Thinking inside the box… Ayrton throws light on The Chainsmokers Memories…Do Not Open tour
Grammy Award-winning artist producer duo, The Chainsmokers, aka Alex Pall and Drew Taggart, embarked on their first arena tour earlier this year, visiting 36 cities across North America. The multi-faceted show was designed and produced by Miguel Risueño, aka Mike808, and Corey Johnson of Production Club, Los Angeles, with a stunning lighting design from Cory FitzGerald, and production management by Clancy Silver.
Signature to the show’s design were 126 MagicPanel™ fixtures from Ayrton, with 42 of the new MagicPanel™FX and 84 MagicPanel™R fixtures forming a dynamic, articulated ceiling of light above the duo, and 18 Ayrton MagicDot™-R units fronting their DJ booth.
The tour was in support of Memories…Do Not Open, the duo’s first studio album which plays with the concept of a teenager’s ‘memory box’ in which a youngster might hide their precious objects – love letters, tickets, photos etc. The pretext gave the designers the perfect opportunity to explore the idea of using the box to create a stage and to ‘open’ that box of memories for the audience.
“Our vision was that the box would bring the band’s lyrics and stories to life,” explains Mike808, the show’s production designer and creative director. “Our design reflected that concept, visualizing the stage as a box through which we unveiled the different memories, both those of The Chainsmokers and of the audience themselves.”
“The box allowed us to be more ‘literal’ with the illustrated video content running on the V-Thru screen which wraps around the band; or, at other times, more ‘abstract’ with a perimeter of lights around the stage to form an ethereal box of light.”
In addition to this, Production Club also devised a way to meet The Chainsmokers unusual requirement of alternating between their DJ sections and playing live on stage, effectively dividing the show into separate sections.
“Alex and Drew were very clear that the two aspects should not merge, so they could preserve the value of the original DJ set without compromising the new live music sections,” says Mike808. “The challenge for us was not to create a hybrid of DJ and live show, but to maintain both aspects as separate entities. The result was a mix of five DJ sections alternating with five live sections, interspersed with some ‘theatrical skits’ between songs.
“We needed a set that would be flexible enough to cut and change between these and be ready for whatever the duo decided to play next.”
Key to this mutable set was the dynamic ceiling of light which could change the shape and appearance of the stage, and alternate swiftly between the sections. It was composed of 6 independent, automated overhead pods, each measuring 24ft deep x 6ft wide and loaded with Ayrton MagicPanel™FX and Ayrton MagicPanel™R units. Each pod was mobilised by SGPS/ShowRig winches and capable of rotation in two axes, and also moved up and down. “We could organise them into custom configurations, form arches with them, bring them in low over the DJ booth and break them back up to become a ceiling once again,” explains Mike808. “One pod became a staircase at one point, and the two central ones were used as aerial platforms for the guys to stand on to perform a couple of numbers. The Ayrton MagicPanels were ideal because they have the flexibility to perform in all these scenarios.”
Each pod carried 21 MagicPanel fixtures arranged in three rows: a central row of 7 MagicPanel-FX flanked by a row of 7 MagicPanel-R units on each side. “The pods gave us a lot of cool options in shaping the stage, in addition to which we could use all the ‘Magic’ stuff inside them,” says FitzGerald.
Programmers Davey Martinez and Brian Jenkins, both of whom have worked with FitzGerald and Production Club before, and LD Aaron Kovelman, worked with FitzGerald to build a lot of layouts and bitmapping in advance. “We created a lot of effects with different groupings, and were able to use these pre-built looks in different ways to maximise the MagicPanels’ flexibility during the show,” says FitzGerald. “Miguel wanted to add an architectural element with some strong static statements, so we decided to keep live movement of the pods to a minimum and let the Ayrton fixtures create the dynamism.”
Unpacking the box
The team was careful to space and align the pods with precision to ensure that, when each central row of MagicPanel-FX was turned off, the remaining rows of MagicPanel-R were all equidistant from each other.
“This trick allowed us to break down the MagicPanel ceiling into several different configurations depending on the song, each one establishing a different visual rhythm onstage” says Mike808.
The ceiling alignment was put to good use on the song Young by emulating a classroom environment: “Young is about the adventures and mistakes you make when you’re a teenager, which we illustrated by turning the video wall into a blackboard and the MagicPanel pods into staple classroom lights.”
Later in that same song, one pod, which had a set of stairs embedded on top of it, was dropped down and angled for Drew to walk up it. “At this point we were able to spin the MagicPanels beneath the pod to face upwards and delineate each of the steps as he walked up them until he reached the full height of 24ft above the stage. That is a specific effect we could not achieve with any other technology,” says Mike808. “MagicPanel-FX are very cinematic fixtures that let you recreate lots of different moods and skip through them rapidly, like cutting through scenes in a movie”
FitzGerald also used the MagicPanels to make a strong visual statement during Paris – a song about a place that lets the imagination fly – when the two central pods are flown out high above the stage with Alex and Drew on the back of them surrounded by MagicPanel fixtures blazing out beneath and beside them.
The MagicPanels’ endless pan and tilt capability proved a huge bonus when dealing with the off-set of the pods which tilted and rolled in nine or ten different positions during the show. “In Bloodstream, for example, we started with the pods in great disarray, to the point that they looked as though something had gone wrong,” explains Mike 808. “This suited the narrative as Drew sang about going through difficult moments in his life. However, as the song evolves the look turned into a giant organized pattern to express confidence and control.”
During the DJ sessions the pods were usually flown in low and tilted abruptly to meet the musician risers and DJ booth which rose up to 10ft to meet them. Here they were used as low-resolution video screens and as very impressive decorative effects behind the DJ booth.
Mike808 added the finishing touches to the DJ booth by placing 18 MagicDot-R fixtures around its perimeter. “We were bored with the typical LED DJ booth look so we put a strip of LED video across the front and lit the negative space under the video with MagicDot-Rs.
We used them to create some cool effects that drew more attention to the booth. The fixtures were so light we were able to attach them with Velcro and they stayed firmly in place despite Drew’s or Alex’s crazy, energetic jumping and dancing around!”
FitzGerald and Mike808 were already familiar with Ayrton products having used MagicPanels, MagicDots, IntelliPix, CosmoPix and MagicBlades extensively on previous projects. However, MagicPanel-FX was relatively new to them both.
“We first used MagicPanel-FX in December 2016 at an Amazon Web Services party for around 15,000 people, headlined by Martin Garrix, and I really loved them,” says Mike808. “I knew I had some big designs coming this year so it was a way of trying out the MagicPanel-FX in advance. We were super-excited by them even though we only got to run them for 4 hours. They were something different and innovative so we tried to incorporate them into The Chainsmokers design as much as possible.”
FitzGerald agrees: “I like the way the MagicPanel-FX looks. It can behave the same as a MagicPanel-R, which is convenient, and they definitely come from the same family so the colours all match. But the lensing and face of the fixture give a totally different look and feel from the regular MagicPanels and from any other fixture on the market. Looking into the lens, you can play with the way you see the light in the way it irises at some points.
“They are extremely powerful and I like the flexibility the zoom gives – it changes everything in the way the MagicPanel-FX looks and the way it acts. We found we could use them to trick the eye into thinking they were all MagicPanel-R and then zoom out and use them to introduce a completely different element. It’s a pretty cool feature. I would definitely use them again.”
“We wanted to emphasize the importance of meticulous lighting programming on this tour,” says Mike808. “Cory, Brian and Davey are the dream team of lighting, and with their talents we achieved some incredible results.”
“The flown pods were the centrepiece of our design and were unique because we used them in so many different ways. The fact that they were populated with MagicPanel-FX and MagicPanel-R says something particularly significant about Ayrton’s involvement here,” concludes Mike808. “The Chainsmokers are used to performing with video, yet they had the courage to do a show that was a huge mix of DJ sessions, live band and interaction with the audience. We tried to add something on every song to keep the interest, and needed fixtures that were extremely versatile to cope with a lighting design that had to cross so many different genres at different stages throughout the show.
“That’s the value of the Ayrton products – they can change from a very sterile, high tech look at one moment to a warm, classical theatrical kind of fixture the next. For us, that was one of the most important goals of the project – to be able to evoke extremely different feelings throughout the set – because the show is about the memories in all their variety. We had just not one general feeling to convey, but a whole range of different looks and emotions. I think that’s what the design, the music of The Chainsmokers, and Ayrton have in common – their ability to transport the audience to different environments and mental states. We are very happy of achieving this through the use of light.”
The Chainsmokers summer tour crossed North America, Canada and Europe until September, before travelling on to Australia and New Zealand for October where the team added 48 new MagicBlade™FX and 45 MagicPanel™602 fixtures to the design. The duo will return to tour the US throughout November and December before embarking on another European leg in the new year.
Text: Julie Harper
Photos: © Danilo Lewis
© 2017 Todd Kaplan
© Olav Stubberud