearhouse’s men on the ground were Robert Grobler and Herman Wessels who were responsible for getting all 555 moving heads off the ground, under the stage, to each side of the stage and over the audience. To describe the feat before them might lack the punch that was experienced attending the gig but suffice to say that that a raked, six-finger truss ceiling was suspended over the stage area. Additional trusses were hung over the crowd for an immersive lighting experience while on each side of the stage were matrixes of 60 x Martin Mac 101 fixtures that were used for ‘wall of light’ effects and delicate pixel mapping.

A lot of beam work was also witnessed throughout the performance. Robe Pointes, Clay Paky Sharpies and Martin MAC Vipers all colluded like light sabers through the haze, launching the show into outer space and enchanting the already entranced audience.

The following fixtures were rigged at Intense:
• 72 x Martin MAC Viper profiles
• 67 x Martin Atomic strobes
• 120 x Martin MAC 101
• 23 x Varilite VL3000 spots
• 19 x Varilite VL3500 spots
• 54 x Robe Pointe’s
• 68 x Clay Paky Sharpy’s
• 96 x LEDForce 18 RGBW LED par cans
• 4 x BB4 LED wash light
• 24 x Molefay blinders

The laser system supplied for Intense came through local laser experts Laser X, operated by Raymond Enderman.

Enderman explains: “We were contacted by Mushroom productions with a brief that Armin wanted to do a ‘retro’ set; so basically a green laser set. When we arrived at the venue we were told that the lasers need to be set up in the catwalk and direct the beams to the DJ box. Usually we set up so that the audience is looking towards the source of the lasers not the other way around.”

Because of the somewhat out-of-the-ordinary request, Ray and his team experienced some challenges albeit not insurmountable.

“For starters we didn’t have enough cable for the catwalks,” explains Raymond. “After a trip back to the office and 600m of additional cable we rigged the lasers in the catwalks. We set more than one set of projection zone so that there was an illusion of more lasers being used.”

Once all kit was rigged and positioned, the request from Van Buuren’s lighting team was to “keep it green and start slowly." Resultantly, various shades of green were used and the intensity of the laser aspect built with the pace of the set.

Laser equipment used for the show included two RTI Nano 4s and two RTI Nano 6s, controlled by Pangolin Beyond lasershow software.


The LED screens were supplied by Gearhouse Group subsidiary LEDVision. As mentioned, they consisted of three components: a backdrop upstage behind Van Buuren, the acrobats and dancers, an LED ‘apron’ on the front of the stage, and two sideways L-shaped screens that outlined the top and sides of the lighting matrixes to the left and right of the stage. The four hours of video was very important to the show and just added that extra-dimensional element to what was already a spectacle of sound and lighting.

A total of 460 x Lighthouse DuoLED 18 panels were used for the massive LED rig. The upstage backdrop measured 20m wide, 5.7m high while the ‘apron’ measured 20m wide by 2.3m high. The sideways L-shaped screens measured 6.3m wide, 5.7m high and consisted of strips of single DuoLED 18 panels.

Interestingly, a bespoke motorised door system was fabricated specifically for the show by Sets, Drapes, Screens; another of the Gearhouse Group companies, which allowed Van Buuren to enter through the LED backdrop.


The pyrotechnics for Intense was handled by local pyro experts Fireworks for Africa, run by owner Nick Mitri, who were contacted three months prior to the event. Because no international pyro crew was travelling along with the tour, Mitri and his crew handled the pyro aspects of the show in its entirety, albeit guided by the infamously specific tech rider which listed the desired effects, including specifics such as height and colour.

“We worked with two of the production managers and went over everything with them prior to rigging and then again after,” says Mitri. “One of their guys pushed the buttons as the cues were quite tight.”

Tight cues aside, as you might expect, there were challenges.
“As the rider was so specific, it was a bit of a challenge to get the exact heights and colours of all the pyro here in time. It is rather difficult to get pyro (explosives) to this part of the world quickly. In Europe and the States it’s easy as there are a several manufacturers and distance is not an issue. There are only one or two cargo lines that will fly pyro into SA, so we really have to jump onto riders as soon as we get them and get the stuff here ASAP. We landed up having to swop some of the required effects with what was available as we just could not get everything here in time.”

In total, the following effects and equipment were used at Intense.
• 16 x CO2 jets
• 4 x stadium shots (streamer cannons)
• 7 x confetti blowers
• 14 x Galaxis modules
• 8 x Galaxis matrix boards
• 2 X Galaxis controllers (one redundant)
• 1 x DMX desk
• 1 x dimmer rack

Mitri explains how the system was set up: “Basically, we ran the 16 CO2 jets and the four stadium shots off the dimmer. All the stadium shots were on one channel as they were always fired together. The CO2 jets on the two satellite stages (four jets per satellite stage) were each on their own channel and the eight jets on the main stage were all on individual channels. The confetti blowers are manually fed machines, so each machine was manned by an operator. The pyrotechnics were controlled by our Galaxis system. We had four modules (receivers) on the truss above the main stage, eight modules on the main stage and one module per satellite stage.”

“It was a good event and it was nice to see how everyone pulled it together from start to finish,” concludes Mitri. “The internationals seem to do these events almost on a weekly basis. It would be good to see more big gigs here. From the amount of kit and pyro used, it is definitely one of the biggest indoor events that we have done.”

The wrap

Quite frankly, Armin Only Intense could possibly be one of the best DJ events to reach our shores and could be very difficult to top. While it’s very easy to stand in awe of the sheer size of all of the technical systems employed at the show the overwhelming theme that came out of researching this article was that with adequate communication, a very specific technical rider, sufficient preparation and a professional, reliable crew almost anything can be accomplished. And almost anything certainly was in this case.