Since its inaugural event in New York in 2004, the AFROPUNK Festival has become a global phenomenon, associated not only with alternative punk music but also with its audience’s eclectic “African-born’ styling and eye-catching fashion statements in Atlanta, Paris and London. The AFROPUNK movement emerged as a rebellious alternative to mainstream white punk/rock culture, and is promoted as “a blank space to freak out in, to construct a new reality, to live your life as you see fit, while making sense of the world around you,’ while celebrating alternative black culture and spirit.

Its South African debut, at Johannesburg’s historically significant Constitution Hill on 30-31 December, was welcomed by many as a “homecoming’ to the continent.

Technical solutions provider, Gearhouse Group, provided the staging, lighting, audio visual, LED screens, power and rigging to the festival and show sync’s Clinton Seery took on production direction for the South African iteration. The event featured South African musicians as well as a spread of local poets, artists and activists performing alongside international stars such as British artist Laura Mvula and the American singer Anderson Paak.

Gearhouse’ audio engineer Jako de Wit estimates that around 40 acts were featured, with artists performing in relays over both days of the Festival. “The stage was divided into three performance areas – each with its own audio setup and each manned independently by its allocated technical team.’

It made the changeovers very slick allowing the carefully curated collection of house, kwaito, punk, hip-hop, soul, reggae, roots and pop performances to flow smoothly and dynamically. The arrangement dictated an LCR setup with Meyer Milo for the main hangs and Mica for front-fills and delays to provide a continuous music experience for the audience, as well as excellent sound coverage across the space.

The central Gold stage featured more than a dozen DJ’s every day using a Yamaha LS9-32, while the Red and Green Stages each deployed an AVID Profile and a Yamaha PM5DRH at monitors. All inputs were controlled by Lake LM44’s, and a couple of Meyer Galileo units handled the signal out on the stage side for PA distribution.

The lighting configurations were also distinct from one another, with every stage working with a dozen each of Robe 700 colour washes, 700 colour spots and Mac 101’s plus six Martin Atomic strobes and four lamp bars for key light and additional punch during the evening sessions. The rigs were individually controlled through Grand MA2 desks.

LEDVision provided a cohesive LED screen set up which drew the two outer stages together visually to read as one. The two outer and single rear delay screens ran mostly camera content with a centre screen in between the two stages running content, as well as camera-work and artists information. A design comprised of ROE LED strips enhanced the stage wings and provided colour indication as to which stage would go live next. Onstage LED screens (Lighthouse R16 and DuoLED 18) were used to augment the lighting and enhance the daytime performances. A complex control setup was installed to run graphics playback using Resolume servers as well switching a four camera mix.

“For us, clear and continuous communication between Stage and Front of House show call was absolutely key to the event’s success, and it was a testimony to our tight teamwork that it ran so smoothly’ explains Gearhouse project manager, Nickolas Chapman.

While production director Seery and technical suppliers Gearhouse are long accustomed to working together; delivering for the AFROPUNK organisers was a first for both.

“Technically speaking, it is always more interesting to work between three stages, bringing them alive individually but while we enjoyed the fresh approach, it was obviously much more demanding on the technical team,’ comments Seery. “Lighting, LED Screens, Audio and Cameras took on the challenge with open arms, however, and we managed to paint what we believe to be an “inaugural-perfect’ picture! Of course, in situations like this, when you haven’t a second to waste, you need to be able to trust your supplier’s understanding of the client’s vision, and the Gearhouse team was there with me every step of the way, even though those inevitable last-minute problem-solving moments. These guys go above and beyond to keep their client happy.’

While the event was smooth sailing on a technical level, the weather was not. One of the notorious Highveld thunderstorms complete with bucketing rain, heavy wind and extreme hail hit the event on Saturday; but even that failed to dampen the spirits of everyone involved. “The weather came, shook us, shook the sound, shook the screens, shook the lights, shook the camera’s, even shook the crew but nothing stopped the show technically,’ adds Seery.