Jason Baeri reflects on lighting Depeche Mode’s new US tour

Straddling the two creative worlds with which Depeche Mode perform, Lighting Designer, Jason Baeri shares an insight into the creative process of lighting the band’s latest live production.

Embarking on their first campaign since 2018’s Global Spirit Tour, and Dave Gahan and Martin Gore’s first tour as a duo following the passing of Andy Fletcher, Depeche Mode and their crew will traverse over 70 locations – presenting 15 albums and four decades worth of material, including tracks from the band’s latest studio album, Memento Mori (Latin for ‘remember that you [have to] die’), to live music fans throughout the North America.

Lighting Designer, Jason Baeri was brought onboard to help realise the Memento Mori production design, based on a concept by longstanding Creative Director, Anton Corbijn.

“He’s a brilliant guy to work with,” Baeri said, highlighting the influence of Corbijn on the band’s creative output. “This is my first time working with him and the band. I am consistently blown away by their stage presence and magnetism with the audience.”

The design team began working on the project in October 2022, going through several iterations and lighting design options until they reached the final form at the end of 2022.

Baeri shed some light on the unique stage design: “Anton had this idea for a big ‘M’ on the stage. He created nine films for individual songs, so the concept he was trying to sell was the ‘M’ as a scenic piece and the video screen.”

True to form, the large and imposing standalone ‘M’ set piece is the focal point of the staging design, which doubles as a video screen with content matching the back wall of video behind the band. The ‘M’ lends itself not only to the iconography of current album, Memento Mori, but also to that of the band and their past touring campaigns. “Depending on where the audience sits, you get a completely different perspective because of the 3D nature of the design,” Baeri pointed out.

UP provided 320m2 of INFiLED ER5 LED for the upstage wall, IMAG screens and custom-built ‘M’ at the centre of the production design. The ‘M’ stands at an impressive 8m in height, and was manufactured by TAIT. UP has also provided a Grass Valley Kula PPU, Hitachi 3G camera channels, Panasonic HE145 robo cameras and disguise gx 2c media servers.

“As with all UP projects we package to occupy the least shipping volume and this is an efficient tour visually with all LED surfaces fitting within two 4K outputs from a single active gx 2c server,” Universal Pixels Commercial Director, Phil Mercer commented.

“Each Depeche Mode campaign we’ve worked on has been different from the last, but they’re no strangers to utilising bespoke 3D LED set pieces on stage. For Memento Mori, the mix of older and new material is cohesively blended into over 20 songs from across the band’s 40-year career. We look forward to welcoming the band and crew later in the summer for their European stadium performances.”

The lighting department collaborated with Video Director, Jon Shrimpton to develop a cohesive visual approach in line with Corbijn and the band. “Lighting plays a cohesive role with video when it comes to factoring in brightness and contrast. When we design a lighting rig, it’s a case of framing the staging design,” Baeri remarked.

To this end, the outer ridges of the ‘M’ are lit with Martin VDO Sceptron 10 LED bars. “We highlight the hard edges of the ‘M’ rather than pretending it’s an amorphous object. When Anton [Corbijn] and Jon [Shrimpton] have content on the video wall, we try to support that by being part of the same world and language, as well as Miguel [Ribeiro],” he added.

While Corbijn’s expertise involve the sketching and photographic realm of presenting ideas, Baeri’s typical workflow is drawing and modelling in Vectorworks, and going back and forth between the CAD and BIM software and Syncronorm Depence2 – the latter of which he says has ‘replaced most render tools on the market’ due to its high-quality renders.

The visual team collaborated with Earlybird Visual when it came to programming the show. The support service helped build the model and prepare for Depence2. “They are a great timesaving resource and provided all the help we needed,” Baeri said, reflecting on the two weeks of previsualisation spent at Earlybird Visual’s HQ in Burbank, California prior to rehearsals. The team also spent four days of tech rehearsals without the band in LA, and a couple of days with the band in Northern California, just outside Oakland.

With 90% of the show lighting operating on timecode, Associate Designer, Joe Bay helped Baeri get the show on the road within the first week. Having travelled with the crew for the opening three dates of the tour, Baeri then handed over the keys to the console to Lighting Director, Sarah Parker, who will stay on the road until the end of the year. “Sarah’s so incredibly adaptive to any environment, which is something that this tour really needs,” Baeri said. “Over the next year-and-a-half, this tour will visit every conceivable size of venue, and she is fantastic at making that work and cares intently about this project. Simply put, we’re blessed to have her involved.”

The rig was designed to be both ‘tourable’ and flexible, without losing ‘the integrity of the design’ in shorter rooms. “There are two competing sounds within Depeche Mode, which makes them such a beautiful and dynamic band to work with – a digital synthesised sound which harks back to grungy, electronic sounds through to this rock band, guitar and heavy drum sound,” Baeri explained.

“There’s this huge breadth of sound across their back catalogue, so you have to play to both sides of that – so we stuck to one theme across each song, whether that’s digital or more poignant parallel beam looks that are reminiscent of a ‘big rock’ rig,” Baeri continued. “Those are the two worlds we stayed inside, and there were some songs where – regardless of what fixture we were using – we would lean into the framing of the staging design and the rig, moody and eerie as opposed to pointing out there are lights in the rig.”

In addition to VDO Spectrons lining the core stage elements, the wider rig featured Robe MegaPointes and BMFL Spots, GLP JDC1 units, Ayrton Magic Blade FXs, Radiance Hazers and ETC Lustr 2s as well as Elation Professional Monet, Rembrandt, Mondrian and light sources as well as Proteus Rayzor Blades lining the downstage edge. Control came in the shape of MA Lighting grandMA3 consoles operating MA2 mode, and an MA3 Lite with MA3 NPU L.

Baeri highlighted MegaPointes as the ‘workhorse’ fixture of the rig. “They’re such a ‘rock’ fixture – they have a load out which is fast, perfect for ‘hits’ and ‘sharp beamy looks’, and it physically moves for a fixture with that level of output. Fundamentally, it is a good ‘toolkit’ fixture for a show like this,” he explained.

A lot of the outlining and framing of the stage is achieved by Ayrton Magic Blade FXs, a linear bar type fixture, which Baeri believes adds “dynamism and extra movement” to proceedings.

Key lighting was provided by Elation Professional Monet and Rembrandt fixtures. “Rembrandt is one of the only available moving lights on the market that is actually a wash when it’s called a wash. It’s a soft-edged fixture like we used to have, so I was happy with the inclusion of those as well as Mondrians.”

Like all tours post-pandemic, sourcing kit was a challenge. “We had a few versions of what fixtures were and weren’t available. We worked with 4Wall, who were fantastic in helping us specify the fixtures that were important or providing substitutions that were in the same world as what we wanted, which was really helpful,” he said, praising the tour’s lighting vendor.

“This was the first time I’ve worked with the UK contingent of 4Wall. This is a particularly challenging rig to get into the door every day and they do an incredible job facilitating that. I couldn’t have asked for a better crew – Jake Jeavons and his team are amazing at not only load-in and -out but how seamless the gear packs away into trucks. The guys across the pond were helpful at sourcing gear on both sides of the Atlantic.”

4Wall Europe Head of Live Events, Jordan Hanson, commented: “I’ve worked with [Production Manager] Tony Gittins and his team on a few different shows, so it made the whole process a smooth and easy one. It is the first time I’ve worked with Jason and it has been a real pleasure to work through the design with him to create this great looking show. This tour was Project Managed from the UK by Andy Whittaker with the support of Bob Suchocki and his team in the US. Massive thanks to the lighting crew headed up by Jake Jevons who are smashing it out on the road.”

For Baeri, this was an important project, not just because of the scale and breadth or the campaign, but Depeche Mode are a band he grew up listening to.

“You don’t often get to work with those bands you listened to in your high school bedroom. Hearing the classics such as Personal Jesus live is still a ‘pinch me’ moment,” Baeri concluded.

“This has been a wonderful process from management on down. Tony Gittens is a wizard at getting this entire circus wrangled into something ‘tourable’ and I would definitely like to work with him, the band and the rest of the team again. Everyone has united to put on the best show possible.”

This article originally appeared in issue #275 of TPi, which you can read here.

Words: Jacob Waite

Photos: Steve Jennings