An Interview with Blackout

Blackout Director Kevin Monks

Founded in 1990 by current Chairman Steve Tuck, Blackout has developed into the event industry’s largest and most renowned supplier of drapes, rigging and other related products. Its services range from straight forward dry-hire to full installations and bespoke pieces, and last year the company worked with festivals such as We are FSTVL, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, The National Student Drama Festival, and more.

Insights recently spoke with Blackout Director Kevin Monks about supporting the next generation of riggers, Blackout’s work with various festivals across the UK, the details of its much-celebrated Kabuki drop, and more.

Festival Insights: Last year, the government announced plans to support three million UK apprenticeships by 2020, and also announced the approval of 59 group standards for ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeships. This new initiative launched the first apprenticeship as a Live Event Rigger, the development of which was facilitated by NRAG (National Rigging Advisory Group). Are you optimistic about the effect these apprenticeships will have on fostering new talent in the industry?

Kevin Monks: We, as part of National Rigging Advisory Group’s (NRAG) working sub-group, have helped identify the industry-wide requirement for a structured development plan for those deciding on a career in live event rigging. It is extremely encouraging to be part of a group which has worked together to design the assessment process to meet relevant business needs such as knowledge, skills and behaviours. With the industry growing, the demand for riggers is heightened, hence the need for employers to work together and all take on responsibility to develop a core of dedicated, highly skilled individuals. This will ensure the skills gap is minimised and competent riggers develop, qualified to work safely in a very hazardous and continually changing environment, and become recognised by way of a level 3 apprenticeship.

We are delighted to be among the rigging companies moving closer to taking on the UK’s first round of Trailblazer Live Event Rigger apprentices. This is a great step forward for our industry, allowing us to nurture new talent and encourage more young people to gain the necessary skills and qualifications that will enable them to thrive. We’re hugely optimistic about the effects this will have on the future of the rigging industry, and we cant wait to welcome our first apprentice.

FI: Blackout returned to Scarborough’s National Student Drama Festival for the third year in 2015, donating time and equipment to help the next generation of production professionals learn their trade. What exactly did Blackout provide to the festival, and how was the experience?

KM: In total, Blackout supplied a full 45ft arctic truck’s worth of rigging and draping equipment, all in aid of enabling the young professionals to learn their craft in the live events industry. Kit donated to the annual event included 25 hoist motors, 100m of pipe and drape, 6000m of black wool serge and red velour drapes, plus 350m of truss. We managed the build over three days, joined by a volunteer team of 60 crew members, aged between 16-25, giving the students a hands-on opportunity to install everything from drapes, rigging and sound, to lights and special effects, providing a range of practical training.

Taking place across the seaside town of Scarborough, the volunteer crew worked to a tight budget, transforming five venues and getting them ready to host a number of theatre productions which are written, directed and performed by students.

This is a brilliant event and the fantastic hands-on learning opportunity that this build presents to the student Technical Team is an unrivalled experience for young people to come and learn. Being part of such a great event was a privilege, and we’re proud to have been able to give something back to the future talent of our industry.

FI: Blackout has cited the Kabuki drop as its most popular reveal. Could you explain what it entails?

KM: Kabuki is one of many popular and versatile Blackout reveal effects. Whether it’s unveiling a pop star or a new product the Kabuki drop is the go-to technique for a flawless effect every time. It uses individual units, which clamp to the rig and hold your fabric – or whatever you’d like – into place, ready for the big moment. When the time comes, the fabric is dropped swiftly from above to reveal your product, space, or performers. Unsurprisingly, this is our most popular reveal product and certainly works to add an element of magic to any event. We’ve used our Kabuki drop system for a range of diverse events, including dropping a year’s supply of fish fingers onto Ant McPartlin during Celebrity Juice, to reveal the outer circumference of the Millennium Dome’s exhibition during the official opening ceremony, and to hang a huge chandelier created using thousands of individual jewels which revealed Justin Timberlake at The Brits.

FI: 2015 saw Blackout expand its stock of H40 V truss, as well as launch its new company website. Are there any big plans in place for 2016 that you can share?

KM: 2015 was an exciting year for us at Blackout as we celebrated our 25th anniversary. For the year ahead, we foresee the ‘Trailblazer’ apprentice scheme being an exciting step forward for the industry and we look forward to seeing where it’s heading. 2016 will also witness a number of company achievements, including our French office celebrating its 20th anniversary, and as well as working with our great longstanding clients we’re looking forward to working on a number of new projects this year.

: Blackout was contracted to supply bespoke drapes for the 50,000 capacity BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend in May, along with a custom-made red velour drape for Florence + the Machine’s set and a wool serge drape for the main stage backdrop. How much of Blackout’s work is festival-related? Are you interested in working with more festivals next year?

: Last year saw us work with a number of festivals for the first time, including Wild Life Festival, and continue our work with longstanding event contracts, such as BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend. We have a huge base of clients and their needs vary, but of course we love working on festivals, as they are a huge part of the live events industry and are always such great events to be involved with.

FI: Colour Sound Experiment called upon Blackout to supply tracking for an LED video wall at We Are FSTVL, and to also provide drapes on all four stages for the very first time at this year’s Wild Life Festival. Have any festivals this year presented a particular challenge?

KM: Not really! Although not particularly challenging, last year we were contracted by Henley Festival to provide the rigging for the main stage for the first time, building on our long-term relationship. The stage was located on the river and due to the fact that this five day festival follows on from the prestigious Henley Regatta, the install times were tight and required a quick turnaround.