Saturday, February 19, 2011

[INTERVIEW] Nick Whitehouse: lighting genius

Note : j'ai publié la version française de cette interview sur

Nick Whitehouse has a dream job: he designs some of the biggest pop shows on the planet. His recent collaborations ? ColdplayKylie MinogueAlicia KeysJustin Timberlake and Britney Spears. Although his activity is essential to any music show, it is little known. Mostly because people like Nick are discrete people who feel a lot better behind the scenes than under the spotlights. Anyway, he has been very kind and agreed to answer my questions about his job, his collaborations, The Ultra Girls (the upcoming girlband he is managing) and many other things. With Kylie's Les Folies Tour starting tonight in Denmark, it is high time you met the man that makes everything he does visually breathtaking.

Below is a video of the dress rehearsal for the show. It contains spoilers !

(Kylie Minogue - X2008 Tour, Like A Drug)

How would you define your job(s) ?

I am a lighting, production and Technical Designer. Which basically means for lighting I come up with the idea of how i would like the song/s to look so that the lighting compliments the music and then design where the lights need to be and how they should be programmed to achieve this look. For the production and technical design side, I work within a group called Road Rage which is Myself, William Baker, Steve Dixon and  Josh Zangen. Together we design the stage and set for the shows. As a group we come up with the concepts of the layout and basic initial ideas then Josh Zangen and William Baker will work in detail on layout and fit and finish, Steve works on the costs and making sure we can deliver all the ideas for our budget and I work on making the creative side technically possible. Its an amazing team and we all work really well together.

How did you start working as a light designer ?

I actually started doing sound..! But quickly realised that lighting was more for me... I worked in a number of London venues as house lighting designer and at the same time getting onto as many jobs with the bigger LD's that I could. I tried to learn the best bits from all of them. After a few years doing that I managed to get noticed by a small band who were touring London at the time and started to work with them.. The band quickly grew and I did with them drawing on everything that I had learnt and ended up working for them for 6 years doing shows around the world.. The band were Coldplay.

(Coldplay - Twisted Logic Tour 2005/2006, Square One)

How/when did you start working on major pop shows ?

I started on the real big pop shows in about 2006 when I got approached to work on Justin Timberlakes Future Sex Love Show, I had done some smaller UK pop bands and acts with real success and my reputation was getting around. Justin was looking for something that he had seen at one of my shows. He wanted to turn the arena from a huge open space into a real small club feel. He had seen a Coldplay show in Tokyo that he loved and wanted me to work with him on his show. The show opened in 2007 and was an enormous success selling out 112 arenas around the world. From there I have gone on to work with some of the biggest pop acts of all time.

(Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveShow 2006/2007, Sexyback)

Where do you find your inspiration ?

Everywhere.! A lot comes from the artist. It's very important to me that the show reflects who they are and the record that they have made. Sometimes its just something cool that I have seen, I have a bunch of ideas stored up that i haven't found the right show to use on yet..!

At what point of the creative process of a tour do you start being involved ?

It depends what I'm doing on the tour. If it's just lighting then a little later but mainly I'll be involved from the very beginning, Throwing around concepts and ideas before there is even a firm plan of when to tour. 

What’s different with that kind of performances ? The bigger the better ?

No not at all.. It's all about how good the artist is. Im lucky that I get to work with amazing people. I love arena shows. I think that they are the best possible environment to see a huge show in, when it's done right everyone should feel part of the action and be involved. But on the other hand on Justin we did some club shows mixed in and there was something about seeing him on stage in a tiny club it was magical.! Also Kylie USA in theatres was perhaps my favourite show of all time... I would have paid to see it every night had I not been working. She is such a superstar, I'm so excited about Aphrodite Les Folies as it's taken everything we learned on that show and expanded on massively..! 

Can you tell me how the tools and material you’re using to build a show have evolved over the years ? What is the state-of-the-art material nowadays ?

Lighting has evolved quite a bit... When I first started par cans and Source 4's were the main ingredient to the lighting rig with only a handful of moving lights as they were new and expensive. Now pretty much all my designs are heavily moving light based. In fact par cans rarely appear on any of my designs. We also have seen a massive move to LED lighting that are becoming really popular. I'm still not a massive fan of them as I dont like looking at the LED's but they're really useful for lighting objects and set.. or as underwater lights!

Stage wise the technology has moved on enormously. Custom stages are now incredibly complicated pieces of equipment. mainly built out of aluminium and plywood (that hasn't changed too much). The way of putting them together has been overhauled by a company in the US called Tait. They developed magnetic locating systems and quick lock systems that have reduced the time it takes to assemble a stage from about 4 hours to about 30 minutes which means we are able to do much more complicated thing with the design.! The lifts and automation systems are stunning pieces of engineering that have to be seen to be believed! While visiting the build of the current show one of the engineers who builds parts for NASA commented that there is more technology in this show than on the space shuttle.!!

First pic from the Les Folies Tour stage design
How involved are the artists you’re working with ? (I believe the level of involvement of someone like Britney is not as high as Kylie’s ? Am I wrong ?)

All artists are very involved, Britney included. It is after all their show and they want it to be right!

What makes a great show for you ?

A great show for me is one that keeps you entertained throughout, whilst not overshadowing the performer with tricks and distractions, It should also not feel like it's going on forever!! The real proof is how the fans react to it. A great reaction proves that we have really done something right!

Do you only work with artists whose music you like ?

Unfortunately not, Luckily everything I'm doing these days is because I want to so I choose to work with artists that I do like.

I understand you’re involved in the Ultra Girls project. How so ? Why are they the next big girlband ?

I am actually managing The Ultra Girls.

Without wanting to sound like a grumpy old man... I have been in this industry for about 12 years and seen a huge amount of bands and artists come and go and the reasons why... I'm lucky enough to work with a number of the most successful artists of all time and the thing that ties all these artists together is their personality and vision. The reason these artist have succeeded and become superstars is that as well as their talent they have the ability to drive themselves and the people around them plus they're all so nice and fun to be around. I met The Ultra Girls (who had been friends for years) in the bar of a hotel in early January 2010 and knew within about 2 minutes of talking to them that they all had this personality. Over the last year they have worked with the most talented people in the business and without fail have pushed these people and brightened there day along they way..! As a group the girls are fantastically talented, but what makes them unique is that everything that they do comes completely from them, I simply make sure the right people are around to make things happen!!

So I'm not going to say that they are the next big girl band as that implies that there has been something like them before, which honestly there hasn't. You're going to have to keep a close eye on these girls yourself as I expect that you'll be seeing a lot more of them very soon. They're real, talented, fun, totally hilarious and anything can happen and frequently does!

(Go tho the girls' Facebook page to grab a free download of their great mash-up of Pink's Get The Party Started and Blur's Song 2!)

What would you say to someone who would like to follow your example ? (studies, experience, etc...)

There wasn't really any studies that I could do when i was at school, but a course to teach the technical side would be great. Lighting or stage management would be a great course to do. Experience: I would say do as many different jobs as you can. Anything from theatre to film studio to local crew on an arena tour everything will help. Always be willing to learn and help out, don't be afraid to speak up and give good ideas but remember that most people doing it will have tried most things... but you never know! Most work is given out to hard working and eager people that are met helping at shows. Do as many training courses on new lights and consoles as you can and make sure you're up on new technology as well as old! Work at local venues, helping out, running lights... Hard work and experience is the way to succeed in this industry!

Who are your competitors in the business ? Why are you better than the others ? ;-)

There aren't many competitors in the business. I am actually very good friends with my main competitor and as we are both so busy we often pass work between us. I'm not sure that I am better, we both have different styles so it's more down to who suits that particular project!

Do you have any tips for young artists with no or little bugdet to make their performance look great without the light design of a big pop show ?

Backlight, haze and timing! Make sure that 90% of the lights you have are at the back of the stage. That way a little lighting goes a long way!

What can you tell me that hasn’t be said already about Kylie’s new tour ?

We are still keeping a lot of it as a surprise, but I will say I have been staring at plans, plots renders and CAD files for 8 months on this project and it was only a couple of weeks ago when I went to see the real thing that I could even imagine the scale of the show... S make sure you go and see it, if there is one show that you see all year it should be this one. I have never seen anything like it!!

What are your next projects after the Kylie tour?

I can't say right now but there are a couple of other pop projects lined up for the rest of the year... and of course world domination of The Ultra Girls!!


Nick Whitehouse's official website:

Below are some exemples of Nick's past work. (Credits: (c) Steve Jennings)

"Alicia Keys - As I Am Tour (2008)"

"Britney Spears - Circus Tour 2009"

"Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveShow 2007/2008"

"Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveShow 2007/2008" 

"Justin Timberlake - FutureSex LoveShow 2007/2008" 

Kylie Minogue - For Me For You Tour 2009 (USA)"

Kylie Minogue - For Me For You Tour 2009 (USA)"

"Kylie Minogue - X2008 Tour"

"Kylie Minogue - X2008 Tour"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The one thing this article fails to mention is that Nick is an arrogant twat who is almost universally detested within the industry