A Party in Paradise
Having already thrilled audiences worldwide with its creative magic and forward thinking technology, discovering Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto production secrets was an opportunity not to be missed. TPi’s Zoe Mutter attended the critically acclaimed show in its stadium spectacular form as it dominated the Stade de France for an unforgettable performance.
From the excitement and buzz that every one of their monumental tours has created across the globe, it is clear to see Coldplay is a band many will never tire of watching perform. Having closely followed the four-piece’s inspiring story and rise to supreme musical status, I’m amongst those who will happily watch show after show, eager to learn what live innovations and visual spectacles will be incorporated into the next performance.
A Coldplay gig is a truly immersive experience for the fans, which - in the case of Mylo Xyloto - comes complete with lasers, fireworks, confetti cannons, inflatables and a sea of brightly coloured LED wristbands, flashing in unison. When you can dance unperturbed in the pouring rain - like I, along with thousands of other fans, did at Coldplay’s Emirates Stadium show earlier this year - you know a band and their on the road team have achieved touring perfection.
Although the latest technology no doubt plays an important part in the resounding success of Coldplay’s shows, it’s not all down to production magic. The talent, charisma and ambition of the four musicians is undeniably at the very heart of their popularity and ability to sell out 80,000-seater stadiums. At each of their shows - come rain or shine - every band member has appeared to be as elated and exploding with energy as their enthusiastic crowd. So when TPi got the chance to cross the Channel to see the chart dominating act perform at Stade de France in Paris and meet the creative and technical collective producing what is best described as a live masterpiece, I was excited to see how they crafted a show that has toured across the continents and kept audiences returning tour after tour.
AN EXPERIENCED TOURING TEAM
The satisfaction of all members of the crew couldn’t have been clearer when TPi visited the Stade de France production office, ahead of Coldplay’s show, which was performed in front of 80,000 fans and filmed for the tour’s DVD. Heading up the production clan was touring veteran and Production Manager, Bill Leabody [Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, The Cure], working closely alongside experienced industry professionals Tour Manager, Marguerite Nguyen, Production Coordinator, Nicole Kuhns and Utilities Manager, Brad Kline.
Leabody’s 35 years in the industry made him the obvious candidate to take up the production reigns of what has become a closely bonded team comprising many long-serving members. “People stay with the band because it’s such a great tour. They’re lovely people to work for, their shows are fantastic and in my opinion, it’s as good a production as you can work on,” enthused Leabody.
Much of the indoor arena design was in place when Leabody joined, but discussions regarding the outdoor show took place with Production Designer, Paul Normandale, whom the PM already knew well. “The biggest discussion point was the fact there’s no roof, which presents many challenges. This came from the band who don’t like to be constrained or play in a box. If it rains, the crowd gets wet, so they didn’t want to have a roof over them either. When it’s a beautiful day it’s amazing,” said Leabody. “However, at a Sunderland show we went through four of Chris’s pianos due to poor weather, but luckily we swapped them quickly.”
The weather always presents a challenge for outdoor tours, but for one without a roof, it can prove more testing, Tour Manager, marguerite Nguyen highlighted: “Rain seems to follow this band, we call it the Coldplay Cloud. We did a show in Abu Dhabi in the desert where it hasn’t rained for 10 years and the day we come in it storms; rain coming in sideways.”
But even when the heavens opened, rain hasn’t stopped play. Leabody commented: “The shows at The Emirates Stadium in the UK were some of the best I’ve ever done. It was an amazing production and even though it rained one of the nights it didn’t matter and everybody had a great time.”
When he initially looked at the show designs, Leabody was concerned it would be tricky to get on the road, but he has been pleasantly surprised and now counts it as one of “the best designed shows as far as packaging goes”. He continued: “It’s a big show, but we load out from the stadium in three hours and the way it’s laid out means people can work simultaneously. Stade de France was the biggest stadium we played on the tour though and there were a lot of challenges. It took a long time to get approval to use pyro from the roof. We were only the third event to get permission.”
The tour’s scheduling no doubt also contributed to the upbeat mood amongst the team. “Coldplay don’t like to tour for weeks on end so the spacing of the tour is great for the crew. We’ll do four weeks and then take some time off. The band all have children and families so they like to plan it well and for people like myself who have families it’s a very nice tour to be on,” added Leabody.
RAIN WON’T STOP PLAY
Tour Manager Nguyen [The Used, My Chemical Romance] was instrumental in putting Leabody’s name forward for the PM role on Mylo Xyloto, already being aware they would work well after touring together with the Dixie Chicks.
Nguyen first joined the Coldplay camp in 2008 as Production Assistant. “When I was offered this position I asked that my good friend Nicole Kuhns replace me because I knew she was great at her job. This is a really key role so you need someone really strong,” she explained.
With Viva la Vida being such an extensive tour comprising 189 shows in a year and half, Nguyen formed strong and long-lasting friendships with the crew. “I celebrated two birthdays on that tour, which i have never done before. At the time the PM was Craig Finley, who’s now our Stage Manager and a friend of mine put my name forward to him for the role of production Assistant. Fin and I had never worked together before but it seemed like we had been working together for years. In hindsight, even though I’m the Tour Manager and he’s Stage Manager I will always be his assistant and if somebody told me that for the rest of my life all I could do was be his assistant I would be fine with it because he will always put me in a great working environment.”
When Nguyen moved onto Mylo Xyloto in her new role, band rehearsals took place at John Henrys in London and the crew did a week of production rehearsals at the Tacoma Dome, Washington. For the stadium tour a team of 81 universal crew members, three site coordinators, two advance teams of eight crew, and three steel teams of 20 was collated and bussing and trucking companies Beat The Street, Stagetruck and Upstaging were brought on board.
Once out on the road, the band and crew wowed audiences with their level of production excellence, but the sheer scale of the show’s popularity is still overwhelming to Nyugen. “Going out in Paris and seeing 80,000 people was amazing, that’s just crazy numbers for one band to get and not many can do it these days. It was the largest audience for a Coldplay show, discounting festivals such as Glastonbury,” she said. “They’re great performers and they give it their all and don’t take for granted their position or success. They are just really happy to be able to perform in front of such a large audience.”
SUPPORT AND STABILITY
As synonymous as visual innovation has become with Coldplay’s shows, sound clarity is still key. Audio Crew Chief / FOH Tech, Tony Smith, has toured with Coldplay since 2002 when they had just moved into arenas. “They needed a V-DOSC [L-Acoustics] Tech and asked me to join them on their world tour and I’ve been here since,” he said. “Although I’m System Designer as well as FOH Tech, I don’t fly PA as much now.”
FOH Engineer, Dan Green, is also sensitive to the band’s sonic needs, having mixed their audio since they signed their record deal. Also joining Smith at FOH was Systems Technician, Sid Rogerson, Pro Tools Engineer and Programmer, Matt Miller and sound crew Conor Dunne, Josh De Jong, Matt Latham, Chris Johnson, Richard Cook, Bill Laing and Jack Murphy.
Longtime audio vendor Wigwam, a company PM Leabody has much respect for, provided audio equipment. “Wigwam have been associated with Coldplay from the beginning and I love the d&b system because it’s so quick to put up and sounds amazing. The audio crew pay a lot of attention to the sound and probably put up more than most as far as delays and coverage. They are conscious the sound has to be as good as possible for everybody, even at the back of the stadium,” he said.
When deciding which FOH console to tour with, Smith and Green looked at desks that would offer the best support and stability and input and output capacity before opting for the DiGiCo SD7. “It sounds great, is stable and has a redundant engine and fantastic support. The Waves package is also integrated into the SD7, which features a lot in Dan’s mix set-up. He uses scenes too but there is always a bit of on-the-fly mixing too,” said Smith.
Green added: “The flexibility is pretty amazing. The way you can layout your desk so everything you need is right in front of you. Having snapshots is great too as it provides you a great starting point on a song and to be able to concentrate on other areas of the mix.”
The SD7 was configured to give the audio team 127 channels, 16 mono, 24 stereo Auxs and 12 group busses, which the crew used most of. “We send stems for live broadcast which eats up a lot of Auxs and channels, so Rik Simpson, one of the band’s producers, can mix 48 lines plus ambience instead of around 112 inputs,” added Smith.
Once the the sound leaves the desk it hits a Dolby Lake system for EQ and levels and then a DME loaded with an Opticore card. This then feeds an Opticore X6R before moving into the d&b audiotechnik D12 and R1 control system.
Added Green: “Mixing Coldplay is all about the message and emotion of the performance coming across to the audience. So I try to keep Chris’s vocals very clear and upfront in the mix and around that make sure all the guitar melodies and key parts come though clearly.” For outboard, the FOH team made use of 16 analogue pre amps mounted in a Radial Workhorse, eight Neve 1073LB, four Shadow Hills, four Helios 500 -69, a TC TC Electronic TC2290, two Bricasti M7 reverbs and an Eventide H8000. A Pro Tools rig was set up for virtual soundchecks and system tuning. “We archive everything, which may or may not end up on a DVD. It’s there if the band wish to use it and we run two JoeCos, which are great!” said Smith.
“Virtual Sound Check is a great tool that gets used at every show. I can make all of the changes I want to make to my snapshots using the feature and I never have to ask the band to play a song,” added Green.
Over in monitor world, Monitor Engineer, Chris Wood, and Monitor Technician, Nick ‘Mystic’ Davis, worked from an Avid Venue Profile system. A mixture of IEMs and on stage wedges were chosen, which included four d&b auditotechnik M2 wedges and a d&b J-SUB.
Like the monitor wedges, the main PA comprised d&b components based around the J-Series. A total of 96 J8 speakers, 24 J12’s and 24 V8’s, 32 JSubs and 10 Infra Subs were teamed up with 12 Q7’s, four Q10’s and 144 D12 amplifiers. Meanwhile, ring delays comprised 32 J8 loudspeakers, 32 V8’s and eight V12’s. An extensive sonic set-up was completed by a microphone collection featuring Sennheiser e901’s, Shure Beta 52, SM56, SM58 and SM57, Radial J48, Avalon DI and Royer R-122. A range of Earthworks mics also played a part in the tour including the DP25, SR40 and DP30 models.
WORKING WIRELESS WONDERS
Coldplay shows are renowned for the experience created for the audience and during Mylo Xyloto the band’s desire to get close to their fans in large venues such as Stade de France demanded a top quality wireless monitor system such as Sennheiser’s bespoke solution.
“There are four guys on stage in Coldplay, however, once all the techs and ancillary staff are supplied with their respective feeds I end up distributing about 40 IEM packs each day fed from almost 30 channels of Sennheiser SR2000 IEM transmitter,” said RF Engineer, Ali Viles.
When Viles first started with the band they were doing a run of festival shows and their requirements were relatively straightforward. However, it soon became apparent the short festival run was leading into several months of promo followed by a substantial world tour.
“Coldplay owned most of their own RF gear from previous tours, however not all of it was current or flexible enough to deal with the ever changing requirements of the radio spectrum authorities around the world,” said Viles. “As the summer festival shows developed into a full blown tour, I worked closely with Sennheiser in the UK to upgrade the band’s existing radio equipment to give us greater flexibility for the forthcoming shows.”
As part of this the band invested in a new IEM system based around almost 30 channels of Sennheiser SR2000 series IEM transmitters. They also chose to buy the remaining items to complete their arsenal of radio mics and wireless instrument inputs, including a selection of Shure UR range products and several channels of Sennheiser EW 500.
With the performance taking place on a main stage with a centre runway projecting out and ending in a second, smaller B stage and an additional C stage at the back of the arena, amongst the audience, faultless wireless performance was necessary. The entire band wore Sennheiser 2000 series IEMs and in arenas all three stages were usually coverable from the main stage RF equipment. However, this was not always possible in the stadiums.
Viles elaborated: “The band run out to a C stage located at the far end of the stadium and perform from there before running back through the audience. This poses a problem from an RF point of view as seamless coverage is required for band’s IEMs on both stages.”
After extensive research of a variety of options, the most cost effective solution involved having local transmitters at each stage, but these cannot both be on at the same time as it causes intermodulation and makes the band’s IEMs unusable. Viles approached Sennheiser about this and they offered to write a software application to enable the remote control of the ‘RF Mute’ facility on multiple IEM transmitters at the same time, offering the seamless change over between two different sets of IEM transmitters the band required.
“The whole system went together with the help of audio vendors Wigwam, who supplied a 300M Opticore system between the two stages that accommodates not only the audio for the C stage but also the networking data for the Sennheiser software and even a composite video feed so that the monitor engineer can watch what is happening out there,” Viles continued.
“The software means it’s possible to have a set of identical 2000 series IEM transmitters, on the same frequencies, located local to the stages at either end of the stadium and to swap which ones are transmitting at the touch of a button from a laptop,” said Viles. “As the band run through the audience between two stages, it’s possible to switch the RF transmission between the locations. This means the band hears virtually seamless coverage as they move between stages.
“The transmitters have a very robust radio system while offering easy management and remote control of many of their parameters. These, in conjunction with the software that Sennheiser has written for us, form the backbone of Coldplay’s RF system.”
Keeping abreast of current legislation in each country has certainly kept Viles on his toes. He elaborated: “With the sale of more digital TV channels and constant changes in the laws in different countries it gets more difficult to find enough spectrum to successfully deliver what is required for any RF-intense show.
“Ultimately it comes down to scanning on site on show day and dealing with unavoidably high levels of EMC noise on site, radiating from lighting rigs, video walls and other equipment. No matter how good it looks in theory, every pack has to be walked extensively, both on stage and in the band’s quick change.”
A SEA OF COLOURED LIGHTS
As audience interaction has always been a key component of Coldplay’s live shows, the boundary pushing LED Xyloband wristbands - an RF device with a receiver, microcontroller, eight LEDs and three batteries - given free to the crowd to create a multi-coloured fluorescent blanket across the stadium were a welcome addition to Mylo Xyloto.
The innovative concept was the brainchild of Jason Regler from RB Concepts who was inspired by Coldplay’s performance of Fix You at Glastonbury Festival in 2005. Already a Coldplay fan, Regler pitched the idea to the band when he met them at a charity auction last year. With the band blown away by the wristbands and keen to see them incorporated into their live shows, a series of testing took place last year before it was put into full cycle for the tour.
“I had the idea and understood what was needed to make it work so we teamed up with an RF expert called David Want to come up with what we have now,” said Regler. “The band pretty much left me to it and trusted my vision and judgement. The band just wanted to create unity, bring people together and make them a part of the show.
“They cost around £3 each to make so they are not a simple cheap device; they have intelligence and radio control and we use good quality hardware and components.”
Xylobands Coordinator, Arman Chaparyan, was brought on board to help tackle the sizeable task of wristband distribution. “The first time the band saw them they fell in love with them. It was supposed to be only for a few shows but they were so impressed that it became a feature of every part of the tour. The band had a lot of input and they wanted them in six colours and the logo on them.
“Making it happen every day is a huge process. I find out how many palettes I need, get them in position and 50 local staff help pull the isolators [white tabs] to activate the bands. Once all the activations are done we run tests to make sure there are no faulty ones. There’s a lot of quality control because when you’re dealing with that quantity you want to make sure it looks the best it can,” said Chaparyan.
The radio controlled wristbands are controlled from a single transmitter at FOH during the show and on demand the bands can flash randomly or can perform a series of different chases. RF Technician, Ali Viles, who was heavily involved alongside Regler and Chaparyan, elaborated: “The first time these were used they were set up to operate at a particular time of day. Although this worked well it quickly became clear this was impractical as a touring solution. The manufacturers developed a radio controlled system and I have helped in the development and licensing of that ever since.”
When the tour comes to an end around 2.3 million of the bands will have been given to fans and as well as testing the kit, dealing with the distribution is very important, noted Leabody. “This was especially true at the Paris show where it was filmed for DVD so we gave two wristbands to each person, meaning 160,000 bands were illuminated at once. Coldplay always want to embrace a great new idea and it’s a very visually stimulating concept from the get go. On the first song, there’s pyro, lasers and wristbands and then balloons come down in the third song; it’s such a dynamic show.”
As well as demonstrating his creative flair on Coldplay’s live work, lighting and production expert Paul Normandale has spent the last few years designing shows for the Kings of Leon, The Stone Roses and Depeche Mode. Mylo Xyloto was not his first Coldplay outing, however, having produced stunning designs for their third major concert tour, Viva la Vida, with its epic run of shows spanning from 2008 to 2010.
Normandale explained the motivations behind his exceptional illumination and production concepts, which evolved from ideas generated for Coldplay’s festival run: “The band’s input into every aspect of their live work is huge and they wanted a visual dynamic to reflect their intense ultra violet colour palette from the new album. Priorities on stage were to create a circle or ball of energy from which the band could explode and encompass the whole crowd in interaction and total involvement.”
Throughout the tour the band played on an 8m diameter circle in both arenas and stadiums, with the stadium album launch show in Madrid’s premier bull ring being the first time Normandale tested the no roof, circular screen and vertical line design he had created.
Not known for his large cue count or fixture count, Normandale’s lighting design featured a total of 160 fixtures, of which over 70 were the Martin Professional MAC 101 LED lights. “This is a bright, quick responsive dynamic light to add movement and interest in the air and the 101’s around the centre screen and the downstage ramp are a great addition, providing fantastic colours from a small fixture,” said Normandale.
To achieve the right look to complement other elements of the production, Normandale chose Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX units, which feature an output exceeding 50,000 lumens as well as varied new options for colour and beam control. “The VL3500 allows me to use just one light where I would normally have to use two,” commented Normandale.
The VL3500 FX was one of the back bones of the festival production and as it moved into arenas and stadiums, with 30 units plus further fixtures on the stadiums’ upper concourses. Normandale added: “Few lights have the power to cut through from so far away. The VL3500 FX on the back of the ramp and up on the concourse levels provide the basic wash and effects and is an inspired light combining a bright wash along with the workhorses of Martin Professional 700’s and 26 Atomic Strobes with scrollers. I also added a pair of Wildfire UV for band gear treatment, plus MAC 2000 Wash XB to light a seat drape [designed by Misty Buckley] of 180ft by 90ft.”
Additional fixtures featuring in Normandale’s stadium rig - an extended version of the arena design - included 28 MAC 700 Profiles on the torms and 36 iPix Satellite 2’s. This was complemented by 49 4-lite linear molefays, 66 iPix BB4’s, six Novalight Nova Flowers, five custom 2K iPix fixtures, 20 MAC 250’s with micro lens, eight Chauvet UV Shadows, four 2.5k Lyceum M2 Truss Spots, four 4k Lancelot FOH spots and a 2.5K Lyceum M2 long throw.
Reflecting on the visually dazzling and innovative run of shows, Normandale singled out the band’s series of performances at the Hollywood Bowl as some of his favourites, where pixel mapping was added to a production already rich in gags.
A LIGHTING DEBUT
Normandale’s involvement with the tour didn’t end with creating the lighting and production designs as his company, Lancashire-based Lite Alternative, provided fixtures, lighting consoles, James Thomas Enginerring truss and built custom torms for the European legs, while Upstaging handled the North American leg.
Also making an appearance on the tour from Martin Professional’s selection of products was the new 1000 W MAC Viper Profile, the first fixture in the family of automated luminaires. The Viper made its debut on the tour’s first stadium leg to light the LED screen facias for which they needed to be bright and have a considerable zoom. A delighted Normandale exclaimed, “I’ve found my 1200 W replacement and what’s more...I can lift it!
Like Normandale, Lighting Crew Chief, Mick Stowe [Robbie Williams, U2, White Stripes], believed waterproofing was one of the main concerns for the crew due to the lack of roof structure. “Everything has to be protected and we need to modify, improvise, adapt and build to find ways to waterproof everything and we’ve had very few failures. We used a material called Makrolon which we custom designed to fit over the lights. For the 101’s we used a range of materials including adapted closhes traditionally used to protect cabbages from insects. We bag everything up continually after the show’s over too and make sure cable is protected,” he said.
CONTROLLING THE ILLUMINATION
The lighting connoisseur in charge of controlling fixtures was freelance operator Graham Feast [Depeche Mode, Rolling Stones, Genesis] who worked from a High End Systems Wholehog 3 console with wings. Normandale chose this desk believing its robust construction could cope with a tour that “bounces all around the world”.
Feast’s involvement with the band came through his relationship with Normandale: “I’d finished working on Scissor Sisters for Paul when Coldplay were doing a few UK charity shows at the end of 2010,” he explained. “Paul needed assistance covering these and at a New Year’s Eve event they were doing with Jay-Z so I helped him out. This led to discussions about a festival run in 2011 and the production team approached me to do a tour, which developed into the show you see now.”
Although the arena and stadium show was similar in terms of content, Normandale’s stadium design had a larger footprint. The arena lighting rig was more heavily based around a roof and featured mother grids and more extensive trussing in comparison to the drop frames used for the stadium performances.
For Feast, one of his favourite elements of the tour has been the ideas the band brought to the table for the visual content of songs. “This is great because it’s nice to have direction. Clocks has always been red so that’s a given and you can guess what colour the track Yellow is. The band doesn’t like to be overly lit either, but you can create a lot of dynamics with careful use of front and rear spots,” he explained.
But it isn’t just the stadium and arena productions that will remain treasured memories of Feast’s for years to come; playing Glastonbury with the band was another monumental moment in his career. “We also did a TV show in New York after which Chris decided he would play an extra song when we were off air. He just played on the front of the stage and that’s what you would call a special moment,” he added.
Feast admits working in close quarters on a long tour can inevitably lead to some crew members clashing, but this wasn’t true on Mylo Xyloto. He elaborated: “The vibe always comes from the top and I mean the artists. There are no bad apples in the cart here and I think it’s testament to the way the band like things run. I’ve done tours where you’ve been out for a long period of time and people end up not even talking to each other.”
Joining Normandale, Feast and Stowe on the lighting team was System Tech, Phil Sharp, Kris Lundburg, Ricky ‘Avo’ Butler, Wayne Kwait, John Bailey, Paul Burke, Ben Rogerson, Mark Goodall and Tom Crosbie.
SET FOR SUCCESS
Close collaboration between Normandale and Misty Buckley Design was imperative to the tour’s eye catching visuals. Led by London-based set designers Misty Buckley and husband Reg Matheson, the studio of artists, set dressers, illustrators and designers have worked on large scale shows including Take That’s Progress and Circus. More recently Buckley was Art Director for the Olympics Closing Ceremony and Designer for the Paralympics Closing Ceremony.
Buckley’s first experience of working with Coldplay was on their Christmas Lights music video. “We had this rather mad idea of creating a mechanical touring theatre set, where they rock up and play,” explained Buckley. “It was a night shoot, end of November 2010 on the sidewalk of the Southbank. It was freezing. What were we thinking? But it was great and I went on to set design their 2011 festival tour and arenas and stadiums. It’s been an amazing creative collaboration with the band, Paul Normandale and Creative Director, Phil Harvey.”
Like Normandale’s concepts, the core of the set design was a metaphorical ball of energy, the central nucleus from where the band would perform. That concept remained constant for each venue. “From this bursts an explosion of colour and energy in the form of graffiti, EL wire, lighting and confetti,” added Buckley.
“We created a neon environment of EL wire flowers and non neon trails of light. I designed EL wire abstract flowers surrounding the band which grew and pulsed out of black, emitting a sense of creation. These were fairly delicate, probably too delicate for touring! But it was the only product with the colour palette required.”
Over 100 channels of EL wire were needed for each flower; a challenge the talented lighting crew took in their stride. Dave Smith, from Specialz, fabricated two sets of the flowers on adjustable bases for the TV and arena performances, making them flexible for each venue. “The stadiums are a large scale version of this concept and we designed five huge circular flowers,” added Buckley. “Screens with graffiti detail and neon rings, surrounded by the large graffiti backdrop and internally lit giant inflatables then grow out of the audience; a symbol from each song. The wristbands pull the design together to evoke a sense of inclusivity.”
The creative team had to produce a set design that was contemporary in terms of styling but possessed a hand-made feel. “It needed to be lo-fi but with moments incorporating the latest technology. It was a really interesting synergy,” said Buckley. “Coldplay are so creative but not overtly theatrical so we wanted to create an environment inspired by the world of Mylo Xyloto, the character behind the album.”
SPRAY CAN CREATIONS
In order to fulfil the creative brief, Misty Buckley Studio needed to incorporate flourescent colours and a painterly feel. The band was also keen to use graffiti in an exciting way. “We brought in Paris, a graffiti artist we have worked with for years and he absolutely stepped up to the challenge,” explained Buckley. “We discussed at great length, the style of graffiti and we wanted to move away from traditional graffiti and develop our own style of mark making, inspired by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Picasso.”
Buckley and Paris held workshops with the band to allow them to experiment with spray cans, acrylics, flourescents and paint pens. “The results were extraordinary. The band’s deep rooted visual creativity, combined with album concept and lyrics provided a rich palette to work with,” said Buckley.
“They loved it and had so much fun and brought loads of original ideas to the table,” added Paris. “I mean, that’s what graffiti has got to be... fun! We threw a lot of paint around, but the band also took time to work on individual parts. I wove it all together with my style, and what you see is a fine collaboration.”
Even from a single glance at the Mylo Xyloto production, the graffiti elements make a lasting impression. The creation of British based artist Paris and Gwen Liby, the striking designs form a common theme that has continued from album artwork on to the touring masterpieces. “I’ve been an artist for 25 years, originally doing graffiti on the streets, but my work since has gone far beyond that,” explained Coldplay’s artist in residence, Paris.
Paris’ work comes through recommendations and Mylo Xyloto was no exception, with Misty Buckley putting his name forward to Coldplay. “When the jobs for the band got really big I brought Gwen and a few other friends on board,” he added.
For the live show, Paris painted all instruments including drums, guitars, pianos, microphones and backline. Along with Liby, they also painted stage flooring, video screen surrounds, flight cases and an original 60ft by 30ft hand-painted backdrop that was digitally re-mastered to fill the entire end of the stadium. All stage fascias were designed by Buckley and Paris, working from the band’s sketches and painted in an enlarged form on the wall of Paris’ UK-based studio, photographed in high-res and made into digital collages.
“These were then printed big...very big. Gwen and I added extra flourishes when the stages were built in Porto, Madrid, Nice, Coventry, London, Manchester, Copenhagen and Paris,” added the graffiti expert.
It was an evolutionary process for Paris, as he developed the designs created for Coldplay’s album cover into those that would bring their live production to life. When you look at a painted wall in this way it becomes totally abstract, just beautiful marks and colours. We worked with these ideas on a few different sized backdrops and also on the pianos and then it just grew and grew!” said Paris.
Even after the second time Paris met Coldplay, the band asked for instruments to be painted and often the only brief was to have fun. “I did a guitar that was maybe too much like regular graffiti and this got sent back with the request that I make it less good. I thought that was great, it was just what I wanted to hear. For me, it was really liberating just to get expressive with paint, make marks and get loose,” said Paris. “The fluorescent paint was a real first for me too. Misty had used it before and the band were very keen to make everything glow in the dark. We’ve used Rosco FX paint on nearly everything and I still cant get over how incredible it looks when properly lit.”
Liby added: “Getting everything painted in time was tricky because it’s like a massive jigsaw puzzle and timing is a large part of the show. For example, on the set of Saturday Night Live in New York we couldn’t use any spray cans so we had to do all the painting on clear adhesive paper, way out in Brooklyn and then apply it in the studio and paint onto it with Rosco in plant sprayers. It still worked and looked great on TV.”
With a team of 15 caterers on the European stadium performances of Mylo Xyloto and seven on the US leg, Eat to the Beat is proud to have worked on every tour the band has carried catering for, starting in the year 2000.
Originally set up in 1984 by MD Tony Laurenson, the catering company provides tour and production catering throughout the world, with bases in China, Qatar and the US. The company has worked with a stellar list of artists in the past, from Iron Maiden to Lady Gaga, and is currently out on tour with Michael McIntyre, Unltravox, Lionel Richie and Cirque du Soleil.
“All bands have specific riders and requests and we try to fulfil any requirements they have,” said Global Operations Director, Mary Shelley-Smith. “Mylo Xyloto has been a lovely tour, very well organised and not too challenging and our team on tour - led by Soozie Coll and featuring Head Chef Patrick Quilligan - said the Stade de France show, which Rihanna made an appearance at, was amazing.”
FIRST CLASS STAGING
During the 30 years since Brilliant Stages was established, the company has developed a reputation for delivering complex, custom set designs and fabrication projects, recently supplying some of the largest bands in the touring industry, including the Rolling Stones, U2, Lady Gaga and now Coldplay.
The company previously worked with Misty Buckley and Paul Normandale on the band’s arena tour, helping Buckley produce the ball of energy for their Brit Awards 2012 performance. “The pieces we made for the Coldplay tour were produced according to Brilliant’s philosophy of quick assembly without the use of specialised tools. All packaged in tourable set carts to enable efficient and economical logistics,” said General Manager, Tony Bowern.
The design incorporated a crescent stage spanning the main stage, and a cross-shaped B stage. The arched stage needed to be low enough for Chris Martin to run across and not obscure the sightlines of the audience seated behind it, yet angled enough for those at ground-level to gain clear sight of the stunning artwork on its surface.
Measuring 18.2m wide by 8.5m deep and raking to a height of 1.5m at the upstage edge, the crescent shaped stage was manufactured from 39 decks of standard 18mm plywood, with each deck laid inside a special aluminium extrusion protecting the edge of the deck.
The decks were set onto an aluminium framework, held together using the Hook and Channel system, which was designed some years ago by Brilliant and is a fast way of constructing the stage set’s framework.
The cross-shaped B stage had a 7.3m span and rose 1.55m from the ground in front of the main stage. Built from standard staging on a framework of interconnecting beams, the stage was aligned using custom made fittings secured with pins. Like the main stage, the edges of the outer risers were fitted with Velcro strips for attaching drapes and carried a number of cantilevered lighting brackets and shelves for laser fittings. Contained within the B stage was a manually operated, hydraulic piano lift and an additional parking riser allowing the piano to be moved easily on and off the lift. Brilliant Stages also provided support for the laser technology and custom designed local weatherproofing. Support was provided by Brilliant Stages’ Mel Welch, CAD Manager, Luke Johnson, Workshop Manager, Ian Blunt, Workshop Supervisor and Wayne Croft, Assistant Workshop Supervisor, who fabricated the pieces and visited during the rehearsal period to offer support.
“Brilliant Stages were, as always, just a treat to work with,” said Buckley. “Mel and Tony are so accommodating and, from presenting them with the first visual and design, I know they are on my wavelength. They just get on with it, leaving me to focus on the creative aspect knowing all technicalities are taken care of.”
For the US leg of the tour, All Access provided a 60ft by 40ft rolling stage with an 8ft by 40ft thrust that led down to an X stage provided by Brilliant Stages and housed a lift. All Access also supplied wings that rolled into position and allowed backline, video and sound to house equipment while providing top space on either side of the stage for the musicians to perform.
CUSTOM STAGE CONCEPTS
Stageco’s creative magic was also present on Mylo Xyloto following the company’s bespoke creations for past productions. The concept developed from a stage made for a one off performance in Plaza de Toro de las Ventas, Madrid in November 2011, although the company previously produced an arch-like stage for Viva La Vida.
Stageco worked in unison with Brilliant Stages for Mylo Xyloto by providing supporting structures for the roofless staging system which included the screen support towers and scaffolding that held the AV equipment, stage effects and visuals for the stadium tour dates in Europe and which will be used in Australia and New Zealand later this year.
“From the stage in Madrid we developed the design into what you see on the current tour,” said Project Manager, Johan Troukens. “It’s quite a wide and flat stage with a lot of supporting structures for video screens, which are the main attractions on the stage.”
Stageco’s Hedwig De Meyer added: “The tour required extensive hanging weight capacity as Paul Normandale created a production centralised around a unique lighting experience and impressive visual production. Supports and scaffolding were required to carry the five large circular video screens that formed the central focus of this set design without the support of a roofing system.”
Also playing an instrumental role in the construction of the show was the three-man carpentry team comprising Head Carpenter, Mike Humeniuk, Andrew ‘Hobson’ Pearson [Kylie, Spandau Ballet] and Pat Boyd [Aerosmith, Shakira] alongside local crew.
Humeniuk’s career has seen him work with a variety of artists, from the Tweenies through to Take That. The head carpenter was brought onto the tour in 2011 by PM at the time, Wob Roberts. “In stadiums there is no stage, bunkers and catwalk to build but in arenas we have a fair few more jobs to do. Hobson and Boyd build the 60ft by 40ft stage while I build the bunkers with the aid of eight tall locals. They are solid structures; the roof being standard decks so it can be walked on,” said Humeniuk.
“I take my locals and build the C stage, a 12ft by 4ft platform in the audience where the band appear at the beginning of the encores. I then lay out the framework for the minimalist stage set while Hobson and Boyd finish the stage.”
Hobson and Humeniuk build the framework while Boyd constructs the 40ft by 8ft catwalk before the team decks the set and assemble risers and scenic elements. With the bunkers initially in 12ft and 16ft long sections and on wheels, the monitor engineer, guitar techs and lighting dimmers can be set up anywhere on the floor, space allowing. As PA, lighting and video is raised into position, these elements are then rolled into place and joined to create bunkers ready for the stage to be rolled in between.
A TREMENDOUS VENUE
The smooth running of every show was no doubt largely down to the close relationships all members of the crew had with Stage Manager, Craig ‘Fin’ Finley [My Chemical Romance, Feist]. Fin has a long history with Coldplay’s Manager, Dave Homes, which saw him brought on board for the Viva la Vida touring season as PM.
“We did over 160 shows but I left Coldplay just before the end of the Viva tour to take on a five-year festival touring scenario. The festival failed to return as anticipated and as you would expect, I was replaced on Coldplay. Changes were made earlier this year though and they asked me to join them again as Stage Manager. It’s proven to be a refreshing change,” said Fin.
The family environment - with many of the crew going back years - is what has made touring with Coldplay such a delight for Fin. “First and foremost I work with Bill Leabody and also Jackie Jackson, who handles our venue security, and Nicole [Kuhns] and Brad [Kline] who run our production office. I also have continual interaction with the local promoter’s representative, local labour crew chief and local venue operations managers,” he added.
With the Stade de France show TPi attended, Fin highlighted obstacles the venue’s size presented. “Stade de France is just plain big so the main issue was dressing the house and making it look and feel as intimate as we could for the band and audience,” he explained. “We needed a mountain of seat covers to dress up the look of all the seats behind and off to side of the band we weren’t going to be selling.
“Of course we were also shooting a DVD, so that means accommodating all the added camera positions, their cabling, the sight lines and seat kills that they may be creating. But playing this tremendous venue and shooting a DVD whist here has been very rewarding.”
Despite the extensive scale of the production, Head Rigger Russell Glen’s past experience as Stageco’s Operations Manager for the US office and rigging roles on a vast number of productions meant rigging tasks were manageable for the team. Brought onto the tour by Leabody, who Glen had worked with on Nine Inch Nails, the rigger teamed up with three travelling riggers on the US legs and acted as the universal rigger for the European leg. “We had an A and B team, one which was headed up by Björn Melchert and the other by Jerry Hough. Jerry, who was last year’s head rigger, played a large role when we came to Europe and I became more of an assistant stage manager to Fin. Having these advance teams meant every venue I arrived at had an entire rigging package ready and I’d be the common entity between each stadium or arena,” explained Glen.
Glen was joined by a team of local riggers, with 16 up and eight down for the arenas and stadium shows needing assistance from 12 up and six down for the pre-production day.
“Coldplay was a relatively easy show to rig because it’s light,” said Glen. “There were a lot of audio points but they’re well spread out. It wasn’t very complicated and there was not a lot of automation involved. It weighed about 87,000lbs and with arena rigging anything over 100,000 starts getting flagged up by the venues. When you’re 80,000 and under you’re usually under the radar so this was perfect and spread out pretty well throughout the venue.”
The rigging team operated closely with Stageco, Tait and Brilliant Stages to ensure each production day ran to schedule. “The beams we used to lift video screens on the stadium show was quite a process to tackle but working with Stageco we came up with a solution,” said Glen.
SAFETY ON THE ROAD
With a multi-faceted and ambitious tour such as Mylo Xyloto, safety is at the forefront for every member of the team. The Event Safety Shop has worked with Coldplay’s production team for a couple of years, including a series of festival shows last year. In particular, the company was asked to look at the current show whilst in rehearsals in Portugal and to prepare the tour’s general safety file.
“The key issue has been the vast amount of information now required by authorities in some territories. Italy had a couple of tragic accidents early in the year that led to a much stricter view by enforcers there,” commented Safety Adviser, Mike Herbert. “While very much based in the paperwork detail, there are a number of tours that have been frustrated by the sheer volume of information and cross-checking required. Engineering detail has been scrutinised down to the last nut and bolt and fuse in the stage systems. It is not all about the show either but getting into the precise detail about the employment status of touring crew, their competence, their insurance cover and so on.
“We needed to gather detailed company information from suppliers and where possible details of training records for individual crew members as another example. This has been a challenge when it comes to secondhand translations of emails from Italian or Spanish to English to get to the bottom of what is needed, but I think by and large we have managed it.”
During his career at The Event Safety Shop, Herbert has looked after the likes of Genesis, Faithless, Roger Waters and most recently Madonna. As a company, TESS has also worked on the U2 360° tour, Snow Patrol and Rihanna’s productions, among many more, with all staff coming from an event production background.
Handling venue security - another important aspect of the tour - was longstanding Coldplay crew member, Jackie Jackson.
PROTECTING THE SPECTATORS
Throughout the European tour and when the band moved on to North America, eps provided around 400m of black stage barriers including special elements such as 300m of cable protectors with ramps to fit. A dedicated eps team ensured installation and dismantling went ahead without a hitch. In numerous cities eps also provided ground coverage including the turf protection system, Terraplas, in the spectator area, and the heavy-duty ground protection system Arena Panels to underpin the stage area.
eps’ GIGS stage barriers, more commonly known as crash barriers, protected spectators whilst providing reliable cover for sensitive areas such as mixer and follow-spot positions. All the special parts supplied, such as corner elements, special cable runs or emergency exit gates, were made of high-quality aluminium, as were all standard elements of the GIGS series. Rubber mats laid under the barriers enhanced their stability and slip and skid resistance.
The cable protectors used were a special request made by the management of the band and the modular connection system allowed them to be extended easily. Suitable ramps conforming to the ADA standard (American Disability Act) also made it easy for wheelchair users and production vehicles to overcome the extra height. When Mylo Xyloto progressed to North America, the tour bus also transported eps’ GIGS stage barriers and cable protectors.
POWERING THE PRODUCTION
A universal crew from Fourth Generation plus two advance crews were in place on a rolling basis to supply power for Mylo Xyloto. The company powers all areas of the live event and entertainment industries, specialising in the field of concert touring. With 20 years of international touring experience at the highest level with the likes of Robbie Williams and Queen, Managing Director, Tweed Hurlocker, understands it is vital for his crew to deliver a rapid and efficient turnaround of equipment. This is key to providing the consistency and cost effectiveness touring clients appreciate.
Having supplied power for the band’s first stadium tour, Viva la Vida, in 2009, Fourth Generation was delighted to be asked to join the team for Mylo Xyloto. “With productions of this size and with load-in times and touring schedules extremely tight, multiple systems were essential,” said Hurlocker.
The European leg of the tour was particularly significant for Fourth Generation in terms of their equipment provision. It saw the addition of a new custom built twinpak generator to their fleet, delivered just in time for the Copenhagen show. The unit was built by Intertech of Holland and houses the latest Volvo Penta engines, achieving a high level of fuel efficiency. In total the company provided one 500 kVA generator, one 460 kVA generator and two 440 kVA twinpak generators providing over 3,600 amps of power. Whilst two systems of 5km of mains cable, were utilised on each show.
Despite poor weather conditions at some shows during the tour, Fourth Generation has not failed to deliver in terms of power supply. Hurlocker elaborated: “On the first show it bucketed down and this was one of the first times someone has come up and asked ‘Are we completely safe?’. Of course my answer was ‘Absolutely, because we do everything to the highest standard’. All of the equipment is purpose built to withstand that sort of weather.”
BIG BANGS, LASERS AND INFLATABLES
Coldplay is renowned for their innovation and spectacular effects so Mylo Xyloto needed all the visual splendour fans have come to expect from their shows. Based out of Chicago, Strictly FX formed a strong relationship with Coldplay on the Viva la Vida production. Past tours with the likes of Stone Roses and Jay-Z have provided the company with a wealth of experience, which they put to good use when supplying pyro, lasers and special effects for Mylo Xlyoto.
“For the European leg we have six 34W Arctos lasers, over 1,000 pieces of semi-custom produced daylight friendly pryo from Ultratec and Next FX, 24 Strictly FX custom confetti cannons with die cut confetti and hundreds of balloons with splatter prints. These change regularly and we’ve added LED Lites to a portion for every show to produce even more colour,” explained Stricly FX Partner, Ted Maccabee.
“Paul Normandale and the band come up with an initial vision, colour palette and feeling they are trying to pull off. The band has creative ideas they’d like to see and are very hands on, which is a help in delivering a final product. The design process is organic and open and from a pyro standpoint, we needed something bright, colourful, daylight-friendly and massive.”
The pyro was made to order knowing the colours and requirements of Normandale. Strictly FX use Fire One equipment exclusively, with part of it being shot using the Fire One wireless system and the other hardwired and computerised to match the desired look. Added Maccabee: “Our goal is always to be as consistent to the design as possible every night.”
Making up the skilful team of special effects professionals was Mike Hartle, Laser Operator, Shane Johnson, Crew Chief, John Lyons, Lead Pyrotechnician and Pyro Show Designer, Adam Huston, Pyro Technician, Brook Blomquist, Pyro Technician / Confetti Tech. The team also featured Eric Gorleski, Confetti, Laser, Pyro and Balloons Tech and David Kennedy, Laser and Effects Principle Artist and Designer.
The goal for lasers was to add dimension and volumetric colour saturation into the audience. Strictly FX’s unique programming style using Pangolin, combined with their versatile high wattage laser projectors from Arctos, produced a breathtaking visual production. The lasers’ high wattage meant they didn’t get lost in the brightness of the lighting and video screens, allowing the lasers to stand out from other illumination being used and create a blanket of coloured light stretching across the audience.
Maccabee elaborated: “Coldplay is larger than life and there’s a feeling of joy and emotion to their shows. We’re attempting to project this artistically, programming as if the lasers were a paint brush in the band’s hands. David Kennedy, our Laser Artist / Designer, and Paul Normandale spent countless days producing this look.”
Having made pigs for Pink Floyd’s productions and Honky Tonk Women for the Rolling Stones since the company established in 1976, Suffolk-based Air Artists were first choice to produce inflatables to be incorporated into Coldplay’s tour alongside the myriad of special effects. A total of 13 inflatables of various shapes and sizes were introduced including butterflies, rockets, flames and teardrops.
“We also used special inks which allowed the lighting [including iPix fixtures] inside the inflatables to be more vibrant. The highlight from a fantastic tour has to be the crew who have made it such an enjoyable experience,” said Air Artists’ Arthur Harries.
A LONGSTANDING RELATIONSHIP
Mylo Xyloto saw the continuation of XL Video’s relationship with the band, supplying LED screens, cameras, HD PPU, plus crew. The expanded stadium design included Pixled F-12 LED screen, a bright and clear surface, which XL Video is the first UK company to take delivery of.
Developed by Normandale, the design of five striking circular F-12 surfaces were a centrepiece of the onstage set-up. The central screen measured 9m in diameter and was flanked by two at 8m and two measuring 10m on the outside. In order to maximise sight lines for the audience at the sides of the stadiums, the two 8m screens were slightly angled.
Cutting the live camera mix was the responsibility of Andy Bramley, with the media server system designed, programmed and operated by Ben Miles. XL Video also supplied seven Sony HXC-100 cameras.
Bramley, who has been a part of Coldplay’s video team since 2005, and Video Engineer (and Crew Chief since 2008), Ed Jarman, worked together to develop the IMAG into the style the band and creative team desired. Bramley made use of a Grass Valley Kayak 2.5 M/E mixer / switcher with Evertz router and Zander Multiviewer, which also ran Thundering Jack’s Video Dust effects software on two Macs.
“I operate the cameras and we send them to Ben’s Catalyst where he adds effects to them before they shoot to the LED screens,” said Bramley. “Coldplay are a band that like their show to keep evolving so we’ll start on some looks and then it progresses. That partnership between the band and video works really well. The band are also clear about what they like and don’t like, which makes it easier.”
XL Video engineer Jarman has worked with Bramley on a variety of tours over the past eight years, during which time they have formed an effective partnership. “When I started with them on the Viva tour, it seemed like the band wanted small video and high quality projection and they weren’t as into LED. But during that tour it developed from small screens to these huge screens half way down the auditorium and the use of LED. Now if you see the stage, it is completely caked in it so there has been a definite transition there,” said Jarman.
The XL Video team also included Techs Freddie Debaille, Peter Laleman, Reinder van der Steene, and Matt Gourd, plus camera specialists Phil Johnston, Sacha Moore and Darren Montague. The tour was project managed for XL by Phil Mercer and Tracey Donnelly.
Visuals expert Ben Miles [Leftfield, Pendulum] also worked for Coldplay on Viva la Vida as a visuals programmer. For Mylo Xyloto, Miles moved into a video-based role and ran two active Catalyst media servers from Lite Alternative, using an MA Lighting grandMA 2 console each with a hot backup and fitted with a tripleHead2Go on each Catalyst.
A total of four of Bramley’s seven camera feeds were taken in by Miles plus his programme TX as an HD feed, with 90 percent of the show being full HD with 720p output to each screen. “That HD mix is the one Andy cuts from his seven cameras, whereas the others are ISO cameras I take directly in,” added Miles. “So we could have the main cut sent to the middle screen and then one band member on each other screen. It means I can cut independently of them and get different video mixes. We can route anything to anywhere, whether it be camera images or content.”
A selection of effects, including flips, solarisation, monochrome and frame drops helped bring a filmic quality to images in key tracks, together with masking and routing to screen, which was done within the Catalyst.
“We have five screens at the stadium show but on the arena run we had six so one Catalyst does screens one, two and three and another for four and five; the other two are back-ups. Everything I do at FOH is run remote control so it’s all controlled by the grandMA lites from Lite Alternative,” explained Miles.
A collection of companies were responsible for creating the graphics for the heavily content driven tour. “Creative Director, Phil Harvey - otherwise known as the fifth member of the band - commissioned everything at the start and a lot of this is based around the fuzzy man image on the screens during the show,” said Miles. “Over time, I’ve re-edited these into different shapes and sizes so all content comes through me from an editing perspective.Some content was also produced specifically for the stadium runs by Hello Charlie, Mixed Emotions London and Universal Everything and I made the content for Paradise based on digital images of graffiti produced by Paris.”
Prior to the tour starting Phil Harvey and the band members sent images they liked to the creative team to act as a reference. Based around light and dark and multi colours, these were what the designs stemmed from. “Phil is the main driving force behind how things run creatively, picking things up from the band. There’s a big colour palette for this based around it being bright and neon,” said Miles.
“There are some quite heavy treatments too,” he continued. “In Paradise I’ve dropped in a custom effect I made in Catalyst and recorrected it so it takes on more of a natural edge. The style of visuals overall is very hyper colour and the band wanted things to look futuristic so, for example, we start Rihanna in black and white and then pull through those saturated colours.”
Having the freedom to add a large amount of colour into the visuals has been a joy for Miles. “This provides a creative platform you don’t always get with artists. They don’t always want to be ultra coloured,” he added. “It’s great working with the band, they’re fantastic guys and everyone is keen to put forward their ideas. There’s a higher level of production and they have reached a point where there’s a bigger budget and they put it all in the right direction.”
TOURING WITH TAIT
Tait’s involvement in the tour’s visual elements was imperative, which saw the company’s touring video screen frames for the XL Video supplied F-12 and bespoke circular scenic fascia added to the kit list. The main requirement from the band was for the audience to see as little of the structure outside the circular fascias as p