A year after the successful tour that celebrated the 30th anniversary of his classic Oxygene album, Jean Michel Jarre brought his new In>Doors show to London for the latest leg of his first-ever world tour. Paul Watson took a backstage tour at Wembley Arena for his début with TPi...
Aiming to create a new level of intimacy between the artist and his audience, In>Doors moves away from the much acclaimed outdoor spectaculars that have earned Jean Michel Jarre worldwide acclaim. Considering the sheer size of a typical JMJ gig, I was intrigued from the offset as to how they intended to make it work in an arena environment.
I asked tour manager Chris Rowley whose decision it was to condense the big show into a smaller package. “This project was driven by Jean Michel entirely. After the 30th anniversary of Oxygene he was surprised by just how popular the shows were,” said Rowley.
“Then, suddenly, there was a huge demand for something that could work in a more intimate venue. That’s why we chose an arena tour.
“There isn’t much of a depth of tour management in France, in terms of moving a show overnight quickly. This is an area where James Monkman [production manager] and I were able to add our expertise. The crew totals 32 people and we use four trucks [from Stagetruck]. The reaction has been fantastic and we’re playing to 6,500-7,000 people per night, which is great.”
Heading up lighting and set design, Ignace D’Haese explained that there is a huge contrast between Jarre’s indoor and outdoor shows.
He said: “I worked on a couple of the big outdoor shows and the Oxygene tour last year. With locations like the Sahara Desert, the set is the desert itself, and in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the architecture is the set. On the Oxygene tour we didn’t use any beams or smoke to create a spectacle; the keyboards were the set and everything was just ambiently lit.”
“Here, we use a lot of beams to create the desired effect, yet we’ve managed to keep the set-up fairly minimalistic.”
Belgian company EML Productions is providing the lighting fixtures. Twenty-five Vari*Lite VL3500Q spots and eight VL3500 washes are dedicated to the musicians and the myriad of keyboards and synths on stage, plus 15 5kW SXB-5/2 Synrcolites — nine on top and six on the floor.
Five stands on stage accommodate High End Showpix fixtures and the impressive lasers, provided by Dutch-headquartered supplier, Laser Image.
There is also a row of i-Pix BB4 LEDs which reinforce and emphasise Jarre’s rhythmic sounds while 144 vintage ACPs beam flutes of colour on to the white curtains at the back of the stage throughout the show. Additional (black) curtains are moved at the rear of the stage by Kinesys hoists.
A bank of ADB ACP 1.2kW cyc fixtures are used to generate “pure conventional light”, an important contrast according to D’Haese, whose rig is controlled by Glenn Mollemans using a Chamsys Magic QF console.
Joost Machiels, EML’s account manager, explained that the decision to host five production rehearsal days at a Belgian venue was made simply because his company’s stock was within easy reach.
“This made it very straightforward for us to make any technical changes, of which there were many,” said Machiels.
“Jean Michel always wants new things in the show, and sometimes at short notice, so it’s important for us to be flexible. We had to make some of the equipment from scratch, such as the DMX-controlled Manfrotto ‘Black Magic’ stands, specifically for this production.”
French rental company Arpège Son et Lumiere is the source of the tour’s PA equipment. At Wembley Arena, the system — the new K1 array from L-Acoustics — was set up rather unconventionally at the rear of the stage, hidden behind the two black curtains.
FOH engineer Alain Courieux explained the reasoning behind this decision: “There are three big advantages in setting up the PA in this way. Firstly, it’s completely hidden, so everything on stage is visible from everywhere. Secondly, wherever you are in the audience, the sound is actually coming from the artist.
“Thirdly, the band are on in-ears on stage. Usually with in-ears, they are constantly asking for more low end, but they don’t need that because they are already getting it from the system due to its position.”
The K1 system was configured just left and right — without a central cluster — in hangs of 12 per side with eight SB28 subs between them.
I was impressed by the clarity and the sheer power generated by just eight subs considering the venue size, so I spoke to Courieux’s son, Cedric, who helped design the SB28 at L-Acoustics, to find out a little more about them.
He said: “The port of the sub is slightly curved and there is no perturbation with the air at the exit of the port, which is why it provides so much power. The driver is a long-excursion driver, so the membrane is also much better than the old one. It’s also cost-effective, as normally in a venue like this you would need 12 subs; we only need to use eight.”
Courieux is using 160 channels on his favoured FOH console — the DiGiCo SD7. His only outboard devices are a Lexicon 960 reverb and a Yamaha DME64 digital mix engine.
Said Courieux: “The SD7 is one of the only digital boards that sounds and feels like an analogue one. Also, the quality of every built-in effect is very good. I am using a lot of compressors and noise gates and it’s great not to have lots of racks of equipment surrounding me. For me, this show requires only a 15 minute set-up which is fantastic.”
When asked how many mics on stage, Courieux smiled and said: “Jean Michel only needs one...to say hello!” Four Shure SM58s are spaced across the stage to catch the occasion.
The monitor desk is also an SD7 manned by Vincent Mantz who uses 130 channels. He also has a Yamaha DME64 for three delays, two mono and one stereo, plus an Aphex Dominator multi-band peak limiter to safeguard the levels to the musicians’ Future Sonics ear moulds — run with Shure PSM600 IEM systems.
Other crew worthy of credit include stage manager Rahel Feidler, backline techs Patrick Pelamourgues and Alexandre Lebovici, sound techs Arno Voortman and Alex Capponi, lighting crew Erwin Van Lokeren, Joeri Pluym, Carla Sala, Kris Huderland and Thijs Siebens (crew chief Vincent Ex), laser tech Ensar Turan, and rigger Filip Vandenbruwane.
Jarre’s dedication to his craft was evident throughout the time I spent observing his interaction with musicians Claude Samard, Francis Rimbert and Dominique Perrier, and the sound and lighting teams.
He arrived at Wembley 90 minutes before the scheduled soundcheck, adjusted FOH settings and hopped in and out of various seats, making sure he was happy with the way the show looked from different audience positions.
Having been kindly refuelled by Gemma Daly and her Eat Your Hearts Out catering team, I seized the opportunity to get a little closer to the action as soundcheck began.
No less than a two-hour production rehearsal , this was the most thorough soundcheck I have ever experienced. I was privileged to be allowed stage access and inspect JMJ’s ‘keyboard fortress’, comprising 35 instruments in total, most of which wouldn’t look out of place in a museum!
It included a fantastic Mellotron, surrounded by various ’80s Roland keyboards such as the D50 and the JP4. I spotted various Moogs, Mini-Moogs, Roland V-drums, a Continuum Fingerboard, the Synthex synth that he uses for his impressive laser harp show, plus two of the very first synths ever made — the VCS3 Putney and Synthi which sit proudly together, centre stage, directly behind Jean Michel.
I was reliably informed by Hugo Bunk of Laser Image that these were the first synths Jarre ever owned. There were also, inevitably, dozens of BSS Audio DI boxes scattered across the stage, to accommodate all of these weird and wonderful instruments.
BACKSTAGE WITH JARRE
The final word goes to Jean Michel himself. Just before the show, he revealed to me a little of his vision for the future of electronic music and the fusion of old and new technologies.
He said: “In my opinion, the next step for electronic music is to mix analogue synths with digital equipment. We tried a number of experiments such as comparing new virtual Mellotron sounds against the original and the difference was amazing.
“It’s like playing a Stradivarius and having the sound of a violin on a virtual synth; two different worlds.
“I think what’s been unfair to these instruments is that they have never had the time to become idolised like Gibsons and Fenders because they disappeared at the beginning of the ’80s just when they were about to become popular. These instruments are still an integral part in many of today’s young electronic bands.
“I see In>Doors as ‘something in the allotment’. We have a studio album going on the road next, followed probably by a greatest hits album and we’ll be doing some more outdoor productions at the same time.
“This whole tour is a work in progress. It’s like an experiment for me, for the crew and I hope for the audience, a good one.”