All of the best things in the City of Melbourne are to be found in small laneways. Ding Dong Lounge, long-time champion of great rock, good music and late nights, sits unassumingly above a German restaurant in Market Lane. Quiet from the outside but loud and proud inside, Ding Dong has hosted the best of national and international indie, punk and rock. Owner Bill Walsh, singing drummer of the legendary Cosmic Psychos, has modelled the venue on its sister Ding Dong Lounge in New York and the greatly missed Continental of Prahran.
Being packed cheek by jowl amid the restaurants of Chinatown has its risks, and in June 2011, a fire from the establishment below did the venue some damage. This set Bill on a course to remodel and relaunch. Opening again with rented production, Ding Dong went about raising the bar for Melbourne’s live music venues.
Cue the entry of Wil Burston, long-time rock’n’roll touring engineer, seeking to get off the road and put down roots in the city. An old friend of Bill’s, he was asked to helm production in the venue and happily accepted. When the equation of renting lights and sound compared to buying pointed to ownership, both Wil and Bill were ready to do something special.
Wil then turned to integrators Soundcorp to assist him with the new design for the club. Soundcorp’s Pro Audio Product Manager, Scott Jamieson, co-ordinated the project, helping Wil in the design process by critically evaluating solutions to the problems Ding Dong had experienced in the past. “Ding Dong was ready for a refit” said Scott. “It does a diverse range of acts and Bill Walsh knows what it’s like to be up on the stage. He was always a smart operator back when he was touring with the Cosmic Psychos, and knew what he wanted the system to achieve”.
Scott helped to integrate all aspects of the venue’s systems, including DSP, back-of-house sound and automated operation. He worked closely with Wil and Group Technologies’ Technical Sales specialist Drew Menard to computer model the P.A. design’s performance in Nexo’s NS-1 3D modelling software. “We all discussed some of the short falls in the previous system” explained Drew. “They included coverage, horsepower and sound on stage. That’s one of the big issues with smaller venues – what’s happening with the P.A. drastically affects what’s happening on stage. We wanted to make sure both the F.O.H. and foldback systems worked cohesively.”
“From the moment that Soundcorp picked up the project, it was an exceedingly painless process” reported Wil. “They managed to install the P.A. without losing a night of trading, and we were trading five nights a week. They did the entire fit-out in six working days across three weeks. In the first week they did cable pulls. The second week, they started fitting off and terminating, then they dropped the existing P.A .out, flew the new one in and commissioned it in three days.”
Drew Menard was equally complimentary. “I do a lot of work with Soundcorp and I’m always impressed by the support that they give their customers. Whether it’s design questions at the outset or last minute requirements, they’ve always got their customers’ needs in mind.”
The Awesome Foursome (left to right): Scott Jamieson (Soundcorp), Drew Menard (Group Technologies), Wil Burston and Billy Walsh (Ding Dong Lounge)
Ding Dong now possesses one of the finest mid-sized club systems in Australia. On each side of the thrusted stage hangs a Nexo GEO S1230 and a GEO S1210, providing 40 degrees vertical dispersion and between 80 and 120 degrees of horizontal dispersion. These are complimented by four Nexo LS600 subwoofers in a centre/outside configuration. “We have 25 stories of apartments looking over our roof space, so we had to do some beam steering to get the vertical lobe off the subs” elaborated Wil. “We also had to high pass the system at 38Hz because the LS600s were running flat to 28Hz and were knocking things off the tables.”
Fill to the sides of the stage is provided by stereo pairs of Nexo PS8s. When Ding Dong is running its Weekender and Midnight Run club nights, two Nexo PS10R2s function as dancefloor infill. When bands grace the stage, they become sidefill. All Nexo loudspeakers are driven by Nexo NX power amps. Amazingly, the whole F.O.H. system required almost no EQ. “We had to do very little tuning” observed Wil. “It was all time alignment. We only pulled two frequencies out of the entire system. One was a 1/30th of an octave slice at 53Hz to get rid of the resonance from the slab. The other was a small dip at 5kHz which I’ve since put back in.”
Onstage, seven Quest 12MP wedges and a Quest HPI12S sub to augment the drumfill take care of monitoring, running off three Camco D6 power amps. Processing from Canadian DSP maker Xilica handles some basic EQ and limiting of the foldback system in the form of an XP-8080 fixed architecture processor.
Driving the system is Wil’s mixing console brand of choice, DiGiCo. An SD9 connected to a 32×8 D-Rack handles both F.O.H. and foldback duties. “Having toured forever and used everything, I use nothing but a DiGiCo if possible” stated Wil. “They’re one of the only digital consoles that has full 40 bit floating processing throughout, the latency is always fixed and you don’t have to do anything to it to make it sound good to start with. It’s musical without changing colour, and it does what you tell it to do.”
At just 878 mm wide and 785 mm deep, the compact footprint of the SD9 was important to make the most of limited space. Even for such a small console, it still provides 48 inputs, 16+3 busses and a 12×8 matrix, more than enough to handle anything a band can throw at it. Its generous 24 physical faders were also a big selling point for Wil; “As a single operator venue, the two banks of faders are invaluable” he agreed.
“Working with Wil and Bill was very easy because they had such a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve” Scott continued. “Wil’s knowledge of audio and familiarity with Nexo made it easy to put together a system that is just phenomenal. And while everyone else wants to do it cheap, Bill realises you have to do it right.” Wil was happy to return the compliments; “It was one of the most painless, transparent P.A. installs I could imagine. Soundcorp’s support has been fantastic.”
Scott Jamieson sees the changes at Ding Dong as symptomatic of new emphasis on a quality experience in live music venues in Melbourne. “The industry’s had a change” Scott pointed out. “If you look at Richmond’s Corner Hotel, it was historically a grungy rock venue and has now been renovated. It’s now running a pair of DiGiCo SD10s! The market is changing and venues like Ding Dong are leading the next wave. People want to walk into a place and not stick to the floor and hear sound that isn’t an offence to your ears.”