A 'Cathedral of Creativity' - the V-Series helps transform St John at Hackney

A cherished landmark, St John at Hackney Church was established in 1275 and has been part of the East London community ever since. A church in the traditional sense, over the past ten years it has also established itself as a go-to venue for bespoke music events.

The potential to fund the churches charitable efforts by hosting live music was first recognised by the current Rector of the church, Rev. Al Gordon, leading to major redevelopment work as Gordon and the Hackney Church team set about future-proofing the space and securing its position at the heart of the Hackney community.

The main brief was to design an audio system that could serve both religious services and offer a rider-friendly installed sound reinforcement system that would enable the venue to host industry-standard live concerts.

Set within a breath-taking environment a major part of this ambitious refurbishment project is a d&b system installation.

As with so many current projects, installation and commissioning had to go ahead with heavy COVID-19 restrictions in place, but a great team effort ensured a successful completion. The venue has now tentatively scheduled its first few socially distanced concerts including renowned musical artists James Bay and Lianne La Havas.

In these dark days, this restoration is a beacon of hope: a cathedral of creativity, playing its part in a spiritual, social and cultural renaissance in East London and beyondRev. Al Gordon

Tim Last, one of the Trustees focusing on the production, technical install and commercial setup explains: “We wanted to create a special place for events that will support the people of East London.”

I knew d&b is a key player in the audio world and investing up-front in a rider-friendly sound system was crucial to making the venue commercially viable.Tim Last, Trustee at St John

“Gigs and events profits go to our various charitable and social impact projects. The main aim was transforming the building to function as both a church and a live-music and arts venue, creating a self-sustaining charity with an income that does not solely rely on donations, allowing us to do more,” he continues.

This acknowledgment of the importance of quality audio to produce successful live music gigs sets St. John at Hackney Church apart.

A Grade II* listed building the main objective of the interior redesign was attention to detail and quality for every aspect. Special features of the church were to be revived and the infrastructure for a state-of-the-art concert venue carefully put into place, including a brand-new PA, backstage and artist facilities as well as other hospitality features.

The architectural redesign team included none other than John Pawson CBE, the ‘father of modern architectural minimalism’. His design of a decluttered, airy and mainly white space makes for a beautiful setting but integrating an audio system into such a pure environment came with particular challenges and needed expert consideration.

Bringing the architectural vision, together with the technical upgrade we needed, required careful consideration as Pawson’s stunning vision is minimalist and we didn’t want to see any visible plug sockets or truss.Tim Last, Trustee at St John

Ben Musson, Production Manager at St John adds: “Discretion was key. Our decision-making process included details like matching our boxes exactly to the RAL colour of the walls, hiding almost all our cabling, and incorporating the production desk into the scheme from the very beginning. Continuity and sympathy with the building in every detail was so important.”

But it wasn’t just the aesthetics that would prove challenging, acoustically the venue came with a reverberation time of seven seconds, caused by the domed ceiling, a feature delivering stunning sounds for choral or classical music but proving to be a major issue for other musical genres such as rock and pop.

Success with the d&b V-Series and Array Processing

d&b sales partner Southby Productions submitted the successful tender to solve the difficult acoustics, provide a rider-friendly system to make the charitable efforts of the church a success, and deliver on the aesthetics. Their proposal centered on a d&b V-Series line-array system in conjunction with SL-SUBs custom-coloured in Signal White.

Sav Remzi, founder of Blue Note Nightclub in Shoreditch which was at the root of East London’s cultural transformation back in 1993, influential record label Nuphonic Records and Lovebox music festival, was enlisted as audio consultant for the project. “Southby have an attention to detail and dedication that matches my own,” said Remzi. “As soon as I was briefed on the extraordinary demands of this project, I knew they, and d&b, would be the perfect choice for my client.”

Chris Jones, Director at Southby gives insight into why they proposed the d&b V-Series for the project: “The V-Series is an absolute rider-pleaser which was a crucial aspect of the brief. The tight pattern control and cardioid nature of the SL-SUBs also ensure that reflections of the back wall are kept to a minimum.”

The real advantage of the d&b V-Series in this space came from coupling it with ArrayProcessing.Chris Jones, Managing Director at Southby

ArrayProcessing optimises the tonal and level performance of a line array hang and significantly improves the consistency of the frequency response over distance, as well as correcting for air absorption. This makes it a defining addition to a system that needs to be flexible in its uses.

Musson elaborates on the decision-making process: “We took charts from a number of different manufacturers and found that the d&b system and management software delivered the best coverage and control for our requirements. When the system was tuned, we were able to avoid acoustically problematic areas and isolate coverage to certain zones.

“We chose the V-Series, over the Y-Series, particularly, as we wanted an option whereby, we could, for smaller events, remove the hung Vi-SUBs without affecting the frequency response and integrity of the system. This turned out to be a very flexible option, especially for socially distanced events” he continues.

To deliver on the aesthetics, Southby and the team came up with a solution where all hangs and rigging are hidden above the ceiling. This way, the array is solely fixed by motors giving the illusion of it being suspended in mid-air.

Remzi is pleased with the outcome: “I love the end-result. The modernity of the all-white d&b line array marries beautifully with the classic backdrop of the church, like it was always supposed to be there. It looks particularly stunning with the beautiful d&b speakers hanging there uninterrupted by unsightly frames and trusses.”

Ready for the future

It is clear for all involved that quality audio is crucial in operating successful events. The church wants this to be a thriving, multi-purpose venue that benefits the community and those in need through generating much-needed funds and the new d&b system enables them to do just that.

I call St John a ‘future-proof venue’. You need the best products to create great experiences and this is usually 90% achievable through the quality of sound. As an audiophile and long-time promoter of music events I understand the importance of the best possible sound in making a lasting impression on the artist and the audience, and find that the clarity d&b delivers always hits the sweet spot.Sav Remzi, Audio Consultant

“We think we’ve created something really special. We did it for the people of East London.” concludes Last.

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