Loz Poulton, production designer and manager of Junction 2 festival, gives Access the lowdown on building a stage underneath the M4, and why he gets all his best ideas on the dancefloor.
How do you set the festival apart production-wise in a competitive field?
Ultimately, we are relying on equipment that is available to hire. This forms the core elements of the production. Major festivals have more scope for customisation and set pieces, but generally it’s about how we use this equipment to create a physical environment that’s unique to our event.
Like a giant set of Meccano, you can follow the instructions and deliver a very respectable and impressive model, but its still the stock version. Or, you take the contents and build them in a way that gives your version a contrasting appearance and a model that is individual.
There are a few areas I find especially versatile when trying to create a distinctive look. First is the video design and the arrangement of panels – there are endless possibilities. When complimented by custom content mapped to the design, it can have a massive impact.
Second is the choice of structures, tents and working on their configuration. Anyone can hire a bigtop or an Orbit stage, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with these, but they are the most dominating view for the audience. In my opinion offering a lesser known structure or a customised configuration, not just a stage wrapped in creative branding, can really set the production apart.
“Locating one of the main stages under the M4 motorway, which is a major artery into London, is certainly a challenge.”
Lastly, I always try and create the feeling that the dance floor is enclosed. Whether this is simply using dressed truss towers or raised platforms, I will make every stage enclosed with its own element. This gives a greater atmosphere, a communal feeling and goes a long way to providing that unique environment for each stage.
What are the biggest production challenges and why?
Locating one of the main stages under the M4 motorway, which is a major artery into London, is certainly a challenge. For obvious reasons we have very strict stipulations from Highways England and a lot of pre-planning and documentation is needed to allow this stage to open.
To add to the fun, it’s located on an island surrounded by the River Brent. We have a weight-restricted bridge that forces us to carry all equipment over by mini forklift, and we build a further 3 bridges to serve as public emergency routes. Having said that, the location is so special that it’s worth every effort.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
A lot of the time it’s when I’m on the dance floor of another event. It’s not necessarily the production at said event, but just being in that environment which triggers ideas for me. I start to imagine the design I’m working on as a punter and can then consider what’s missing or what would be nice to add.
“Acceptable sound levels and quality audio should be a basic right of every paying customer.”
Another major one is my love of tessellating shapes. This is generally my starting point for any technical stage design. I will sketch out video panels or another element in a multitude of tessellating patterns, then I see where that takes me.
What technologies have and will push forward the festival sector?
Although it may be a little boring to the layman, I think the Layher scaffolding system has been massive in opening up the creative production and structural possibilities over the last few years. Previously more prominent across Europe, English companies are starting to stock larger quantities which has made it more readily available and affordable.
L-Acoustics new L-ISA technology I find especially exciting. This is a new “multidimensional sound experience to audiences of all sizes” which I think would be amazing in a festival environment. In fact all advancements in audio, particularly reduction and control of off-site sound levels, is vital for the festival sector. Sound restrictions are getting tighter and tighter and acceptable sound levels and quality audio should be a basic right of every paying customer.