I arrived at Camp Bisco a few days before I was scheduled to shadow dance with Psylab, so I could get my party on. Impatient, after hours of sitting in the RV, I meandered a bit and found myself backstage as Infected Mushroom began their set. I felt a tap tap tap on my shoulder, turned around and was greeted by the Disco Biscuits’ keyboard player, Aron Magner. “Wanna see something neat?” he asked, eyes wide. “Of course. Yes!” I said resolutely, skipping with excitement. I followed him, curious, through the sea of ravers and revelers. We arrived at a tent filled with consoles, knobs and switches. I quickly realized we were standing in the center of where light is born.
Infected Mushroom’s psychedelic synths roared. Magner grabbed me by the hand and pointed to some buttons. After a quick lesson, he smiled and said, “Now, it’s your turn.” Nervous, I attempted to sync the enormous strobe lights surrounding the stage to the music. Always a half beat off, I giggled as Magner shook his head laughing until I realized the power my keystrokes possessed. Bolts of light blinded us, frenzied brilliant bursts showered the crowd; and for a moment, I fell under my own spell.
That was my first and last time commanding a lighting console for thousands of tripped out party people, an experience I’ll always cherish, deepening my appreciation for the art of lighting design. These artists, often overlooked and underappreciated, shine brightly behind the scenes.
This is why I felt inspired to illuminate seven of my favorite lighting designers, and just in time for Hanukkah also known as the Festival of Lights: Christopher Kuroda is often referred to as the 5th member of Phish and is currently touring with teen sensation Justin Bieber, Steve Tek is the house LD for Beatport’s number one rated club Cielo, Paul Hoffman currently tours with Wolfgang Gartner and works the EDM festival circuit, Sabrina Braswell is the house LD for NYC’s Le Poisson Rouge and has toured with Cut Copy, Jefferson Waful tours with popular progressive rock band Umphrey’s McGee, Max Blackman is the house LD for Brooklyn’s highly revered venue Brooklyn Bowl, and Kenny Gribbon has toured with the likes of Toubab Krewe, The London Souls and Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds.
Enjoy this insightful look into the art of lighting design, straight from the source.
URB: What bands / djs / acts have you done lighting for?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: The 5th member [of Phish] label is very flattering, as there aren’t any other LDs that are so regarded with their acts. It’s an honor to be viewed in such a way. Currently I’m deep into my biggest and most complex project ever lighting Justin Bieber, the biggest pop act in the world right now, but thats an entire story in itself. I’ve also had the honor of lighting Aerosmith, R.Kelly, projects with the Dallas Mavericks designing their open and player intro segment, My VH1 Music Awards, The Young Hollywood Awards, several corporate events, as well as designing lighting rigs for Widespread panic and several others, just to name a few. The list is pretty extensive if I were to list them all, including Tito Puente’s 100th Album tour throughout sold out soccer stadiums in South America, which I did when I was 23 years old. Crazy crazy experience!
STEVE TEK: Shows ranging from big Reggaeton concerts, Slip Knot, Alicia Keys, Gloria Gaynor, Carl Cox, Roger Sanchez, Peter Rauhofer, Quest Love, Karizma, Willie Graff, Nicolas Matar and many more…
PAUL HOFFMAN: Tons – but most notably The Dead, Widespread Panic, Rebelution, Wolfgang Gartner and several EDM festivals.
SABRINA BRASWELL: Many. For the last six years I’ve been a house LD for Joe’s Pub and Le Poisson Rouge in New York so I’ve lit everyone from Gilberto Gil to Pete Townshend. I’ve been the touring LD for Pavement, Iron and Wine, Cut Copy, Best Coast, and now Andrew Bird.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Besides Uncle Sammy and Umphrey’s McGee, I actually went on to run lights for Jiggle the Handle at a few shows here or there back in the 90s. I’ve also run lights full time for moe. and then filled in for bands like Percy Hill, Raq, Strangefolk and many others. Technically I ran lights for The Who once at sound check, which was a bit surreal. moe. was opening for them at The United Center and one of The Who’s lighting techs was showing me around their light board as the band sound checked. It was the full band with Pete and Roger, who apparently didn’t always go to sound check on that tour. They were running through “Who Are You” and the tech says to me “Here you go, have a try.” And I start running my jam band-style light show in an arena while the fucking Who are playing this iconic song. moe.’s guitarist Chuck Garvey had wandered out to the soundboard to watch soundcheck and didn’t realize the lighting tech had asked me to run the song. When he saw me wailing away on this huge light rig and hitting the strobes he ran over and sort of asked me to tone it down a notch. He was absolutely right too, the strobes were probably a bit much for sound check. I just got lost in the moment and was feeling the strobes. I don’t tour with strobes anymore by the way. I also was lucky enough to run lights for Steve Miller Band last year at a festival gig. “Fly Like an Eagle” was one of the highlights of my life.
MAX BLACKMAN: I have done lights for a few hundred acts between the two venues I’ve worked in and some freelance gigs I’ve done. Some of the larger acts have been Blues Traveler, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Roots, Escort, The Spin Doctors, Deer Tick performing as Deervana, Walk the Moon, JGB, Particle, Conspirator, RAQ, Brothers Past, Bustle in Your Hedgerow, Soulive, Lettuce, Break Science, The Heavy Pets, Anders Osborne, London Souls, Taj Mahal, Beats Antique, Greyboy Allstars, Robert Randolph, Walk the Moon, Mickey Hart Band, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Funky Meters, LTJ Bukem, Steve Kimock, Keller Williams, Gene Ween, Alabama Shakes, Pat Mahoney, Nancy Whang. There are many more, but hard to list them all.
KENNY GRIBBON: Colbie Caillat, Toubab Krewe, The London Souls, Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Turkuaz, and Zongo Junction. I am currently on tour with Wolfgang Gartner as a tech and programmer.
URB: How did you get involved in lighting design?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: I had a strange process actually. I was a fan of Phish in bars in Burlington, Vermont, while I was attending UVM, and I was also in a band called Spice as the guitar player. I wasn’t very good and wanted to take lessons from the best guitar player in town. So I asked Trey Anastasio if he would be interested, and he was. About a month into the lessons one day he asked me if I knew anyone who would be interested in carrying gear to the van (Page’s van) after the bar gigs. I said I would love to. About one week after I started doing that, they had to let go the guy who was running the four lights that they owned, and Trey called me up and told me I would be running the four PAR Cans. I told him I had no idea how to even set them up, and he told me that we would figure it out together, which we did on 3-30-1989. The rest is history.
STEVE TEK: I used to work at a club called Vertigo as a busboy until I was asked to help out with the installation of cables. They liked the way that I worked and asked if I would be interested in working for a lighting company. I worked with the company doing lighting for four years.
PAUL HOFFMAN: I used to be an IT consultant and I had done that for too long. I needed more excitement and travel. I had always been into lighting so I started to pursue people in the industry and bug them. Eventually, I interned with a lighting company who put me out on tour with The Dead where I met Candace Brightman – it all flowed from there.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I got my start doing theater in high school and college, and I slowly morphed from an interest in general stagecraft (stage management, set design, costumes, props) to lighting as the technical and abstract aspects became more attractive to me as an art form.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I used to manage a band called Uncle Sammy back in the mid-late 90s. I’ve played guitar since before I could walk and had been in some bands with their guitarist and my lifelong friend, Max Delaney. He had always been a prodigy on a musical level and just in a different league than me so he went to Berklee College of Music and I went to Emerson College for journalism. I started working at the college radio station and getting other jobs in the music business and one day I said to him, “You should start a real band and I’ll manage you.” He found 3 other amazing musicians and we started at the bottom of the food chain and worked our way up over the course of five or so years. I have always been fascinated by light shows and visual art so I just started doing lights in the bars and clubs we played and tapped out the changes on the light board as if it was an instrument. I lived in a house with the whole band and when they’d rehearse in the basement, there was no way to not hear every note anywhere in the house. So I knew the songs inside and out. Never had any real idea that I would become a professional lighting designer though. It was just my way of participating in the show. And plus, free light guy.
MAX BLACKMAN: I used to film my friend’s band, The Dirty Drop, and after one show started complaining to their manager about the lack of any good lighting. Their manager, being a close friend of mine, then convinced me that I would be good at lights due to my background in computers and live arts. With his motivation I took all the money I had and bought my own small lighting rig and started doing work for whatever band would pay me. After about six months I was hired by my first venue and things have taken off ever since.
KENNY GRIBBON: When I was living in Northern Virginia just outside Washington, D.C., I started it as a hobby. I found an LD who worked with local bands and some national acts. I was working construction management at the time and was looking for something new. I reached out through MySpace since I saw this LD was working with bands I liked and just asked him if I could shadow him at one of his gigs. He had a simple set up that he ran off a laptop. It was the first experience I had with learning the very basics of moving lights and how they were controlled. I started it as a hobby on the weekends and loved it so much I made it my goal to find a career in it.
URB: How long have you been doing it?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: I have been a lighting designer for 24 years currently. It was interesting having such a title at 22 years old.
STEVE TEK: I have been working with lighting design for 15 years now!
PAUL HOFFMAN: I’ve been involved in lighting plays and things since I was a kid – but professionally only since 2004.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I suppose my very first real design can be traced back to my final senior project in high school. So… Add two, carry the one, 14 years? Plus or minus a year or two of “figuring stuff out.”
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I don’t remember specifically, but it was probably around 1997 when I first started unofficially flicking switches on the light board at Harper’s Ferry and the Middle East Downstairs. The first time I ever actually used a light board was when a band called Jiggle the Handle performed a live set on my college radio show at WERS. In an attempt to get the band in their happy place, I asked permission to invite 10-15 fans to attend the performance and also have them set up their little light show. Their light guy was a mentor to me, Jack Trifino, who has since become one of the best sound guys in the industry and is currently working with the Victor Wooten Band. So Jack set up the little light show in the studio and I thought it was this hilarious irony to have a light show for a radio broadcast – - totally my kind of humor, raving to the radio audience about how amazing this light show is that they’re listening to. Anyway, while the band was sound checking I asked if I could try doing lights, and I changed colors to the different sections of the song.So that was my very first light show…from Jiggle the Handle to Umphrey’s McGee. I am just drawn to bands with amazing names.
MAX BLACKMAN: My first gig was in August of 2008.
KENNY GRIBBON: I started it as a hobby in 2007 and have been doing it professionally since 2009.
URB: Did you go to school or are you self-taught?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: I am a self taught lighting designer. However, I have taken many courses on the technology of lighting fixtures, fixing them, understanding how they work inside, as well as several classes on programming different lighting consoles throughout the years. If you don’t make the effort yourself to keep up with technology, then it will pass you by, is my theory. So I took the bull by the horns many times and just enrolled myself in these courses as I deemed necessary.
STEVE TEK: I did not go to school but was taught over the years from many different lighting designers.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Self taught.
SABRINA BRASWELL: A bit if both. I never officially majored in lighting design, but I took a lot of credits on the sly, and I assisted and interned my way into some varying amounts of knowledge and wisdom.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I was a broadcast journalism major at Emerson, hence the radio show. As far as lighting goes, I am mostly self-taught as far as how I actually run my show. That is a comfort issue, where every lighting designer does it differently. On the technical side of things, I’ve never had any official training, but I have spent hours learning from those around me with more expertise. Hans Shoop has definitely taught me the most about programming the Grand MA console and I still hire him as often as I can to help us plan bigger shows. He’s like the Warren Haynes of programming – - just never hits a wrong note. I also learned a lot about running moving lights back when Uncle Sammy first started playing Wetlands Preserve in New York City, and their staff was very generous with their time.
MAX BLACKMAN: When it comes to lighting, I am self taught. Although, more recently I did have someone teach me a few tricks to take my programming to the next level.
KENNY GRIBBON: A little of both. I went back to school for it and learned how to program on a Grand MA console and learned the basics of lighting on the technical side of it. I think the artistic end of it is something that can’t really be taught. Its something you have a vision for within.
URB: What’s your favorite venue to light up?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Madison Square Garden, for personal reasons (as a New York Sports person) and just the fact that it’s MSG.
STEVE TEK: Limelight was my all time favorite.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Indoors: Radio City Music Hall. Outdoors: Red Rocks Amphitheater.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I love the 9:30 club in D.C., the Roundhouse in London, and the Greek in L.A. I also love the challenge of non-traditional venues. My next challenge is an Andrew Bird concert at the Riverside Church in Manhattan.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I love the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati for a number of reasons. It’s not that different from a lot of nice indoor theaters, but there are subtleties that make it stand out in my mind. Great crew. Great site lines. Huge canvas for a large light show. No wind.
MAX BLACKMAN: Even with all of its challenges and lack of haze, I love lighting up Brooklyn Bowl. There is just a different energy to the space because of where it is and everything it is about. I also can’t wait to do some work up at the reopened Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY. It’s the craziest house rig in the country with over 60 moving heads.
KENNY GRIBBON: Other than large theaters, the amphitheater at Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, has always been one of my favorites. I love the natural atmosphere created – - so lighting it…is really accenting the beauty of the venue.
URB: How would you define your style?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: In a word, unique. When I began lighting, I just decided to apply it as I thought it should be applied, and not the textbook lighting designer 101 way. As a result there are 100′s of lighting designers today who have modeled their way around my style, and that in itself speaks volumes, if I do say so myself.
STEVE TEK: NINJA STYLE. Creep up on ya and get you movin’.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Improvisational. Having gotten my start under Candace on The Dead you learn how to run lights in real time – interpreting the music as you go. Totally off the cuff. I often have no idea at all what I’m going to do until the song starts.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I’m still finding it. I like to adapt my show daily to the performance’s subtle differences, and I like making bold statements with complementary colors.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Graceful, sexy, vivid. I try to just paint really pretty pictures that match the mood that the music is evoking. On some levels, my light show is very basic and simple. Sometimes having all of the colors go to red is the most dramatic thing I can do to fit that moment. Less is more. A band like Umphrey’s McGee is so complex and the compositions are so detailed. There’s no way a light show can accent every nuance. Sometimes I find myself trying to do that and I have to take a deep breath and sort of step away from the board for a second and just let the moment happen. So on a good night, I’d like to say I have a very patient style. But it’s very tempting to just hit every 16th note along with the band. Sometimes I find it more appropriate to just paint a really gorgeous painting and let the band do their thing for five seconds, which by the way is an eternity to me. I should really drink less coffee.
MAX BLACKMAN: This one is tough. I think I would describe myself as more of a classic styled rock and roll LD, sticking to moving lights without all the extra video stuff some guys are getting into today.
KENNY GRIBBON: I think my style changes depending on the music. If it’s a DJ or electronic music then its going to be a lot more effects and movement in the show. I think I am still evolving and finding a style to call my own. I have some ideas with certain bands I’d like to see happen.
URB: What sets you apart from others?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Again, being unique, but I would have to also say my sense of where Phish is going musically from moment to moment, and of course I’d have to say my sense of timing has played a big role in my style and successes as a lighting designer.
STEVE TEK: Humility, Ability, Tranquility, and Community by sharing the gift that is music.
PAUL HOFFMAN: I think there is a tendency to do everything with moving lights these days. Some LDs out there don’t even light the band members any more – its all about the light show. I think for me the pendulum is swinging back the other way. I’m actually starting to get back into conventional lighting again.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I don’t know. Everything? On the rare occasion I have a chance to see another designer’s show, I’m always shocked and in awe of how different an LD’s interpretation can be. I suppose that’s what really sets all of us apart from one another: it’s more about interpretation and not implementation.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: To me, all I care about is the end result. I want it to look pretty and I want it to be the best light show anyone has ever seen in a given venue. I know a lot of other lighting designers who run their show in a much more technical way and are more sophisticated programmers. My brain just doesn’t work that way for better or worse. I’m a creative guy who is horrible at math. So just like I used to do in math class, I find creative ways to get the same end result. Some of the things you see in my light show may look the same to the naked eye, but I’m running a lot of those cues “on the fly”, which means they’re going to look slightly different each time. The timing of the movement may be slightly off or the tempo of the dimmer chase may be too fast. I’m doing it by hand. But the beauty of working with a band like Umphrey’s is that they’re going to do it slightly differently each night too. So we’re a good fit.
MAX BLACKMAN: What sets me apart from others is timing and feel. Some LDs make it seem like the lights are just another show happening on top of the music. I like to think of doing lights as more of an organic jam between myself and the musicians. This makes the lights really go along more with the music and show.
KENNY GRIBBON: That is a tough question. I know its hard not to be influenced by others so I try my best to not watch other LDs too closely to evolve into my own style. I also like working with bands who have a unique sound and have not had an LD yet.
URB: Where do you derive creative inspiration?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Tough question, sometimes it takes days, sometime I wake up at 4am with a great idea, sometimes when I’ve partaken…but, as a whole, I think it helps me to know what the capabilities of the lighting fixtures that I’m using are on a mechanical level. This is very helpful. If a light can do something that other lights can’t, then I will exploit that artistically and make it work for me instead of against me.
STEVE TEK: DJs I work with and other fellow lighting designers.
PAUL HOFFMAN: A lot of my lighting rig designs are inspired from architecture. I am always looking at buildings – especially from the Art Deco era. That helps me get the rig sorted out. How I use it is 100% guided by the music.
SABRINA BRASWELL: Many things. From a walk through a park at night and seeing street lights through trees, to spending an afternoon staring at a Francis Bacon painting, or simply looking at overly creative shop display windows in Soho…all of these things at one time or another have been represented in someway or another in a show of mine.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Sunsets and sunrises over the ocean. Ballerinas. Coffee. Family Guy.
MAX BLACKMAN: Mainly from other LDs. Most nights that I do not work I will spend out seeing some other venue or show. I even find myself going to shows where I have little to no interest in the band, but know that their visual show is something I have to check out.
KENNY GRIBBON: The music. Hopefully the artist’s music provides the inspiration.
URB: Describe your most memorable performance experience.
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: The first time Candace Brightman came to see me light in 1994 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco. I was really nervous, but had one of the best nights ever, right in front of my hero. It truly was a night to remember for me.
STEVE TEK: So many memorable moments its hard to count. Each one was unique and memorable.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Probably one of the bigger Widespread shows. We do big arena shows every New Year’s Eve where I get some extra budget and can make things pop.
SABRINA BRASWELL: That’s a hard question. I’d have to say it was when Pavement played Central Park in 2010. One of the four nights that had been sold out for over a year there was a terrifically insane thunderstorm, and between the torrential rain and the lightning, and the crowd having a great time not in spite of it but BECAUSE of it made the show very special to everyone that was there and involved.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Aside from almost giving Pete Townshend a seizure, I’d say there are two moments that stick out. One was the first time I ever did lights at Radio City Music Hall with moe. on New Year’s Eve 2006-2007. There’s was this gigantic light rig, which was already in-house because of the Christmas Spectacular. During the day, I took every single light in the place (about 100 fixtures) and focussed them all on the disco ball. It took a really long time because of the small size of the disco ball and just how far away it was. It was tedious and I nearly ran out of time, but once the band dropped into the pretty part in “Kids” and I hit the disco ball, it was just magical. Again, it is such a simple concept, but you just have to find the appropriate musical moment. The other transcendent experience was another New Year’s show, this time with Umphrey’s and the Chicago Mass Choir on 12/31/08. I still cry any time I watch the video. It was that moving. It was better than any show experience I’ve ever had as a fan. That’s why we do what we do. That makes all the bullshit worth it. Amazing Grace>Glory. If heaven exists, I’ve already visited. And God let me run lights.
MAX BLACKMAN: Working at Brooklyn Bowl there have been a few, since I have done lights for a bunch of bands that I used to just be a fan of when I was younger. The most memorable experience though, has to be lighting up the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. You are talking about a band that has headlined Lollapalooza and Austin CIty Limits playing in a room for less than 1,000 people as part of a benefit for Brooklyn based DJ, Jonathan Toubin, who had been hurt in a freak accident and needed help with his medical costs. Also, it was during this set that the owner of Brooklyn Bowl, Peter Shapiro, stage dove! How many venue owners do you know that stage dive?
KENNY GRIBBON: That’s hard to narrow down. The London Souls album release show at Bowery Ballroom was a great experience since I got to bring in a rig and it was sold out. Also, their show at Terminal 5 when they opened to a sold out crowd for State Radio…It was their biggest NYC show and mine as well at the time. All of us having that excitement together really made it special. There really are countless memories for different reasons. If I look at it in a general sense I would have to say seeing Pink Floyd perform Dark Side of the Moon in 1994 in Giants Stadium was my most memorable performance experience. I obsessed over Floyd at that time and that show was what did it for me to become a lighting director. Didn’t realize it at the time, but I must have watched the video cassette of that tour over a 1,000 times reliving that experience.
URB: Describe your connection with the artist and the audience / dancefloor.
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: We are all on the same page. I can feel their energy, much like the band, and roll with that energy as to how I light Phish. We all drive each other along the journey that is a Phish show, and it would never happen without everyone on board. Lights, band audience, groove.
STEVE TEK: It can be magical in a sense…It really can be!!!!!
PAUL HOFFMAN: I watch the drummer like a hawk since I am also a drummer and I can get lots of changes/hits from watching. The best noise in the world is an audible audience reaction to a lighting change – you can’t pay for that.
SABRINA BRASWELL: A lot if my show hinges in the audience’s reaction. The louder and more involved and engaged the audience is, the more I interact with them. I can gauge if the audience is ready and psyched for a more reactive and dynamic show, or a more subtle and cerebral one if they are more quietly attentive.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I always feel that when I’m close to the musicians on a personal level, I connect with them more during the show. For example, if there’s some inside joke that we’ve been referencing all week and everyone in the band and crew are in on it and everyone’s getting along really well, I find that the improvisation is much better. There’s this symbiosis that occurs. It’s really the same concept as a couple. When you’re laughing a lot and getting along really well, the sex is better. In a lot of ways, living on a bus with 12 men is like this big marriage where we all have to learn to live in each other’s space and coexist. The audience is responsible for the energy that the band feeds off and vice versa, hence the symbiosis metaphor.
MAX BLACKMAN: When I’m lighting a band my connection is more with them as I really try to highlight what they do and add to their show. When doing lights for a band I try and approach it as if I’m another musician coming to jam with the band. When its a DJ I’m doing lights for I connect a little bit more with the audience since those shows seem to be more about the party vibe. In these situations, I’m concentrating more on trying to set a scene for the party so I pay a little more attention to the audience and how they are reacting to the show.
KENNY GRIBBON: I’m hoping I’m accenting the music and hitting the changes as well as having a big “moment” when the music calls for it. I think when the audience is tuned in with the music it really helps the band to connect with the audience which makes my job easier to connect. The fact that I sit out in the audience helps a lot to connect and feel the overall vibe.
URB: Have you noticed lights becoming more and more integral to stage performance?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Yes, with the technology being what it is today, there is room for stage shows to express creativity, vision, and art through lighting.
STEVE TEK: Yes, I have I noticed that since the day I started doing this art.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Yes – and video also.
SABRINA BRASWELL: Absolutely. Rarely will you see any band big or small that does not incorporate lighting into their set in some way.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I’m incredibly biased, but yes. I think as technology improves and prices come down, shows are becoming more and more sophisticated.
MAX BLACKMAN: I have noticed lights becoming more integral in the live stage performance. Today you can get music in so many different ways. Even a lot of live shows can be found and downloaded within days of a show happening. Because of this you need to add something extra to the live show to make it a total experience that people want to come out and spend their money to see.
KENNY GRIBBON: Definitely. I think since MTV and the style of television and movies our society has become very ADD. As well as the distraction of cell phones the public can’t stay focused on anything very long. Having lights or video in your show keeps it visually changing which keeps the attention of the audience overall.
URB: Do you think it’s always necessary to incorporate lights into a performance? Can it be overkill?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Never necessary, if it doesn’t fit into the vision of the art being presented. It’s definitely a choice still today, not a must. Art is art, and can be expressed in so many beautiful ways. Its an open door, and can go in any direction that the artist so desires.
STEVE TEK: Yes I do. It can really enhance the performance…Overkill? It depends on the size of space.
PAUL HOFFMAN: It can definitely be overkill. There are many examples of that on the road at the moment. That said – you can’t perform in the dark, so lighting will always be a factor in some way. Even if you have the mellowest artist on the planet under a static lighting scene – it still needs to be well conceived and executed.
SABRINA BRASWELL: There can always be overkill, but I can’t think of any scenario where lighting would be considered unnecessary. It can greatly affect the mood of both the performers and the audience.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: It can definitely be overkill. Some music doesn’t require a big, intricate light show. Neil Young solo acoustic for example, one spotlight and maybe some mood lighting on a backdrop is enough. Anything more would be distracting. But in a literal sense, yes it’s always necessary to have some light because the audience is paying to see the performer.
MAX BLACKMAN: I always remind myself that people will show up to see a good band or DJ no matter what the lighting is like. A good band can play in complete darkness. If they are good people will come. That being said, lights can add a lot to a performance, too. From setting a mood to highlighting things performers do on stage. Yes, some LDs take it too far and go crazy, but its all about experimenting and finding a happy medium for the type of music you are lighting up.
KENNY GRIBBON: Not always, but I feel it’s always helpful to accent the performance. Even if its just putting a spotlight on someone soloing so its easy for the audience to follow what’s going on in the music. I do think lights can be overkill for sure. Not all the time does the music call for it or the lights are always doing something instead of building with the performance. There is definitely a fine line. Once you’ve shown an effect of your lighting design in a show it’s no longer that exciting if you keep using the effect. That’s lighting 101 really. My favorite concert film to watch is “Stop Making Sense” because the lighting and set truly start from nothing with one person and the whole production builds as the music and band do.
URB: What would you tell up and coming artists who want to up their game who are out there gigging, but don’t have the budget for their own lighting equipment?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Learn, learn learn! Maybe work for a lighting company so you have access to consoles and gear, and get experience doing gigs by working for someone else. That’s the best way, as there are always people willing to teach in these environments.
STEVE TEK: Start small and make it grow…and be humble!!!
PAUL HOFFMAN: Find a good LD who will work with whatever is available to make it work for your performance. Hire someone who knows your music and understands the vibe you’re going for. That’s the first step – you can add gear later but it isn’t always necessary.
SABRINA BRASWELL: Hire an up and coming LD to work double duty. They can drive the van, or tour manage. Or if that’s not an option, pay special attention as you tour to specific venues’ lighting rigs. Get an idea about what you like, what you don’t like and talk to the venue’s LD about what is possible, learn the vocabulary and be able to express what you want your show to feel like.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: I would just say to have someone who has a musical background memorize all their songs and run their light show. Play the light board like an instrument. Just switching from red to blue can be very effective if your timing is dead on and you have any semblance of Synthesia.
MAX BLACKMAN: With technology today, there are lots of cheap options to help practice or experiment with. Specifically PC versions of lighting boards and software used in conjunction with a visualizer is a great way to learn how to use a lighting console as well as program. Otherwise, get out to your local venue and talk to the production manager and LD. Many venues will take on interns or hire help for larger shows. It’s a great way to get your foot in the door and then you have access to that venue’s system
KENNY GRIBBON: Having a crew (sound and lights) really helps stepping up your game even if they don’t own their own gear.
URB: Some acts are accused of having a better light show than sound performance. What are your thoughts on that?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Don’t know. Maybe thats what they want, maybe they’re covering their mediocre stage show. That can only be answered on a case to case basis.
STEVE TEK: Don’t have much thought on that other than maybe they should up the sound game.
PAUL HOFFMAN: Hire better sound guys?
SABRINA BRASWELL: That’s a bummer for the foh engineer or the band. Remember though that every show is different, some rooms are really hard to get a nice mix or sometimes it’s hard for the band to hear themselves, and likewise, sometimes the LD can be having a bad night due to technical problems… so if the show seems uneven, there may be extenuating circumstances.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Thankfully I work for a band that has a savant-level attention to detail. Everyone in our entire organization is a perfectionist. So, it’s not an issue for us.
MAX BLACKMAN: I have really noticed this more with EDM DJs than with bands. This is because there is much less money needed for production costs for a DJ than a band. You also aren’t splitting the money up between a bunch of band members. So the performer goes and spends all that extra money on lights to make them look good while they play their music. Someone recently compared a DJ’s LD to another form of a modern day rock star as they literally can steal the show with all the visual eye candy they throw at you. Although, the alternative is to just watch a guy jump around in a booth all night, which just doesn’t sound nearly as appealing.
KENNY GRIBBON: It’s definitely true. But whether I like the music is really a matter of my opinion.
URB: What’s the craziest most fun technology you’ve played with lately? Where do you see the future of lighting design going? What crazy technology is on its way?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: At festival 8, I got to program fire towers. That was awesome, but out here on Justin Bieber, there is so much amazing cutting edge technology that I wouldn’t even know where to begin. We have light sleds that move on tracks, a Whirligig that spins two different ways at the same time, as well as yoyos up and down, we have lasers, pyro, cryo blasts, low lying fog, a crane, and on and on. It’s insane!
PAUL HOFFMAN: Things are getting smaller, lighter and use less power. That has a huge impact on what and how much you can carry with you and therefore puts a lighting system within financial reach for smaller bands. On the bigger side, I think you’ll see more with projection mapping and technology that involves the audience (à la Coldplay’s LED bracelets etc).
SABRINA BRASWELL: There’s all kinds of crazy things going on. Not a day goes by where I don’t get an email about some new product that just came out with higher output, less energy consumption more color options, bells, whistles, lasers, projections, LEDS, hologram Tupacs….What people sometimes forget that these new technologies can only perform as optimally as the user (the LD). I feel that sometimes it is forgotten that its not always about the next big toy, but about how to best use this technology to support the artist you are working for…As far as the future, I see a lot more mixed media, like video becoming far more integral, but my hope that all this technology moves closer to being more energy efficient without sacrificing the good qualities of the older technologies.
Kenny Gribbon: Right now LED technology is really what everyone is using or investing in since its environmentally conscious. The newest and where I see a lot of production going is video mapping. What Mark Brickman designed with Roger Waters The Wall tour and video mapping was one of the greatest productions I’ve seen. I’ve seen it mostly used in big scale productions like the Wall, the Super Bowl, and The Olympic ceremonies but I’ve recently heard about it being used in smaller scale DJ shows touring. I believe the Capitol Theater is the first venue to install video mapping servers.
URB: If you weren’t a LD, what would you be doing?
CHRISTOPHER KURODA: Hopefully not wearing a blue vest that says, “Welcome to Walmart, May I help you?” Probably Fishing, like for real Fish, not Phish.
STEVE TEK: Who knows??????
PAUL HOFFMAN: I always wanted to be an astronaut, or if not a mechanic for space hardware.
SABRINA BRASWELL: I’d probably be doing sound. Or an astronaut. Naw. Sound.
JEFFERSON WAFUL: Hosting Weekend Update on SNL.
MAX BLACKMAN: I would probably be working back in television or with computers. Four years ago, before I started lights, my last two jobs were working for Apple computers and doing in studio audio work and cameras for Fox News Channel.
KENNY GRIBBON: Spending way too much money on attending concerts and working a job I couldn’t stand.