by Cat Strom.
Photo Credits: Troy Constable
With shows that are as immersive, interactive, and mesmerising as they are entertaining, Childish Gambino lights up the stage like very few artists can.
In Australia to headline Splendour in the Grass, Childish Gambino played a handful of arena shows for those not lucky enough to get to Byron Bay. Cory Fitzgerald was the Creative Producer, and lighting design was by Sarah Landau.
The show featured little in the way of video except for the six rolling floor pods which were designed and fabricated by Manny Economidis at Brisbane staging company Rise and Shine, as there was no time to ship the originals over.
These pods each contained six Claypaky Mythos, two TMB Solaris Flares, two lasers and fog machines on two sides. Smoked Plexiglass was used as a video surface on the platforms, creating a different look to regular screens.
“The video content we use on the platforms is minimal,” added Sarah. “It’s more about highlighting the structure of these moving pieces than the actual content on the screen.
“At festivals we utilise the full upstage video wall and have content running on that, but for arena shows, the artist prefers a more open and stripped back look. In Sydney, we didn’t even have a black backdrop to hide the seats behind the stage.”
Above the stage, staggered down to the upstage, were four trusses, each holding nine Robe MegaPointes, four Martin MAC Viper Performances and 12 GLP JDC-1 strobes.
Together they formed a stunning back wall of lighting, with Sarah remarking that the MegaPointes are her new favourite fixture.
“I always preferred the Pointe over the Sharpy because of the prism, and I like the colour wheel,” she said.
“Now with the MegaPointe, there’s colour mixing, the beam is that much brighter, and the optics that much better, so it’s really a spot/profile fixture and a beam fixture in one.”
As for the JDC-1s, she says they are the best strobe on the market; “The JDC-1s carry a lot of the more rhythmic and percussive hits and pops in the programming.
“We run them in 68-channel mode with every pixel individually controlled to get some really organic effects and make them look less like bricks of light,” Sarah elaborated.
Four short side trusses were added to the Australian design to help light the band, who were on risers that were significantly shorter than the rolling video pods, making them difficult to see. There were a couple of sections in the show where the pods swept to the side to allow a good view of the band.
These downstage side trusses were great for side lighting the dancers that performed at the front of the stage. Each truss held three MAC Viper Wash DXs, while the two downstage side trusses housed Robe RoboSpots for side and back spot work.
The thrust was lined by GLP impression X4 Bar 20s, great for side lighting the artist who spent 90% of his time on the thrust and the lift. The X4 Bars played an important role providing colour, light and eye candy around him. A handful of X4 Bar 10s constructed a circle of light on the lift.
Three trusses out front also held MegaPointes, MAC Viper Performances, and GLP JDC-1 strobes, as well as two more RoboSpots, to deliver a cohesive look. There were no followspots out front in the house with Sarah saying that the RoboSpots “changed her life.”
“The RoboSpots are great; they’re fast, the colour mixing is beautiful, they’re super easy to balance for colour temperature with the separate CTO wheel, and they are simple to set up,” she said.
“I take control over everything except intensity and iris which is left to the operator. I can override effects and make them strobe or do dimmer chases on top of what the operators are doing.
“I can set a master level that is the correct brightness for camera from the console and I just need to worry about telling an operator when to fade up or down. I really like that I can set the exact colour that I need rather than relying on specifying gels, using substitutes, calling frame numbers, and so on.”
Integrated into the lighting rig were many laser positions, with the laser show designed to look good wherever you are in the arena. Spreading out those termination points to give it different layers is key to why it looks so cool.
The laser show was designed by Marco Posevic with Genius Laser Technology providing 18 of their GENLAS 30W lasers to the tour.
The light show was programmed on an MA Lighting grandMA2 by Davey Martinez with Sarah commenting that he was instrumental to the whole process and great to work alongside. “I can describe something in vague sounds and hand waves and he gets it!” she laughed.
The show used copious amounts of smoke with Sarah revealing that Childish Gambino has never once complained about there being too much smoke – in fact he encourages it. “So we really went for it!” she said
“We had plenty of smoke and haze from Look Solutions Unique 2.1 under the risers and in the pods, JEM ZR44s and DF50s. You can never have too much smoke when lasers are involved!”
An important element is the live video that showcases the intricacies of Childish Gambino’s performance, directed by Damien Gravois. Live Show Director Danny Purdue called all the cues, and programmed and ran the media servers. “The Chameleon lighting team, headed by Graham Walker, was excellent,” added Sarah.
FOH Engineer Kevin Brown has been fortunate to work with some very talented artists over the years, which include Toni Braxton, American Authors, Chris Brown, OutKast, Joi, Nicki Minaj, and Cody Simpson.
He has been with Childish Gambino for only four months after he was approached by Tim Colvard, the artist’s previous FOH guy, to take over after the first weekend of Coachella.
Kevin was mixing on a DiGiCo SD7, saying he has tried to use the SD Platform exclusively for quite a few years. “At the time it was the only desk that didn’t make me feel restricted by its workflow,” he added.
“The SD7 has a very powerful engine and you can do almost anything, whenever you want. That type of flexibility is paramount in allowing us to be creative as mixers.”
Kevin was using a Neve 1073 and Avalon 737 for the main vocal, remarking that the 1073 is a great mic pre, and if you combine that with the smooth EQ of the Avalon, you start off in a great space for your vocal. For effects processing he was using an Eventide H3000 along with various UAD and Waves plugins for reverbs, delays and some chorusing.
Kevin describes Childish Gambino as a solid performer and dynamic with the microphone; there are times when he projects and others where he forces you to listen.
“It’s all about dynamics, the ups and down are what create the journey,” he added.
“This is a very exciting mix, especially from a mixer’s position. There is six-piece band on stage that consists of drums, bass, two guitars, keys, and percussion.
“On top of that, you have playback tracks and five choir members. This puts us in the ballpark of 110 channels. There are so many layers that allow you to create a dynamic mix with lots of depth.”
JPJ Audio provided gear and crew for the Australian leg of the tour and Kevin found himself using a Clair CO12 PA system for the first time. The system comprised of 16 CO-12 in the main with six CP-218 subs flown. For side hangs there were 14 CO-12 plus eight CO-8 for front fills and 16 CP-218s on the ground.
“The first word that comes to my mind is powerful!” commented Kevin.
“In the air the PA looked smaller than some other systems, but they sound big, and the subs sound huge. I was really impressed. It’s not every day you get that type of energy moving from an active speaker.”
Kevin remarked that there was nothing special going on with microphones. There are a few Shure 57s, 58s, 98s, and AKG 414s on stage whilst Childish Gambino is on a Shure Axient Digital 58.
As Kevin concludes, the main ingredient is the group of talented individuals on stage. It starts at the source!
A touring comms package included a Riedel Artist comms system, 2300 Series Smart Panels with David Clark headsets, and Bolero wireless comms for the stage, all interfaced into Big Picture’s comms system for seamless integration with cameras and directors.
Tour radios were also supplied by JPJ Audio with D2N also supplying a Hytera radio solution for the tour.
Charlie Izzo, who has mixed monitors for Childish Gambino the past 18 months, says everyone in the band has really good ears and expects a higher level of fidelity in their mixes. He ran a Solid State Logic (SSL) L500, with a Lexicon Pro 480L and a Bricasti M7 outboard, and Shure PSM 1000s for IEM.“I just really like the sound of SSL’s live consoles,” he added.
“The preamps, EQs and summing have a real analogue feel to them. I use a Waves package as the flexibility and quality of Waves plugins really makes a huge difference for me.”
Charlie utilised an ELI Distressor to control vocal dynamics and a Lexicon 480L for the vocal reverb, saying it has been a standard in recording studios for years for a reason. “In the IEMs it really shines,” he said.
“I also have a Bricasti M7 for verb. It is a really solid reverb unit that produces very clean, rich verbs. I use the internal SSL buss compressor. There are so many companies that emulate it with plugins, but having it straight from the source is spot on.”
“I use the Shure PSM1000’s because they simply sound great. They have a super quiet noise floor for IEM packs and they really translate what I’m doing on the console well.”
Charlie commented that it really is a pleasure to mix for Childish Gambino, adding that aside from everyone being incredibly talented musicians and performers, they are also really great people to work with.