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Young Thug and Machine Gun Kelly 2019 Tour

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • Designer InsightsJanuary 2020 • January 12, 2020

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

Designing the Looks for Young Thug’s “Justin Bieber Big” Co-Headlining Tour with Machine Gun Kelly

A good pairing was brought together with rapper/singer-songwriters Young Thug and Machine Gun Kelly. Young Thug first tweeted the “Justin Bieber Big” name for his 2019 tour, which had been untitled, less than two weeks before the first show. The shows, which ran from Sept. 30 to Nov. 18, were brought together with the help of a creative team, including creative director/production designer Meggan McKenzie, lighting and production designer Stu Dingley and lighting director/programmer James Washer. PLSN also spoke with Wes Henrad, LD for Machine Gun Kelly.

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings. Automation cocked the truss in an abstract position.

Meggan McKenzie
Creative Director & Production Designer

Meggan McKenzie is with The Live Dept., a live touring production company set up and run with Jean-Paul Firmin since 2012. Jean-Paul (also the Tour Manager on Thug’s tour) has tour directed many artists both in the US & UK, while McKenzie has set up and run all production and a few production design elements for The Live Dept. since its inception. “Although I had learnt so much running production for The Live Dept. I personally decided in 2017 to develop my skills further in creative production and stage design by taking a number of courses. For the next year and a half I focused on an intense hand drafting course with London Film School; a Creative Direction course at Central Saint Martin’s then finally finishing with a course in Technical Theatre and Lighting Design at RADA.

“Following on from completing the courses I felt I wanted to take on doing more elements of design on the tours we were working on, so I started to work on pitches for some of our clients who I was interested in working with creatively. Young Thug has been our client for the last two years, having previously designed his set and video content for his support tour with J.Cole.

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

“I really enjoyed getting to know his music and observe him as an artist, he is extremely talented in his genre and is on a journey with his fans so it is an exciting time to be a part of his projects. When Thug was getting his new album ready for release I had already started working on the creative brief, which I sent across to him and his label manager.

“The ideas come from listening to Thug and observing what he likes, he wanted to feel like he was in a room which is where the X4 overhead ‘room’ comes from — I wanted to be able to isolate that area so it became a separate performance space. Generally I like to see the space we have so I look at the venue specs and visualize it, then I sketch out some ideas and narrow it down based on things I know I’d like to incorporate, once I have something I am happy with I then send Stu (Dingley) my sketches which he draws up and looks at from his perspective, we chat about what ideas he would like to incorporate and what he feels works or doesn’t and go back and forth, usually we reach a point where we both get stuck on something but Stu usually comes back with a genius solution at 2am.

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

“Thug does not need to give me a lot of direction as I have had the opportunity to be around him and his YSL (record company) artists quite a bit. I’ve been able to observe and understand their culture and what is important to the artist. What I like about doing the creative is being able to work on my own after spending time with an artist. Coming up with ideas and concepts, I can show them things they like without having had to ask a load of questions, which unless they are very assertive most artists feel uncomfortable with.”

“I asked Stu to be involved in the project, as we had worked together on other projects in the past. I really enjoy working with him, he has a low-key astute approach to lighting design and a good eye for production design. It is nice to be able to work with someone collaboratively. I like to work with creative people who have their own ideas in their field – it brings a special element to the finished project. Stu also uses very classical theatre lighting design which I really like as it brings out the emotional elements within the set and enhances what the artist is trying to convey.”

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

Stu Dingley
Young Thug Lighting & Production Designer

Stu Dingley had run a couple of festival shows for Young Thug, but this was his first arena run with the artist. Creative Director Meg McKenzie brought Dingley onto this project, having worked together on a couple of other shows prior. “She’s incredibly talented, so it’s always an enjoyable experience working alongside her”, says Dingley. This was Young Thug’s biggest headline run to date, his album ‘So Much Fun’ hit No.1 in the US just before the tour was about to head out, so Dingley notes they needed to bring in some big show effects like automation, pyro, etc… and a tight cue stack.

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

“As the tour was a co-headline run with Machine Gun Kelly, we had to not only ensure the rig was versatile for both acts, but that we could also find ways to differentiate the looks, whilst giving both teams an equal playing field. Wes Henrad, LD for MGK got some big rock looks out of the rig while Young Thugs’ performance after had a contrasting, futuristic feel to it. The stage centered around a 6ft high grated riser with ramps down to stage level all clad in a mirror finish. This gave us the opportunity to place a toaster underneath to get him onto the stage. We wanted to box in the riser with a wall of light from above, while spreading out custom fabricated, infinity-type glass shards around the stage with internal LED. It created this futuristic feel, especially with the use of low fog. Smoke and lights under the riser also gave us some more looks to play with along with X4 Bars outlining the edges.” Dingley also had 2x 20ft finger trusses with 36x outrigged JDC1s acting as the big rock and roll look moving in and out of sight each side.

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

Dingley had three days at Rock Lititz to program around 50 tracks in the song pool, so it meant continuous, fast passes over the whole set. James Washer (Lighting Director & Programmer) quickly found the looks that became the staple parts of the show, so by the time work lights came on and the rig started to drop 72 hours later, they were ready for opening night, a five truck tour, with the whole rig built in GT truss, including an automation mother-grid.

“So generally speaking, Meg keeps a holistic view over the project, she works closely with Young Thug and also the video team in creating the content. She also heads up the scenic parts of the design. I tend to look after the lighting and production drawings, renders, etc and then we work together in rehearsals getting the looks down. James (Washer), while programming the show is also an incredible designer, knows exactly what we’re after and can get it in the desk quickly.”

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

LMG supplied everything on the original fixture and gear list, notes Dingley. The rig is mainly Robe movers, GLP strobes and X4 bars, and some Sharpy Washes on the front truss. “The Wash Beams are a super powerful unit, these were on the US truss and floor pushing out big blocks of color while also framing the edges of the stage and risers. The MegaPointes did all the fun stuff on the automation trusses. The overhead rig had to be exciting and powerful, while giving us enough moments to close down the space. The X4 bars gave us the more modern, minimal looks and the ability to accentuate the riser shapes and overhead box truss. LMG also supplied an automation system enabling us to throw the rig into all different places and hit some really aggressive angles. I’ve worked with LMG on previous projects and they really do a great job, not only in supplying things you actually want to use, but making sure the prep is smart and the gear is going to last the run and still look great at the end. It’s nice to have a single vendor, especially as time was short on the lead up to this one, so we could hit the final figure through one quote and one account handler.”

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

James Washer
Young Thug Lighting Director & Programmer

James Washer had 47 songs in the console in total he notes, the set list was pretty solid once they got rolling. “There was some fluidity depending on which city we were in as to which guest rappers could appear, so always interesting at FOH if we got caught off guard. Thug could play any song at any time, for us it’s not a big deal as we were prepared for it. The bulk of the looks were smashed out in production rehearsals then naturally updates and more programming was added in the first week or so once we had seen a few shows.”

YOUNG THUG © Steve Jennings

Washer met Stu Dingley for the first time in LA for a ‘coffee’ having been introduced by a mutual good friend of theirs. “At that time I had recently finished a long campaign and was at a loose end. Timing wise it worked out great. Thug was a new project for me, working alongside Meggan and Stu was a fun and easy process. Our workflow was great in rehearsals which is what is important when the clocks ticking. Meggan and Stu were dead sure about what they wanted out of the show so my part in this was made very easy! We had Shaggy VJ’ing with us as well, top bloke to spend time with at FOH.”

The tour had a bunch of GLP JDC-1’s which are an excellent fixture, Washer explains. “I do miss a white chip sometimes but all things considered this is the best strobe on the market at this point in time. Also sat alongside the JDC’s we had Robe MegaPointes which are a great beam/spot hybrid. The frost in the MegaPointe’s is pretty nice so we found ourselves slamming that in a lot. I have spent a long time with these lights so I have a good understanding of how to get the most out of them. Lining the box we had GLP Impression Bar 20’s which have such lovely colors and of course create a nice tight curtain of light. The functionality of these lights when used in SPix mode in large linear arrays gives me a lot of options for nice effects and sweeps.”

MACHINE GUN KELLY © Steve Jennings

Wes Henrad
Lighting Designer for Machine Gun Kelly

Wes Henrad notes that MGK has an extremely high energy show so he wanted to have a lighting design to demonstrate this. “Our show uses the JDC1 Strobe heavily, using it to wash and strobe alike. The Robe Mega Pointe was a wonderful choice as well with its ability to have a wide cone with gobo breakups or a tight crisp beam. With the design of the GLP X4 bars we were able to create scenic like FX and walls of light, great for songs like ‘Glass House’.

MACHINE GUN KELLY © Steve Jennings

The addition of the giant Skull prop was a collaboration between our Production Designer Jason Roberto, the artist and Tour Manager Andre Cisco. Skulls have been a big theme of MGK and so a giant rotating one that he could stand on suited the scale of the tour. Our Video Content Creator Matt Tilla is absolutely amazing at quickly creating content that depicts the music. LMG and the Production team worked endlessly through the tour to provide a wonderful rig. They were truly a pleasure to work with.”

Young Thug 2019 “Justin Bieber Big” Tour

Crew

Production Companies:

  • Lighting/Video/Automation: LMG/Craig A. Mitchell
  • Staging and Props: ShowFX/Dan Brown
  • Trucking: Upstaging

 

Young Thug Production Crew:

  • Creative Director and Production Design: Meggan McKenzie
  • Lighting and Production Designer: Stu Dingley
  • Lighting Director and Programmer: James Washer
  • Tour Manager: Jean-Paul Firmin
  • Video Content Creator: Render Fruit
  • VJ: Louis Saint-Davis

MACHINE GUN KELLY © Steve Jennings

Machine Gun Kelly Production Crew:

  • Lighting Designer: Wes Henrad
  • Production Designer: Jason Roberto
  • Tour Manager: Andre Cisco
  • Video Content Creator: Matt Tilla
  • VJ: Brian Ledet

Young Thug/Machine Gun Kelly Shared Production Crew:

  • Lighting Crew Chief: Sandy Sims
  • Lighting Techs: James McKinney, Max Ferreyra
  • Automation: Michael Wild
  • Video Crew Chief: Jason Lebel
  • Video Tech: Jason Smith
  • Production Manager: Christopher Griffiths
  • Production Assistant: Aaron Davis
  • Stage Manager: Darron Meeks
  • Carpenters: Darron Meeks, German Zavaleta
  • Rigger: Yader Mena

Gear

Lighting:

  • 2       grandMA2 Full consoles
  • 55     GLP impression X4 Bars
  • 36     GLP JDC1 LED strobes
  • 42     Robe Robin MegaPointes
  • 24     Robe BMFL WashBeams
  • 25     Elation CuePix WW4 Blinders
  • 16     Claypaky Sharpy 330 Washes
  • 4       Chroma-Q Color Force 72” RGBA’s
  • 2       MDG TheOne hazers
  • 1       MDG Ice Fog Q low foggers

Video:

  • 175  ROE CB8mm tiles for 49’3’’ x 27’7’’ (WxH) LED wall
  • 1       ROE CB8mm LED tile package for risers (10 x 1.5 tiles, 19’9’’ x 5’10’’ WxH)

Automation/Rigging:

  • 8       CH1 500kg hoists
  • 6       CH1 1000kg hoists
  • 1       Automation control system

 

More  Machine Gun Kelly and Young Thug tour photos by Steve Jennings:

 

 

 

 

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