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alt-J 2018 Tour

by Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • in
  • June 2018
  • Production Profile
• Created: June 4, 2018

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British indie rock band alt-J (whose name, when typed on a computer keyboard, comes up as the symbol ∆), have been out on the road non-stop since they released their third album, Relaxer, a year ago. PLSN spoke with creative designers Jeremy Lechterman and Jackson Gallagher of FragmentNine, the full-service production design firm, along with lighting director Jason Rothberg on their work on the tour, which continues this year at a variety of venues along with major festival slots at Coachella, Bonnaroo and, this month, the Firefly Festival in Dover, DE and Mountain Jam in Hunter, NY.

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Visual Cohesion

Jeremy Lechterman and Jackson Gallagher have been working with alt-J since their tour in support of their May 2012 album release, An Awesome Wave. Lechterman first met alt-J while they were opening up for another client, Grouplove. After pestering management for a good while, alt-J let him design a leg of their U.S. tour on that album, and they’ve been a team ever since. “Our relationship is one of absolute trust and respect,” says Lechterman. “They are masters of their craft, but know little about visuals. We know very little about music theory or composing, but they give us almost free rein when it comes to their appearance on stage after years of proving to them we can deliver.”

The current design for 2017 and 2018 intentionally blurs the lines between what is generally two distinct disciplines. “We wanted to create a cohesive structural environment, so we selected items that can work in conjunction with each other,” Gallagher says. “As we control everything via the disguise media system, including all the lighting fixtures, we can create homogeneous, fluid landscapes that seem to push video content out into the environment. We were also meticulous in our spatial planning. For example, the ROE Visual Vanish panels are 25mm spacing between rows of structure, and the X4 Bars are 100mm spacing between lenses, so we were able to nest the X4 bars directly behind the [Vanish panels] and line them up for ultimate impact and precision. These sorts of decisions pervade the entire design.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Trial by Fire

To prepare for this tour, “we did about three weeks of previz, split between the U.S. and the U.K., then we had about 10 days up at Production Park where Marc [Callaghan], our lighting crew chief, and the team assembled two discrete floor packages as we were headed right into festival season with an A/B rig,” Gallagher continues. “We did a few days of band rehearsals and ironed out the bugs up there, then transitioned to the London O2 Arena for three days of pre-production where we loaded in a ton of extras on top of the festival design for the first show of the tour. Sounds luxurious, but we wish we had about twice that amount of time, to be honest. It was a grueling schedule, and we’re still flabbergasted we pulled it off. Within the first week, we did the O2 [arena in London], two festivals in Germany and headlined one of the stages at Glastonbury.”

Lechterman says he can’t tell you how many hours he and Jackson have spent staring at 3D models of Sceptron and trying to figure out precise angles to set the fins, or obsessing over the delay timing of a certain lighting effect. “Perhaps it’s a sickness, but as with all of us who feel passionately about design, it was incredibly difficult to make some of the initial decisions about the show because there was so little time to make adjustments once we actually got the systems up and got time to look at them.”

“We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the glorious content animators whose work is on display every night,” adds Gallagher.
“Bryte, ECM, and All of it Now brought a ton of creative inspiration to the table and were incredibly gracious when we asked them for the umpteenth revision. Working for us as an animator can’t be easy, with how desperately specific we are — we were continually impressed with their patience and grace.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Tailoring the Looks

Lechterman notes that there are something like 20 versions of this show at this point. “Bennie [Brongers], our PM, is really adamant about giving the audience in each market the best show possible, at the best price. As such, we have so many different iterations and drawing packages and show files out there, all dependent on local gear, timing, and so on,” he adds, “so we can pick and choose the right one for each gig. The core of the show is always there — the broad strokes — but a lot of the detail and finesse gets lost when we don’t have the exact touring setup. Regardless of location, though, the core control system and the floor Sceptron carts go to every show.”

Gallagher says it’s a true family vibe out there on the road. He notes that lighting director Jason Rothberg “is new to the camp, as we’ve recently stepped off the road, but he has slotted in perfectly. Video tech Dan Bond, Marc Callaghan and production manager Bennie Brongers have all been with the tour since the beginning of the second album cycle, going on almost four years now,” Gallagher adds. “The schedule is usually quite intense, trying to reach as many fans across the globe as possible. Bennie and [tour manager] Maarten Cobbaut do a great job of steering the ship, whilst Marc, Dan, Jason R., Russell [Cobden], our rigger, and Jason Fearnley, our lighting tech/stage manager, work diligently to make sure the show maintains the initial design integrity every night.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Kindling LiteUp’s Flame

When the band launched the second album cycle (This Is All Yours, Sept. 2014), Marc Callaghan was initially the L2 tech on the tour, and Lechterman and Gallagher knew nothing about his burgeoning production company, LiteUp. Callaghan quickly assumed the crew chief role, and as the tour evolved, FragmentNine started to utilize his company’s equipment as well. Now, LiteUp supplies their entire (rather bespoke) control system worldwide, and the entire lighting and video package in Europe. “It’s been great to see
LiteUp grow alongside the band, and we’re so pleased to have been able to support them,” Gallagher says. “We’re looking forward to sending more work their way soon.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         Two Paths Converge

Gallagher steered directly into media when he started his career, while Lechterman has always been more versed in lighting. “Our greatest strength as a team is how we complement each other’s skill sets,” says Lechterman. “Over the years, we’ve both become fairly ambidextrous, though, which is both a blessing and a curse. The beauty now is, neither of us are hindered from achieving a design goal if we personally don’t know how to execute on it. Over the years, we’ve also developed an ecosystem of friends and colleagues who are more than willing to help when we can’t find a technical solution to a problem. Friends are great to have in this industry.”

The two designers try to divide things up as evenly as possible, Gallagher notes. “Jeremy excels more in Vectorworks and WYSIWYG, where my competency is in server programming, Cinema 4D, and all the ancillary video tasks technologies. It’s a pretty good workflow, as we don’t overlap in specialty often, and if something new needs to be learned, there’s usually an equitable decision about who is going to be the expert on this new thing. Generally, I do deeper dives into some of the more arcane technical things, as I’m wired that way, whereas Jeremy writes a lot more emails than I do,” Gallagher says.

At the time of this writing, FragmentNine was in the middle for previz for Keith Urban’s Graffiti U Tour in their new studio in the Rocky Mountains, called F9 West. (Urban’s tour, in support of his 10th studio album, which debuted in late April, launches in mid-June.)

“So often, previz can be a grueling process — in a dingy room surrounded by all the chaos of shop or an arena floor,” Lechterman says. “We’ve had this dream since university of being able to design and create in an inspiring location, a place that lets the ideas flourish and cultivates the kind of culture we want as a partnership and a company. We’re incredibly grateful that this spring we’ve inaugurated F9 West, and couldn’t be happier about the process and the atmosphere out here.” He adds some words of advice: “Always try to do what you love, but if you’re lucky enough to do it in a place that inspires you, even better.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

‡‡         An Inviting Challenge

Rothberg notes that this is his first project with Lechterman and Gallagher. “Jeremy and Jackson have been a lot of fun to work with. It’s certainly a challenging show to jump into. The tour started with a mix of big and small shows, two different rigs and various configurations. They, along with Marc and Dan, all helped to make it a smooth and successful transition. I came in after the whole show was already programmed so I’ve just had the normal daily updates and occasional cloning with different house or festival overhead rigs, and the set list has been the same so far.

“The entire show,” Rothberg continues, “is time-coded. There are always small modifications if we don’t have our touring rig — nature of the beast. We have had to piece it together a few times with what was available locally, the fixture choices are not always ideal when that happens, but we make it work. For example, our trucks were not able to make it from Moscow, Russia to Marseille, France one week, so the entire show had to be brought in locally. It was a bit of a challenge to find everything or appropriate fixture subs, but we made it work and it turned out great.

“Even though the show is time-coded, it is still fun to operate,” Rothberg continues. “Both the gear from Upstaging and LiteUp have been great,” he adds. “I have not had any issues with either of the rigs. The road production team are fantastic. Since they know the show so well, they have been very helpful during the transition and helping me out if we encounter anything unexpected.”

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

alt-J 2018 Tour

Crew

Show Designers/Programmers: Jeremy Lechterman, Jackson Gallagher/FragmentNine

Lighting Director: Jason Rothberg

Lighting/Video Co: Upstaging

Upstaging Account Rep: John Bahnick

Core Control System: LiteUp (U.K.)

LiteUp Account Rep/Lighting Crew Chief: Marc Callaghan

Stage Manager/Lighting Tech/Fixer: Jason Fearnley

Lighting Techs: Benji Meserole, Seth Conlin, Amy Kozak

Video Tech: Dan Bond

Tour Manager: Maarten Cobbaut

Production Manager: Bennie Brongers

Production Assistant: Amy Hills

Rigger: Russell Cobden

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

Gear

Lighting:

1       grandMA2 Light console (plus spare)

1       grandMA2 Command Wing Kit with onPC Computer

33     Claypaky Mythos 2 fixtures

96     GLP impression X4 Bar 20’s

28     SGM P-5’s

30     Atomic LED Strobes

168  Martin VDO Sceptrons (1m)

120  Sceptron splicer plates

7       Martin P3 PowerPort 1500’s

2       MDG Atmosphere HO

alt-J Photo © Steve Jennings

Video:

84     ROE Visual Vanish LED Panel

2       Folsom Image Pro II

1       Folsom rack

2       disguise 2×4 Pro media servers

 

More alt-J 2018 tour photos by Steve Jennings:

 

 

 

 

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