Heavy Is The Head from Stormzy

  • United Kingdom
Sennheiser EW G4 DiGiCo SD7 Quantum Avid Venue S6LL-Acoustics K1/K2 system

SSE Audio supplied an L-Acoustics K1 system for British Rapper Stormzy’s UK and Ireland arena tour ‘Heavy is the Head’

Renowned rap artist Stormzy released his second album Heavy is the Head in December 2019 with a UK arena tour booked in for early 2020. Like all Live Production projects it fell a victim to COVID and as the pandemic dragged on dates were rescheduled time and again with the tour finally heading out in March 2022. Read the full cover feature in the latest issue of L&SI magazine here.

Joel Stanley (Production manager for Stormzy): “I have a group of preferred vendors and specific people who I know can be relied on. Over the two years of COVID, I have always kept those companies and people informed at least six months in advance about what dates we were booking. The dates might get cancelled, as it transpired, but that meant the vendors could bank that chunk of time well in advance. In total, this is 42 days of work including band, build and production rehearsals, and the 15 shows”

He continues: “That didn’t mean our needs were precise gear-wise. We didn’t have a lighting plot then, let alone a conceptual framework, but they all knew what the scale of the production would be and the length of the commitment. There is always a pressure to get fresh quotes from other vendors, but you have to weigh that against those magic ingredients, reliability – a mutual flow in that they can also rely on us – and consistency. I know our vendors will try their utmost to deliver. That’s something to be cherished. If I call Dan Bennett at SSE and say, “Look, we need to try something out”, they would bring the tools. There’s no nickel-and-dime attitude, no “we’ll come but we’re going to have to charge you.” They get on side, and if what we’ve proposed to trial doesn’t add up, they will proffer alternatives. You can’t put a price on that; they’re first class on that score.”

Luigi Buccarello (FOH) has an L-Acoustics K1/K2 system with all the fidelity that system promises. “It’s a great rig, and I have a great tech in Richard Kemp. I’ve never worked with him before but he’s very flexible, has great knowledge of the system and got to know what I wanted very fast.”

He mixes from an Avid Venue S6L. “I’m comfortable with this, it sounds amazing and I really like the workflow, I find it’s much like the Avid Venue Profile, just with smaller buttons and knobs, but it does so much more.”

Stage tech David Courtney and RF tech Patrick Taghavi ran through the nuts and bolts of monitor world. “Raphael (Williams, Stormzy’s usual sound engineer) produces 21 mixes on his DiGiCo SD7 Quantum,” says Courtney, “The IEM system is Sennheiser EW G4 with the Digital 6000 series for the wireless mics; there are 12 handhelds. Every earbud is custom – Stormzy and the band all use Ultimate Ears, the rest have Cosmic Ears.”

Meanwhile, Taghavi looked after RF. “I do a lot of monitor work in France and RF is far less regulated there. Here it’s much more stable, not that it means I can be less vigilant. There are two separate RF antenna systems, one upstage of the LED back wall where the band and BVs mostly live, and one downstage. That makes things much more secure.”

Williams has been with Stormzy since 2017. “I did FOH initially, that’s the end of the snake I prefer, but what’s needed is some TLC from this end, so here I am. The first hurdle is the voice and the band being separate. Then there’s the room and the audience, which all have an effect. Stormzy has great projection, so the BVs, but if you’re not careful, that BV detail can get lost.”

He continues: “With Stormzy, my process is to get it correct for me. He’s not looking to pitch from his IEM – he’s listening to the full show and needs to hear the band and the audience. That’s probably the key difference between what Luigi is doing out front and me – I bring balance to everything, just keeping the vocals present. He will bring more emphasis to the voices where needed.”

He concludes: “There’s not much treatment on the mixes for the performers in the desk – a bit of EQ, a bit of compression I needed the SD7 for the output channel count. If I need extra, I need it immediately; the SD7 has that flexibility plus the Quantum gives me the Mustard Processing for a more powerful EQ. I use the UAD-2 racks post desk to finesse what goes to each of them.”

Dan Bennet managed the project “With the project being so delayed it was great to see this tour finally go out and be the great success it turned out to be. While we managed to ressurrect our festival work last summer, indoor events have taken longer to come back online and Stormzy was one of our first full on arena tours to head out the warehouse. It was great to collaborate with the Stormzy production team and we look forward to working with them again.”