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Kraken Event Solutions: The Evolution and Success of a Canadian Production Company
"Adding PANTHER was a big move, but the relationship with Gerr eased Kurtis’ mind. “Not only is PANTHER a fantastic product, but we know we’re going to get great service and support. Things like having Ian Robertson come out to do training with my crew and working through the networking side of PANTHER and the finer details; we know the support is there." - Kurtis Kesler, President & CEO Kraken Event Solutions
27 March, 2024 by
Kraken Event Solutions: The Evolution and Success of a Canadian Production Company
When the pandemic in 2020 and all the events Kurtis Kesler had on the books disappeared, the President/CEO of Taber, Alberta-based Kraken Event Solutions decided it was time to reevaluate and consider how to move forward. “That caused us to grow in different directions,” he says. When outdoor Drive-in and ‘Covid safe’ events began coming, Kurtis purchased various Stageline stages. “And, at the same time, we added more audio inventory for those stages, which fueled the growth we’re seeing today.” Among the inventory additions made during that time, Kurtis points to a Meyer Sound PANTHER rig purchased through GerrAudio Distribution.

“I’ve only been working with Gerr for a couple of years," Kurtis explains, adding that he already had a preference for the brands GerrAudio distributed before working with them. “They had everything I wanted – Meyer, DiGiCo, DPA – which is dangerous,” he says, chuckling. “They have my favourite gear and some of my favourite guys to work with.”

He first contacted Gerr after deciding to invest in DiGiCo consoles in January 2021. “We placed an opening order for a DiGiCo Quantum console and Meyer Sound X-40s. That was the start of what’s become a great relationship. Help is always just a phone call away with Gerr. If we do run into an issue – which is a rarity, honestly - Gerr has a fix or can reach out to someone for a fix. For Demo Days (GerrAudio’s annual tradeshow and networking event), they bring in some of the top people in the world. The knowledge they have and can access has been amazing for me and for my crew. Now, Gerr is my first call whenever we need something.”

Kurtis’s own thirst for knowledge has been integral to his work in production, event planning, and journey as an entrepreneur since the beginning. “I’ve always had a fascination for music, so music was always part of my life. But I was always on the technical side. As a kid, I’d go to concerts but didn’t really care who was on the stage. I wanted to see the stage, the technology, and how the entire show was put together. So I always wanted to be on the event planning side as well.”

While Kurtis prefers to focus on Kraken Event Solutions' growth and what sets it apart rather than talk about himself, his early interest in audio and drive to work in the industry is central to the success of Kraken – past and present.

“I remember in grade 7, our school planned a dance and needed a DJ.’ I said, ‘I know how to make that work.’ With ambition to spare, he took a small loan and bought some lighting – “500 or 600 bucks worth, which for me, at the time, was a big deal.’ Based on the success of that effort, the local high school asked Kurtis to work their dances. “It just grew from there. I started doing other events: weddings, Christmas concerts, some corporate stuff, and distributed audio for fairs. I was booked solid during my high school years.”

He shored up his hands-on knowledge by studying electrical and civil engineering at university while continuing to work weekends and during summer break on events in Alberta. “Fast-forward to Covid,” he says. “I just thought it was a good time to grow.”

What started in his family’s garage 18 years ago has grown substantially. “I did a lot of tinkering in the garage and (eventually) kicked the family car out and took over. Fast forward a few years, and we are now working out of multiple shops, and we’re at the point where we don't have enough space if everything is back at the shop. So the next expansion plan is in the works already.”

“Kraken was a rebranding of the company in 2020,” Kurtis explains. “I’d been doing shows under my name since middle school and working my way up from there."

As for the new moniker, he wanted something memorable and catchy, and Kraken not only fit the bill but also reflected the breadth of the company’s offerings. “We’re not just sound, lighting, or staging; we’re a turnkey event solutions company. We have an extensive reach to all elements of a production, and that was well described with the new name.”

That includes delivery, he notes: “We do all our own transport. We have our own trucks and trailers to ensure the gear arrives on time, in the proper condition, and ready to go. That’s really helped us because we’re not relying on rentals - vehicles we don’t know the service record of or if they’ll be there. We’ve eliminated those variables by investing in the transport side. That’s a huge part of our growth.”

Put bluntly, Kraken is truly a one-stop shop. 

Meyer was a part of his inventory early on, he continues, explaining that, previously, his go-to was Meyer’s LEO rig. “When they released PANTHER, I saw the box, the output, the potential, and it was immediately on our list as the box we needed to upgrade to. It was a logical step.” Metaphorically, he adds, “It has all the cards to be a stacked deck.”

As far as positioning the company for growth, purchasing DiGiCo and Meyer PANTHER gear amplified the message of how seriously Kraken is about providing cutting-edge solutions that are arguably among the most rider-friendly these days. “I’ve been a Meyer fan since I was a kid. They understand the science behind audio to a greater extent than I think many do. That, to me, was a huge draw – because that’s my view as well, so PANTHER, for us, was a no-brainer.”

With one season behind them with PANTHER, the reviews are entirely positive. “FOH engineers who’ve used it are very happy. And I’ve been fortunate to mix on it a fair bit. It’s proven to be a great system; no matter how we scale it in size from flying it on our small SL100 to SL260s to arena shows, it’s flexible enough to handle it.”

“Part of that is the consistent horizontal coverage,” Kurtis continues. “It’s so smooth and consistent that we’re able to deploy it in situations that, traditionally, line array might not fit best because it might be too pointed.” Bluntly, he says, upon modeling PANTHER in such situations, it’s routinely a great fit. “The flexibility of it works for concerts, corporate events, everything really.”

For Kurtis, however, having class-leading gear also makes providing class-leading service that much more critical. To do so, the company has assiduously tweaked everything it deploys to be as efficient and reliable as possible. “We’ve dug in – proprietary-wise and design-wise on our cabling and the structure of it. That’s sped up our load-in/out times and the stability of the systems. Our system has been running the entire season on a Milan Network with an analogue backup with zero faults.”

Kurtis goes into the details: “One cable connection powers and provides the Milan data signal and an analogue backup for four boxes. Our PANTHER lives on a cart of four. The breakout is distributed on four boxes. So we roll out a group of four boxes, one cable plugs in, up in the air it goes, roll out the next four, one cable, up it goes.”

Adding PANTHER was a big move, but the relationship with Gerr eased Kurtis’ mind. “Not only is PANTHER a fantastic product, but we know we’re going to get great service and support. Things like having Ian Robertson come out to do training with my crew and working through the networking side of PANTHER and the finer details; we know the support is there. If we ever have an issue with a driver, for example, we know the support is there to get us a replacement as fast as they possibly can.”

Kurtis’s focus on DiGiCo began when the company was smaller, with the purchase of a DiGiCo S21 console. “We bought it shortly after it came out and fell in love with the flexibility, and then I started looking into the SD Series. DiGiCo was a natural fit for me (as a mixer).

“I started in digital on DiGiCo, and when you start with something, you favour it.” Kraken offers a variety of console brands to fit clients' needs, but he notes: “DiGiCo has been our main console. We own 7 of them: S21s, SD11s, 12s, the Q225 and Q338.”

Having favoured DiGiCo since the beginning, continuing to add the brand's consoles to their inventory was another no-brainer. “They have great sound quality, so we kept growing our inventory around it.”

Recently, Kraken has also begun exploring KLANG’s immersive monitoring systems and integrating KLANG with their DiGiCo consoles. “It’s a very cool tool. One of our techs, being a monitor guy and a musician, really sees the benefit of it, and as artists and other people realize the difference, KLANG will become more of a want. We foresee that, as soon as people hear it and hear the difference, it’s going to become a need.” Kurtis also praised KLANG as a means to help bridge the gap for anyone hesitant to move from wedges to IEMs. “We’re very much a promoter of that; let’s save everyone’s hearing. As a FOH guy, too, I want to keep stage volume low. And, on the monitor side, let’s keep stage clutter to a minimum. That’s part of the KLANG push,” he adds, as is their use of a Sensaphonics/ASI Audio demo kit. Again, he notes, “We send that out all the time to let artists hear the difference, too, because we’re trying to get them off wedges. And that’s a huge piece of that.”

When it comes to whatever they need, Kurtis says: “Gerr has been really upfront and honest and accurate in what they tell us in terms of delivery, and we generally get delivery in that timeframe or ahead of that time.”

Having a partner that’s straight up, not just about the capabilities of the technology in question, but – at a time when global supply chains are still wheezing – delivery times are essential. That open, honest approach is something Kraken adheres to as well. “I hate planning at the last minute. I’d rather know what’s going to happen. I’m planning shows and doing designs and renderings for shows in November 2024, which gives us time to plan and be ready to go for the season. Part of that is when we bought our DiGiCo desks and our PANTHER rig; we bought it with enough time to have it in the shop to tech it, to troubleshoot, to work through failure scenarios – that we caused like this connector isn’t tight and do training that way, working through actual, potential on-site scenarios ahead of time.”

That extends to ensuring there’s backup on site. “You know, if we have two consoles, FOH and monitors, for a show, there’s a 99-percent chance there’s a third one in the truck. We have full backups – Alberta’s a big province but small for our industry – we have the gear on hand, and pretty much every show goes out with extra consoles, mics, and cables. A lot of that is packaging – like this is the cable pack that goes out with a system; everything plus spares; enough cables to patch the whole system to patch everything from the console out. We allocate that specifically to keep things organized, so we know we have enough gear.”

“Recently, we’ve added more lighting, more Meyer Sound gear. We have some cool stuff coming into play with our PANTHER rig for rapid deployment so that we can get the rig up in record time. We’re working on things like that to really bring our show up. As the events we do grow, we’re going to grow with them, more PA, more consoles, more growth.”

While he describes Alberta-based events as the company’s mainstay, the company also works regularly in BC and Saskatchewan. And Kraken’s reach is expanding. “We’ve run into artists and groups who want to work with us and want to take us on their travels, too. So we do go into the US as well.” Given his location, the opportunity for growth in every direction is more plausible than for a company based elsewhere. “We’re positioned to serve a larger market.”

Kurtis is also dedicated to ‘greening’ his business, noting that their main shop operates on solar with geothermal heating and cooling systems. “That’s another piece,” he adds. The ethic, for Kurtis and Kraken Event Solutions, is always about being ahead of the game. “Be prepared for anything. It’s better to be ready and waiting than not ready and running.”