The line between the stage and audience quickly becomes blurred to the point of obliteration on IDLES’ current world tour. Rocking out the crowd with their relentlessly intense vocals, jagged guitar riffs, explosive drumming, and animated physical presence, the award-winning band from Bristol jumps right into things, quite literally, as the guitarists invariably leave the stage at some points in the show to crowd surf the giant mosh pits that gather before them.
Not surprisingly, a key part of the high-octane lightshow that adds to the wildly embracive atmosphere of the band’s performance night after night is an abundance of stage-melting strobing.
“IDLES take their strobing extremely seriously,” said Ed Warren, their lighting designer.
Warren, who has been lighting IDLES since 2018, acknowledges that sometimes he wonders if he is strobing too much. However, when he brings this up to the band, their response typically runs along the lines of “you’re not strobing enough!”
Still, Warren keeps things in perspective. “The intense strobing is all well and good, but you can’t strobe the entire show, so you have to be creative with your effects,” he explained. “I use strobes as key light sources and enjoy flipping between lighting the band from the back, the sides, and the front.”
Warren, who used his ChamSys MagicQ MQ500M when designing the show, has also added an extra dimension to its looks though the adroit used of color combinations and light angles. “I think a lot of people would expect a traditional rock light show but I like to blend colors in unique ways, never using more than two for any song,” he said. “I limit myself a lot, not only with colors, but also with positions. This helps me be more inventive with what I have left. We also try and keep light movement out of the show. The band move about enough on stage as it is.”
After preprogramming the show in his home studio over a three day period, Warren tested positive for COVID just as production rehearsals were about to begin. Unable to go on the tour himself, he preprogramed the show and turned it over to his longtime friend, Div Macintyre, to run on the MQ500M.
“The whole show is preprogrammed but triggered live, with no timecode,” said Warren. “Div had hundreds of cues and specific hits to remember and did so with aplomb. He has also been very clever with his fixture morphing and cloning in order to accommodate different sized venues and stages. I programmed the show on my ChamSys to be adaptable to different types of rigs by limiting the number of positions, gobos, and colors”
“In addition to Div, Steve, Mike and Ryan at LCR, and all the brilliant techs they’ve supplied deserve a lot credit for making a tour of this size come off,” continued Warren. “Robin Genetier, IDLES’ tireless tour manager deserves a great deal of credit as well.”
Also coming in for praise from Warren was his MagicQ MQ500M. “This console has truly made my life easier,” he said. For starters, there is the ability to preprogram using timeline with the audio playing out from the desk. Being able to skip via the desk between sections of songs while listening to them definitely helps speed up the process. How did I survive before without this!
“It saves a lot of time and effort when programming if you can track through the song cue by cue rather than having to rewind/scan back using another music source,” continued Warren. “Having the whole song laid out in front of you with the waveform makes everything easier, which aids the creative process.”
His creative juices allowed to flow more freely, thanks to the time and labor saving features of his ChamSys console, Warren was able to push his design for this tour in new directions.
“This design could easily have worked with a DJ or electronic act,” he said. “IDLES themselves have started experimenting with electronics and distortion. I don’t tend to approach their shows with any preconceptions. I’ll listen to the album and come up with some shapes, the more striking and geometric the better. I Know I what I need to achieve, so I try and go about it in a less traditional way, while still keeping true to the band’s core identity with my lighting.”
As for that identity, Warren describes it as “being like IDLES themselves, harsh and in your face at times, but also very welcoming,” which in the case of the latter means plenty of strobing, balanced against an artful show.