It's hard to classify Korn, the band that broke out of Bakersfield, CA, in 1995 and crashed categories and convention to create a new sound in music. Sometimes called new metal, other times rap metal, thrash, pimp rock, and almost any combination of the above, the band's hybrid music seems to be a direct descendant of Metallica (who they're touring with early this summer) with a little funk and hip-hop flavor layered onto its metal core.
Beyond Korn's musical eclecticism, embraced anthem-like by mosh pit devotees, the band has embraced its mostly Generation "Y" audiences by always putting fans first. For its debut concert outing, 1998's groundbreaking Family Values tour headlined with Rammstein, Ice Cube, Limp Bizkit and Orgy, the band and its production designers Doug "Spike" Brant and Justin Collie of Art. . .Inc. and Mike Whetstone of Whetstone Design also came up with the Korn Kage, an idea that literally made fans part of the action. The "Jailhouse Rock"-inspired two-story set held 50 contest-winning fans onstage behind the band.
For Issues, the band's latest multi-platinum album, the group and its management team at the Firm continues to bring the Korn-fed masses closer: fans wrote the band's press bio, designed four different album covers via a contest sponsored by MTV, and had a hand in voting via the Internet on the set list for its current Sick & Twisted tour. Add another convention-breaking live show, conceived by the band with the design triumvirate of Brant, Collie, and Whetstone, and it's no surprise that crowds keep coming back to reconfirm Korn's status as the poster band for a new generation of music.
The designers, Brant and Collie from the lighting world and Whetstone with production design credits on concerts, commercials, and music videos, developed a t ruly collaborative process on the band's previous tours, Family Values 1 & 2. For Sick & Twisted, it followed that they join forces again to conceive a new stage concept intended to go beyond traditional rock-and-roll design.
Nowhere is their unconventional design approach more apparent than in the first few moments of Sick & Twisted. At the drop of a kabuki curtain, the basic black look for pre-Korn acts Staind and Spike & Mike's "Sick & Twisted" Animation Festival gives way and in a burst of pyro, the headliners inhabit a seemingly abandoned Art Nouveau-style opera house.
Mistaken by some reviewers and fans as a train station and Goth in style, the elaborate set is actually the designers' reproduction of a Paris opera house from the late 1800s. "We found this image in a book on Paris and said, 'That's the look we need to go for,' " says Whetstone, who first got his feet wet in the concert world, so to speak, as the architect of the Limp Bizkit toilet for the Ozzfest.
"Then we took the opera house image into Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop," Whetstone continues. "And started taking a section here and pasting it there and removing mullions in the windows so we could have video screens behind it."
In December, drawings were emailed to London-based David Perry, who created an intricately detailed backdrop that covers the entire width of the stage. "He basically took canvas and painted all of the mullion lines on it," says Whetstone. "Then he cut out the window areas and sewed the entire mullion structure onto a plastic screen backdrop."
Without time to review the work in London, the designers trusted Perry based on reputation alone. "A huge package arrived during rehearsals, and there was a little nail-biting, not having seen the backdrops before anyone else," says Brant. "But we knew Dave Perry was the best. The quality of his work was just amazing."
The vista beyond the backdrop is painted in video images. "The idea is you are looking out the windows into another world and it's not normal which is why there are the obstructions of the mullions," says Brant, who also stepped in as video director.
A 26' x 44' video screen centerstage and two 26' x 40' side screens hang behind the backdrop across the entire width of the stage. Mark "Huff" Frederick and Edwin Kleemoa were instrumental in shooting much of the video footage and rigging a three-camera setup on a tripod for Brant. "I wanted to have a continuous picture all the way across the stage," Brant explains. "The only way you can do that is to use three cameras, so that's when Mark came up with his crazy rig."
The world beyond the windows includes video of the scarily real to the sublime with some re-edited gross-out clips of Spike & Mike's "Sick & Twisted" Animation Festival, album cover images, and a surreal black-and-white movie shot by Danny Hamilton.
Brant says Collie, who was the lighting director, was also very involved with the video as Brant was equally involved in the lighting. Getting hands in all aspects of design not only anchors Brant and Collie's work on this tour, but is a founding principle of their company, Art. . .Inc. "What Justin and I do with our company is not just about lighting, but about creating a show," says Brant, who met Collie on a Def Leppard tour in 1988. "It's about a design concept and how all of the elements interact, from lights to video to set to the structure of the show and how you reveal things to keep it interesting."
Brant and Collie found a like mind in Whetstone. "It's rare, because with most lighting guys, you can offer suggestions and say, this is the way the set's designed and this is the way it should be lit and leave them to take what they will," he says. "But literally, I would sit at rehearsals at night with Justin and Spike when they were programming and they did the same thing with set design."
Approaching the show with such a well-integrated philosophy, all designers agreed to diverge from the instrument- and truss-heavy look of most rock concerts and hide as much equipment as possible in the set. "One of our original concepts was to have everything lit internally," says Collie. "But that developed into trying to hide most of the light sources. We didn't want to have a big lighting rig and trussing, but wanted to light up surfaces and thought about how it would look on camera."
"Justin and I decided that we did not want it in any way to be a traditional rock show," Brant adds. "So the idea was, you need a keylight and a backlight, you get those elements, and pretty much the rest of it was architectural lighting that you point at the audience on occasion."
The architectural approach put 90% of the lighting on the floor. The overall lighting system, which was supplied by Light & Sound Design (LSD), includes: 10 LSD Icons, six LSD Icon washlights, an Icon console, 11 High End Systems Turbo Cyberlights(R), 82 High End Studio Colors(R), 24 Morpheus XL Faders, 12 Morpheus Nine-lights, six Wybron PAR scrollers, 36 Diversitronics D-3000 strobes, two DF-50 hazers, six 26-degree ETC Source Fours, 35 kabuki solenoids, and one Skjonberg computer. LSD's account rep was Barry Claxton.
At Brant's request, Whetstone created two ornamental towers to provide positions for spot operators. Whetstone, who was in Paris at the time, designing a Coca-Cola commercial, found inspiration in the City of Light. "On the front of those towers, you'll see an element lifted right off of the Eiffel Tower," Whetstone laughs. "Literally, I got back from Paris and took a sheet of plywood to [set company] All Access and drew the shape right on it and that became the template."
Meanwhile, Brant and Collie equipped the towers with the Turbo Cyberlights, an idea borrowed from Red Hot Chili Peppers LD Scot Holthaus. "I think someone came up with the idea before him, but that's where I got it from," says Brant. "All the operator has to do is point the light and they come on and off in perfect time, change color, and they can strobe. What more do you want in a spotlight?"
"Jumping from pinspots to wide and color bumps and chases without having to talk to the spot ops is fabulous," says Collie, who runs everything off an Icon console, including the pyro, which spews forth from turn-of-the-century-style footlights, an Art. . . concept. "Pop stars always ask for their pyro, but traditional forms of it are just so annoying, so we said, what can we do that's pyro, but not?" says Collie. "I was watching a movie, an old western, and they're in this old theatre that used candles as footlights, so we figured we could rig something like that with propane The best thing is, I run it off the lighting desk."
For the construction of the footlights, Whetstone mimicked sconces on the towers that replicated Gothic elements from a church in Miami. Set subcontractor Architectural Details created a fiberglass mold of the top 2' of the light, which was then turned into aluminum footlights.
Another creative lighting tool is in the strobe configuration--three Diversitronics 3000 strobes stacked on top of each other with a Morpheus Nine-Light color fader over the front. Lighting crew chief Zach "Trickboy" Guthmiller was responsible for designing the technical end of the lighting system, including the strobes and Cyberspots. "It was the best prepped and designed lighting system I have ever received from a lighting company as a designer," says Brant. "They're very powerful as strobes and you can make them any color you want."
Then there is one of the scenic centerpieces of the design, an 8' x 6-1/2' chandelier, designed by Whetstone based on an original found in a New York theatre. All Access welded the structure from aluminum pieces supplied by Jansen Ornamental Supply. Stephen Baker, who crafted the Art Nouveau lights fixtures for the movie Casper, lent his skills to the construction, ornamenting the chandelier with mica light panels, beads, and clusters of flicker bulbs selected by Collie and Brant.
Another bit of ornamentation on the chandelier was taken from one of the fan-designed Korn album covers. At one point, figures of band members in straitjackets with glowing eyes drop from inside. Michael Burnett sculpted and cast all of the faces in fiberglass. Their eyes are battery-operated flat lighting from Lux Lighting.
Whetstone credits associate set designer Jake Amado and mentions that Erik Eastland at All Access was pivotal in making scenic elements roadworthy; for example, making the top of the chandelier collapse so it would fit in a truck.
Meanwhile, the design of the stage itself is multipurpose: it accommodates audience members, as requested by the band, on either side of an ellipse-shaped performing area and hides back line equipment below. This design replaced the original concept to cut a fan-filled moat in the middle of the stage. "The band really stays in the same place and doesn't need a ton of room," says Brant. "The theory was put them on a little club-size stage and surround them on either side with kids. On the floor, it's like a club show; if you are up in the seats with the lights and video, it's a show within a show."
The use of a graded stage, in a pattern that shifts direction every 4', allowed for the back line of equipment to be housed underneath. "We had to talk to [monitor engineer] Scott Tatter and all of the techs involved and tell them what we were thinking," says Whetstone. "At times, it got kind of sticky about whether it would work, but basically we just had to pay attention and make sure the back line was hung so that the sound traveled directly to the band members."
Ninety-five feet from the stage, FOH sound engineer Bill Sheppell, who's been with the band since 1997, flew the PA higher and wider, four high and 11 wide, to make the fans onstage more visible. "The PA flies fairly high at 32' to the bottom of the array, so it's up and out of the way," he says, adding, "Also so the video screens are easy to see."
For US dates, Sheppell used a Showco Prism system, with 44 speakers, five front fill underhung boxes, and 16 subs per side. In Europe, he planned to use a Martin F2 system. His console is a Midas XL4 and microphones are from Shure, which the band officially endorses. Microphones include: the Beta 58A on vocals; Beta 52, SM91 and KSM32 on kick drum; Beta 57As on snare drums; KSM32s on cymbals; SM98s or Beta98s for tom tom mics; DI and a KSM32 on bass; KSM32, Beta 52, and Beta 56 on guitars; and wireless SM98s and Shure UHF systems for bagpipes. (Davis gives the pipes a whirl as he enters from below the stage via Ribbonlift supplied by Tait Towers.)
For its encore, the band gives one final nod to its audiences as a huge inflatable doll, made by Almonte, CA-based Above and Beyond and based on another fan-designed album cover, fills the entire stage.
Korn finished up the first leg of it US tour at the end of April and then crossed the Atlantic for its first European tour where the Korn Kage, never seen there before, will re-emerge. Back to the States to support Metallica's Speedway tour with Kid Rock, Korn will resume Sick & Twisted "slightly sweetened," according to Brant, in the fall.
Management : The Firm; Jeff Kwatinetz, Michael Green, and Peter Katsis
Tour manager: Jens Geiger
Production manager: Chris Gratton
Production designers: Doug Brant, Justin Collie, Mike Whetstone
Associate set designer: Jake Amado
Lighting crew chief: Zach Guthmiller
Lighting technicians: Tom Horton, Dan Jankowski, Bobby Bracia, Nathan Wilson, Virginia Corbett, Ryan Cox
Front-of-house engineer: Bill Sheppell
Monitor engineer: Scott Tatter
Riggers: Scott Ward, Dale Long
Carpenters: Michael Garabedian, Bob Weber, Ethan Merfy, Andy Laidier, Tim Coleman, Eric Gryzybowski
Lighting supplier: Light & Sound Design
Audio supplier: Showco
Sets: All Access
Carving and fiberglass: Architectural Details
Video: Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting
Freight: Rock-It Cargo