Unless you’ve been living trapped inside a sheet of glacial ice for the past couple of decades, chances are you’ve heard about South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music, film, and interactive conference and festival that takes place in Austin, Texas. Now in its 22nd year, the festival, held each March, deluges the town with loads of people from the entertainment industry. It also draws everyone else who wants to meet them, hang out in a bar, hear some music, rub shoulders with the rich and famous, or just say they saw them and have a picture on their cell phone to prove it.
Surprisingly, while the festival attracts many top producers and recording artists, it has stuck to its indie roots in terms of venues. So while you will find the recording industry’s best and most influential people, you won’t often find the huge concert venues, giant stages, or 17 semis on the dock waiting to load out. Festival-goers relish the opportunity to walk into the corner bar—or, in plenty of cases, the corner coffee shop, bookstore, or laundromat—and find someone really worth hearing on the small, dimly-lit stage just 3' away.
And that’s all very well, unless you’re talking about Playboy Enterprises and Jane’s Addiction (newly reunited and just revving up for a 2009 tour) and one of the major, late-night events held at the festival for the past ten years. Then, attendees tend to expect something a little…sexier.
From the outside, the ex-Safeway grocery store just off route I-35, this year’s venue for the tenth annual Rock The Rabbit party hosted by Playboy and C3 Presents, didn’t look like it ought to be housing such a high profile event. That, however, was by design.
Traditionally, this invite-only fiesta is one of the most sought-after events of the festival and one of the most difficult to enter. The location is kept completely secret until just a day or two beforehand, and it’s not until you get inside that you realize you have, indeed, made it to the right place.
For the second year in a row, C3 Presents event planning called upon Bryan Azar and his crew at Ilios Lighting to design, install, supply, and operate lighting for the event. Audio was provided by Big House Audio. Azar, who is the owner of Ilios as well as its head lighting designer, began working with the team at C3 to come up with a design that would fit both the size of the venue and the expectations of Playboy’s potential 1,800 partygoers. Autumn Rich, C3’s event producer, event manger Carrie Stribling, and Casey Carter, Mike Walker, and Justin Smith, production managers, comprised the C3 team. “We wanted a very minimal décor with the focus being on the lighting,” says Rich. “With a band such as Jane’s Addiction, you want nothing to distract.”
Just six years in business, Ilios is the relatively new kid on Austin’s entertainment industry block, but this kind of high profile gig is just what Azar, and Ilios programmer Jack Davis, thrive on. The immediate issues were the size of the venue and the stage, as well as power requirements for the planned rig. Trim height, which was originally specified at 25', wound up being just 17', requiring the crew to dead-hang some of the truss to avoid turning the crowd into “deer in the headlights,” as Davis puts it.
Azar says he wanted a flexible, streamlined look for the rig that could transition easily between live bands playing diverse types of music, but he also wanted “a lot of toys.” From the beginning, he says he wanted to go with Martin gear. “When we started Ilios, one of the things that didn’t exist in central Texas was any place to see, play with, service, or demo Martin gear,” he says. “That drove me crazy because I couldn’t get my hands on it. Ever since the MAC 2000 came out, Martin has been a staple of innovation.” Azar notes that his company formed a partnership with Martin a few years back that enables them to get the gear they want, when they want it.
For this event, Azar says he had one major concern: “How sexy can we make this? Let’s see what we can cram into this joint,” he remembers. He found his options were almost “limitless,” as he describes. “Take the Martin LC Series Panels; there’s no media you can’t put up on them. Then you have a moving head as powerful as the new MAC III, with as much beam diversity as it’s designed to have, and you get incredible flexibility,” Azar says, adding that the eight MAC IIIs he used added “sizzle to the sexy.” He also used six each MAC 700 Wash and Profile units in the air for what he describes as “really great looking beam architecture.”
With the exception of some ACLs and floor PARs requested by Jane’s Addiction to backlight the drums, there wasn’t a lot of conventional lighting in the rig. “The bulk of the design, in order to ultimately make it as creative and diverse as possible, was kept almost totally automated,” Azar says. To the same end, Davis tried to ensure that his programming, done on a Martin Maxxyz Compact console, was fairly simple and completely flexible, festival-style. Davis broke up groups, so that fixtures like the 16 pixel-mapped Martin Stagebar 54s could be operated alone or in conjunction with the five LC Panels displaying content generated via a Martin Maxedia Pro. “It’s not a huge, overblown-sized stage, but it’s done very cleanly, and you can have a lot of fun with it,” says Azar. Effects were via a Le Maitre Radiance Hazer and a Le Maitre G3000 Hazer, with distro and dimming from Applied Electronics.
Indeed, the setup totally transformed the empty space that used to be a grocery store. C3’s event producer referred to the lighting as “phenomenal.” Perfect lighting, sexy atmosphere, and A-list talent is everything needed at a party so highly anticipated. Just add bunnies, and mix.
Morgan Loven started her career in lighting 12 years ago when she nervously accepted a job running a spotlight without having ever seen one up-close before. “Douser? What’s that?” Now, she is an LD and still can't believe how cool it is to get paid to play with light. In her spare time, she takes photos and does graphic design.