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Could Frank Ocean Really Bring an Ice Rink to Coachella?

“Ice-cold, baby, I told you” —Frank Ocean Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Getty Images

At first, it sounded too random to be true: Frank Ocean’s late, messy Coachella set was supposed to involve … an ice rink? But in the hours and days since the festival’s first weekend ended, more details about the singer’s alleged frozen endeavors have emerged. The rumor began earlier last week when an anon told DeuxMoi that the singer’s performance would involve skating. Later, the Festive Owl cited sources saying that an ice rink was ready to go but that Ocean decided at the last minute he no longer wanted it. TMZ soon corroborated the rink but said Ocean had scrapped it due to an ankle injury. Per TMZ, his team had reportedly spent months planning the stunt and cast over 100 skaters from local hockey teams who rehearsed the show for weeks. (Part of Ocean’s hour-long delay in starting his set apparently came from having to melt the ice and reset the stage.)

But that still leaves a lot of questions. Like, how does one get an ice rink to Coachella or, for that matter, keep it cold in the California desert? And how much would it cost? To find out, Vulture spoke to Brad Holland, vice-president of Magic Ice USA, which helps make ice rinks for movies and theme parks — but has never done a Coachella set.

If I reached out to you and said, “This musician I’m working with is playing Coachella, which is in the desert, and he wants to have an ice rink onstage as part of the show,” where would you go from there?
First thing I’d ask about is power, because you can’t have an ice rink without electricity. A relatively small sheet of ice requires a lot of electricity to keep cool, particularly in that environment. If their budget is on the lower end, then I would suggest a synthetic rink — it’s the easiest, it’s usually readily available in major markets, and it doesn’t require any electricity. It’s not what you’d want to play a hockey game on, but it’s certainly skateable.

If the budget is unlimited and electricity is available, then making ice on a stage like that would be no problem. I just want to know the dimensions: How big a stage do you need? What shape do you want it? And how long do I have to put it in and take it out? Real ice takes, minimum, 24 hours to get installed, and that’s if you have a big crew and you’re really working. A synthetic floor can be thrown down in a couple hours.

The initial report on this ice-rink rumor said they had to melt the stage after deciding they didn’t want it.
If that’s the case, then that’s a real ice sheet, obviously.

Frank Ocean reportedly wanted around 100 skaters for this. How big of an ice rink would you need for that?
It depends on what they’re doing. A standard NHL sheet is 17,000 square feet. Now, you can either play a game of hockey with ten players, or you can public skate 700 people on a rink that size. I just can’t imagine what size his would be. I would think for a hundred people to move around … 8,000 square feet or so, to give you enough room to have any sort of choreography. Otherwise, it’d be jammed up.

And obviously, this rink would need to be elevated on a stage. Does that make your job harder as far as constructing something?
Oddly enough, no. That’s an easier thing. All ice rinks need a level surface on which to be placed. If the rink is out of level, even by an inch, when you’re making the ice sheet, you’ll have an inch of ice over here and none at the other end. And the ice is an insulator. In other words, it doesn’t want to transfer heat. So you want to keep the ice as thin as possible so the refrigeration can work. You want a nice, dead-level surface. In many cases, our clients will just level the land. But in about half the cases, they’ll build a deck.

So in an ideal world, if you were going to build an ice-rink stage for a music festival, how far in advance would you want to start planning that?
It depends on the road show and how they’re organized. We’ve done things where Disney has called us on a Wednesday, and then on Saturday we start construction because they’re prepared. They know what they want. We’ve done movies where there’s six months of planning because they want the ice a certain color.

A festival like this where we’re just laying out a sheet of ice and people know what they’re doing, it can go very quickly. They could call us a couple of weeks in advance and we could have the things ready to go because our equipment is modular and that’s what it’s built to do. So it wouldn’t be that much.

When Ocean’s performance was happening, it was in the high 70s. How is it possible to have ice out there?
We use big air conditioners. We drive them down to subfreezing temperatures. Air conditioners typically make cold water, and the cold water is piped into large buildings like high rises and skyscrapers. But instead of using the air conditioners to make cold water, we use anti-freeze and we drive them down to zero or five degrees. We can make ice almost anywhere. The problems that we run into are ambient temperature or how hot it is, but believe it or not, that’s not the real driver. It’s sunlight, it’s wind, it’s rain. If you can cover an ice sheet, just keep it out of the sun and block it from some of the wind, you can make ice easily up to 80, 90 degrees. But you have to be able to shut down a couple of those variables.

If they had to melt the ice, as Ocean’s team allegedly did, how long would that take?
If you leave it to melt on its own, it could take quite a while. In an environment like that, I would imagine, it would take three or four days. But I’m sure that they had a heater there. That’s what we do, and that can be done in hours.

You mentioned earlier that real ice is for an unlimited budget. If you were given enough notice, and it’s the size that you guessed, and you’re going to have to keep it cold in the middle of the California desert, what would that run somebody?
This is a ballpark figure, but let’s say $150,000 to $200,000. The issue is, though, the additional costs, which we do not bear. Typically, in the desert, that means using diesel. One of these ice rinks can easily burn 50 gallons an hour of diesel. So the energy costs to keep this thing chilled for any length of time become very expensive, very quick. I don’t know how they would’ve gone about it. I can’t imagine they got electric out there. If they have industrial electric, then you’re talking about $20,000 worth of electric. But if you have to make that with a generator, it can be three or four times that.

I haven’t seen an ice rink during an outdoor music-festival performance. Have you?
It’s the first time I’ve heard of it. We’ve done movies. We just did one with Ryan Reynolds. We’ve certainly worked with all the theme parks. But I have not heard of a popular singer using ice as a prop.

Does it strike you as a good idea or something that’s worth exploring more?
As a guy who rents ice rinks, I think it’s a fantastic idea! A guy that sells umbrellas loves it when it rains. But I don’t know if I’m expecting my phone to ring for a lot of these.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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Could Frank Ocean Really Bring an Ice Rink to Coachella?