When you headline Glastonbury, you’ve got to bring in the big guns. This year Arcade Fire did their best to bring a mirrorball dappled Studio 54 atmosphere to the Pyramid Stage while Metallica screened a bizarre Julien Temple film featuring the band clad in bearsuits, taking bloody aim at foxhunters. Festival closers Kasabian however, totally took things to the next level. Working with their longterm creative director, fashion designer Aitor Throup – who also helped develop the concept for their new album ’48.13’ as well as working as creative director of Damon Albarn's solo album – they transformed the iconic stage into a huge white box. It was the perfect place for their innovative, future-facing stage show, one that dazzled, baffled and impressed in equal measure. “The ultimate way to showcase art in a powerful way is to put it in a beautiful white gallery, so you free it of context,” explains Throup to Dazed backstage at Glastonbury, a few hours before the band take to the stage. Taking the artwork for ‘48.13’ and its trademark lower case Helvetica font as a starting point, the show was rendered in vivid pink and white, with the huge LED screen at the back of the stage flashing up random words and psychedelic swirls as a backdrop to rowdy performances of tracks from the band’s five album back catalogue. In a Dazed exclusive, Throup tells Dazed the story behind the show.
Tell us about the concept behind the Glastonbury performance and stage set up.
We’re trying to do things in a different way. Things become standardised through industrialisation and it’s the same with stage design. Things just fall into a pattern. I’m always looking for bits that you’re not supposed to do. I was really interested in using that whole change over time to start the show. So when the previous band come off stage, their backdrop comes off and reveals this huge screen and massive pink countdown. It’s part of the show and part of the anticipation. When the countdown goes to zero, the stage basically turns into a white box. All my work with Kasabian is trying to reflect the way that they work. Particularly Serge, because he writes and produces all the music. They’ve always interested me as a band, before I started working with them. First of all because they get so misinterpreted. People associate them with certain Britpop era bands but they’re more connected with electronic and fucking rave music and hip-hop. Serge literally writes songs like an electronic producer.
How does turning the stage into a white box work in practical terms?
It’s pretty mental and it took us about a year to figure out. We’ve got a great production manager. He started compiling a team of people together to bring different technologies.
How did you start working with Kasabian?
We met just over four years ago, when I designed the kits for the World Cup, randomly. Nike had bought Umbro out and brought me in to creatively direct the brand and create the new football kits for England. Rather than photographing it on a footballer, they wanted to do it on a band and I was like, ‘They have to use Kasabian.’ It was the perfect fit. So I had to present the kit to the lads and I met them and hung out with them in Paris. We just got on instantly - particularly me and Serge. We’re very similar in how we work and created a very special bond. I speak to him every day. They then brought me in to do the cover for their last album ‘Velociraptor’, which I did, but we also created a whole concept around it and that lead to me designing the arena tour.
What was the idea behind the bright pink artwork for 48:13?
What struck me with this record when listening to it being made and being in the studio with Serge is that he developed this confidence to be really direct and even more experimental than he’d ever been. It felt like a really punk energy, because it was the opposite of trying to make sure everyone was going to like it - he sort of didn’t care. It was really going back to his creative roots. Trying to do that on his fifth record is really admirable. Normally successful bands on their fifth record just try and play safe. In the landscape of rock there seems to be a real saturation of overthinking. People are overly concerned with being cool and you see certain bands start losing their integrity: it’s more about what size leather jacket they’re wearing or their hair. So every song has a one word title - there’s such a beauty in that, it has such a childlike honesty. The ultimate summarizing of Kasabian into one colour is bright pink. It’s subversive. It’s a punk colour as well. People think Kasabian are a lads’ band, but pink is anti-lad. It’s saying to people, ‘You know what, have a listen. It’s not what you think.’ Even calling the album ’48:13’ - it’s the most honest title for an album. It’s like Chanel calling Chanel No.5 ‘No.5’ because it was the fifth experiment in the laboratory. It’s just pure product language.
So, after the big white box happens what goes on in that box for the rest of the show?
I work with this brilliant lighting designer called Nick Gray from Renegade and he’s been doing Kasabian lighting for years. He’s probably the most progressive lighting designer in the world. We work together to get the right flavour with the screen content that I direct. I curate and direct these different animations. I’ve been working with a company called Silent Studios and a guy called Nathan Prince who’s incredibly creative. Sometimes we use the screen just to put one random word on the back. The words are things that mean a lot to us and to the band. At one point we flash up ‘Dhalsim’, which is the name of a Street Fighter character.
How involved is Serge with the way everything looks?
I work very closely with Serge. We make decisions together. Every single thing that you see is ultimately about bringing to life the band’s music, so he has to feel that as well.