Iconic California festival, Coachella, opened its gates in April 2022 for the first time in two years. Headlining was pop megastar Harry Styles. Dressed in a sequined jumpsuit, Styles strutted his stuff under the retro elegance of over 250 VL5LED WASH fixtures, purchased specifically for the project by global rental giant Solotech.
The huge circular lighting effect was conceived and designed by Baz Halpin and his team at LA-based Silent House, alongside associate LD and programmer Eric Marchwinski, and in collaboration with Molly Hawkins. The creative team then employed the engineering skills of Solotech for the build of the striking effect as John Flynn, senior director of production services for the company, explains: “We invested in 275 VL5LED WASH fixtures for this project. It was one of the first large purchases for Solotech in 2022 and our team was excited to work with the new LED version of this iconic Vari-Lite fixture. What better place to debut them than at the first Coachella show since 2019? It’s a great way to show that the industry is back on track and that Solotech is leading the charge!”
With offices spread across 18 locations in Canada, the USA, the UK, and China, Solotech serves both the entertainment and system integration markets, making it the ideal partner when it came to building and delivering the complex Silent House design.
“It is always a pleasure to work with Silent House,” continues Flynn. “Baz and his team know how to push the boundaries of design, while fully understanding and appreciating the complexities and implications of doing so. Creating a giant, dynamic ceiling, comprising over 250 VL5LED WASH fixtures, that can tilt at 45 degrees, is no mean feat. We were challenged to lift and automate 24,000 lbs of lighting and structure, rig it in a festival roof, and design it to withstand wind.”
The result was a stage design as sparkling, slick and voguishly elegant as Styles himself. Centered around two huge, white curved staircases, bathed in rich, pulsing, undulating light, the VL5LED WASH luminaires were packed, like mega-sized pixels, into a huge circular structure above. The impact was stunning. The VL5LED WASH fixtures worked in unison to form one huge fixture. Panning and tilting, running color and effects chases, the piece echoed and enhanced Styles’s dynamic, high-energy performance.
Programmed with agile imagination by the team at Early Bird Visual, the effect exuded glamour, optimism, and celebration. Unifying and epic, it was the physical manifestation of a big warm welcome back to live music along with the creative ingenuity and intelligence of the many people, who work behind the scenes.
“The retro visual aesthetic of the VL5LED WASH and what Silent House and Early Bird Visual did with them is spectacular,” continues Flynn. “The LEDs that edge the outer rim of the fixture and shine on the blades created an added dimension to the look and worked excellently on this show. In addition, the size, color, and light output, and in particular the appearance on camera of the lensing system, is a real wow factor.”
Although the ceiling piece itself was a Coachella special, Flynn says that Styles’s design team has plans for the VL5LED WASH fixtures for the foreseeable future. “The current European tour has to be a bit more flexible due to the different scale and location of venues,” notes Flynn. “However, the Coachella set has attracted a lot of attention for the VL5LED WASH from other designers, many of which have reached out asking about availability. They love the scale of our purchase – 275 units is a lot to play with!”
With so many VL5LED WASH fixtures having to work in complete accord, it was crucial that Silent House and Solotech felt supported by Vari-Lite. “The backing from Justin Cicerone and the team at Vari-Lite was as fast and results driven as we hoped for,” says Flynn. “We had a few minor software requests and the team at Vari-Lite dealt with every ask expediently. Even with the challenge of global supply chain issues we felt we were in safe hands, all the way to opening night.”
For everyone - from the Coachella artists and audience to the backstage teams and all those involved in the production of the festival - being back in a field, immersed in the electric, shared experience of live music was beyond breathtaking. Watching Harry Styles pour himself down a Hollywood- style-movie-staircase, clad in an ostentatious black ostrich feather coat, which he quickly let fall to reveal a colorful sequined jump suit, to then sing a duet with his childhood hero, Shania Twain, was sublime.