To deliver a fresh and revamped visual experience for Foo Fighters’ 2023 domestic and international tour dates, veteran lighting designer Dan Hadley created a versatile and powerful lighting rig utilising Martin MAC Ultra Performance and MAC Aura Wash fixtures.
Since arriving in 1995 with their eponymous debut album, Foo Fighters have established themselves as one of the preeminent rock bands in the world, earning 15 Grammy Awards along the way, including winning Best Rock Album five times. In March 2022, the band suffered the tragic loss of drummer and beloved band member Taylor Hawkins, forcing them to cancel all performances for the remainder of the year. Following the surprise release of their new album But Here We Are in June, the band has triumphantly returned to the road for 2023 with tour dates in North America and festival appearances all around the world.
To prepare for the tour, bandleader Dave Grohl once again turned to Dan Hadley — Foo Fighters’ trusted lighting designer since 2010 — to come up with a fresh and revamped visual experience that could support the band’s unscripted and often improvised approach to live performances in a range of scenarios. Hadley created a versatile and powerful lighting rig consisting of a full complement of professional lighting fixtures, including Martin MAC Ultra Performance and MAC Aura Wash fixtures performing crucial roles.
“Foo Fighters have an incredibly extensive catalogue, which they pull from somewhat randomly,” said Hadley. “My programming always has to have that flexibility with pivot points built in. There’s no click or time code. It’s not a cue-to-cue show by any means. On top of that, we do such a variety of venues. This year alone, we’ve done amphitheatres, festivals, arenas, and even a 450-capacity club show. It’s a very dynamic range. I have to program with this in mind, whether we’re using the festival’s overhead rig instead of ours or if we have audiences on the sides of the stage instead of only in the front.”
In order to ensure world-class lighting experiences no matter the scenario, Hadley created an impressive rig using only fixtures he knew he could rely on in a variety of circumstances. The Martin MAC Ultra Performance earned its spot in his inventory after a positive first experience with the new fixture in 2022. MAC Ultra features benchmark output across the zoom range, a true next generation framing system, higher definition optics and astoundingly low noise levels. For Foo Fighters shows, Hadley deploys the versatile and powerful MAC Ultra Performance in a workhorse role throughout his rig, including ground, overhead and side lighting.
“The MAC Ultra is maybe the best profile fixture I’ve ever used,” said Hadley. “I absolutely love it. There’s a song in the Foo Fighters catalogue where I have the MAC Ultras zoomed all the way out with the framing shutters brought in narrow, so you see these massive fins. I can even put colour in there and they still cut through. The gobos and beams are sharp and provide a quality of light that doesn’t need to be corrected. I can always see a massive difference when we have to clone our overhead rig using the festival’s fixtures. It’s always sad to get the powerful beautiful light coming from the MAC Ultras on the side and then you can’t get the other company’s fixtures to look as bright, especially if you start to use colour.”
According to Hadley, one of the more novel ideas from Grohl’s vision for the 2023 tour included large LED video walls with distinctly cinematic original content created by Electronic Counter Measures.
“Dave Grohl wanted to take the production design for this tour in a much more cinematic direction,” said Hadley. “We introduced a custom ‘exploded’ LED wall that flanks our main screen and gives us a wraparound element that’s great for proscenium style stages. Our longtime collaborator — Kirsten Hovland of Electronic Counter Measures — acted as screen producer between ECM and Luz Studios to produce a ton of original video content for the screens. Pretty much every song has its own set of video content, sometimes two or three, depending on where it falls in the set. We implemented some virtual extended scenic designs as well, which use a combination of video and lighting to muddy the waters between what’s on stage and what’s on screen.”
To blur the lines between the video content and lighting, Hadley came up with a unique design using MAC Aura wash fixtures and automated rotating mounts suspended in rows overhead. For the better part of two decades, lighting designers the world over have turned to the award-winning MAC Aura due to its versatility as a powerful beam and wash luminaire of the highest calibre.
“We wanted a big array that echoed the exploding feel of the screens with the tiles everywhere,” said Hadley. “I wanted it to be heavy upstage and dissipate out to the downstage. To do this, we mounted Aura fixtures onto five-foot bars that we can then automate to spin 90 degrees in the air. We can get a lot of different looks with this configuration. The Auras are still doing a great job 18 years later — it’s ridiculously awesome. Martin is very good at making fixtures that become the standard, whether it’s the Atomic, 2K, Viper, Quantum Wash, etc. Martin fixtures become the benchmark workhorse.”
Hadley concluded by speaking to the importance of collaboration between production personnel, vendors and manufacturers when planning and designing a tour with newly adopted fixtures.
“We work closely with our vendor PRG to make the right choices about adopting new fixtures, and we made an investment together in the MAC Ultra Performance,” said Hadley. “Broadway loves this fixture too, and they’re kind of mad that we have so many out with us because the theatre department always wants them too. I think our crew chief Hodgie is a little bored with the MAC Ultra because they haven’t had to fix one yet. It’s not a problematic fixture. I don’t remember ever having to swap one out or troubleshoot them. I’ll gladly thank Martin for constantly innovating and introducing new fixtures with useful feature sets. I also want to recognise John Wiseman and Brad Schiller for their help through the process.”