Montreux Jazz Festival

Montreux Jazz Festival

Words Paul Watson

The train ride along the Lake Geneva shoreline is stunning enough, but it's on arrival in Montreux itself that the unmistakeable 'wow' factor really hits home. I've always wanted to experience this festival, and here I am, in the blazing sunshine (OK, a storm is brewing, but forget that for now), AAA pass in hand, and raring to go. I quickly clock that the sky is getting darker, and that, in fact, the photo on my AAA pass bears little to no resemblance to me, nor does it even include my name. Shit. At speed, I dash through the side door,offering a flash of my pass to the 'security' girl, who, thankfully,has her head buried in a copy of Wuthering Heights (seriously), so I reduce my sprint to a casual jog,then to a stroll, and eventually to a hunched standstill. I'm gasping for a drink, as I amble down the backstage corridor in search of DiGiCo's office area.

This is the sixth year in succession that DiGiCo consoles have been at the helm in Montreux. All of the manufacturer's leading models are in play, from the flagship SD7, which holds fort in the festival's Auditorium Stravinksi, to the ultra-compact SD11, which sits in the same venue providing talkback, alongside the house SD5 in monitor world. Furthermore, SD8s, SD10s, and SD9s all have their part to play in the Music Club, Jazz Lab, Jazz Club, Rock Cave, and Montreux Palace.

It is also the sixth year for sound coordinator, David Weber, who is a big fan of DiGiCo, so much so, in fact, that one of the SD9s on site is his! Weber helped forge the manufacturer’s relationship with the festival; when he's not running Montreux (or Caprices Festival, also in Switzerland), he runs his own high end recording studio, which has a classic Neve 8108 console, and some quirky bits of kit; he says having the live and recording background is always beneficial.

“I was brought in here as they needed someone who wasn't heavily involved with the business side of Montreux – just the music; they needed somebody that was into the festival, and would concentrate solely on all aspects of the audio,” he explains, adding that he is also involved in recording the shows. “Although I'm really an analogue man in the recording domain, the only solution for Montreux is digital – and DiGiCo. I use their products on all the stages here, as the kit is top quality, and always completely reliable. I particularly like the preamps and the internal processing, though it's not just the quality of product that appeals - my relationship with DiGiCo has always been strong because of the personal service we always get from their team.”

Attention To Detail
And it's not just Weber that rates DiGiCo... Pharrell's FOH and monitor pairing, Kyle Hamilton and Jeremy Peters, are adamant that they couldn't deliver their show accurately using anything other than DiGiCo kit. They brought in their own pair of SD7s for Montreux.

“It's about finding a consistency with Pharrell, and using the SD7s, we're able to do that,” reveals Hamilton, adding that the effects inside the desk are top notch. “Pharrell's vocal chain just hits an Avalon 737 compressor, then heads straight into the console, where I do my EQing, effects, and compression. Because the preamps and processing are great on the SD7, that's really all I need to do, which suits me, as less is more is always my preferred approach.”

Peters has a similar theory, and cites the SD7 as the perfect tool for his job at stage left:

“What I really like is the versatility of the DiGiCo,” he explains. “The SD7 gives me the luxury of quality dynamic processing and multiband compression, so I have no need for much else – just some cool Waves plugins to give a little extra colour to the sound.”

En route to Pharrell's headline show, I stop by Music In The Park, and linger for a good 20 minutes to watch the Brighton & Hove Youth Big Band – despite the rain, a good few hundred punters are crowding round the stage dancing, and it's easy to see why. I find it refreshing to see such talented youngsters playing real instruments, and songs that are older than my Nan. Great stuff.

Music takes over this town for two solid weeks, and it's one big party. Talking of party, that's the best way to describe the feeling in the Stravinski as Pharrell takes to the stage. From the opening bars of Marilyn Monroe, I get exactly what Kyle and Jeremy were talking about earlier, because the mix out front IS the record. What a job these guys are doing, and what a performance. It's difficult to take your eyes off Pharrell (and his dancers, for that matter). It's a hell of a gig, and a fitting end to my trip.

Post-show, on the veranda of the Caviar House, already several 'Webby Specials' deep, I can't help wishing I could do it all over again.

Maybe next year...