The hip-hop artist Drake—who began his rise to fame with his Heartbreak Drake series of "best of" mixtapes—is a young man of many talents. The Canadian got his start acting on the television series Degrassi: The Next Generation before conquering the world of music. But don’t let his early years on the “after-school special” teen drama fool you. He’s got legit hip-hop cred, having collaborated with—and gaining support from—artists including Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Nicki Minaj, to name a few. He set out on his Club Paradise Tour in support of his second studio album, Take Care, with creative director Willo Perron and lighting design by Patrick Dierson.

“One of the great things about working with Willo is that he’s pretty clear about what the objective is and even clearer about where we shouldn’t go with an idea,” says Dierson of his early meetings with the creative director, describing the aesthetic of the tour as “a seemingly factory-like structure of equipment. The overall aesthetic here is strong, angular, geometric, almost harsh. As an artist, Drake definitely has a softer, more vulnerable side that comes across in various pieces of his work, but the base of his art is squarely grounded in a strong, masculine stance. It was apparent that the stage structure would employ much more exposed metal than soft goods. Even the concept of seeing exposed equipment was on the table. The notion of having every cable perfectly clean and tucked away was dismissed almost immediately.”

Early concepts revolved around creating visuals that looked, as Dierson notes, “highly bespoke from as little custom equipment as possible.” From an engineering perspective, the team wanted everything highly self-contained. The end result is a series of 40 6'x6'x2' custom alloy frames, dubbed “ParaCubes,” with various lighting and video elements—Clay Paky Sharpy units, Martin Professional MAC 101s, Elation Professional EVP762MH 7mm Moving Head LED Video Panels, and WinVision 9mm video panels from VER—integrated within each. Each frame is lined with LED tape from the Scenex Division of GLP. “The use of Clay Paky Sharpys in mass quantity is a very stylized look of the times right now,” says Dierson. “It was exactly the type of look we were going for overall, but what was particularly nice was our ability to utilize the units in very different ways so that they didn’t always ‘look like’ Sharpys. Subtle frosting of the units or positioning them directly into our Elation EPVMHs tilted a certain way makes for some truly unique looks onstage.” Epic Production Technologies provided the lighting equipment, while All Access Staging & Productions built the set and staging. Upstream Multimedia provided video gear in partnership with VER.

As to the use of color, Dierson says, “Willo and I were both in agreement that no more than two crayons should come out of the box at any given moment, so there are very few multicolor looks in the show, and those are usually driven by video pieces with live-action content. For the most part, the song structure is built upon solid, monochromatic looks that keep things bold and strong looking.” Additional gear includes Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 wash units and Martin Professional Atomic Strobes on the floor. “This is a production of considerable size, so the concept of mounting all of the lighting and video gear into our ParaCubes each day was simply a deal breaker in terms of load-in time,” says Dierson. “The lighting rig is completely pre-rigged, with the exception of some strobes and floor units. In fact, the production build is so efficient that we ran into an interesting problem in our final tech rehearsals: At one point, we had reconfigured our riser heights a bit, and I wanted to raise the floor units with some of the empty road cases. The task only required four cases, which seemed simple enough, except there were no empties. Everything is pre-rigged in either trusses or ParaCubes. The only cases that we had available were a few spare units. It’s the cleanest backstage area that I’ve seen in years.” The tour design producer is Anthony Randall.

Dierson adds that this is a highly converged production—“a true amalgamation of lighting, video, and scenic pieces…as seamless as it gets”—but he notes that, artistically, video usually upstages the other disciplines, with the content, developed by Perron and Jesse Lee Stout (using Adobe After Effects, Apple Final Cut Pro, and Maxon Cinema 4D), dictating the use of color in the lighting. “The rule was to not let lighting and video fight each other at any time,” the lighting designer says. “Motion and accents of the music must come from one or the other, but rarely both at the same time, so as to keep the looks clearly defined. With a stage environment that’s so strong, it’s easy to allow the presence of the artist to become overwhelmed and, in the end, overshadowed by technology.” Guy Pavelo, whom Dierson calls “tremendously skilled,” wears many hats for this tour, including lighting and video programmer, as well as lighting and video operator. Pavelo, who has a setup of two MA Lighting grandMA2 consoles, along with three MA2 NPUs, all networked via MA-net, preprogrammed using grandMA2 onPC and grandMA 3D. “Pre-visualization was something new for Willo, and it was highly successful, accurate, and effective,” says Pavelo. “What was the best was when I booted into the show after being built and having Willo see that the time spent in pre-viz was well worth the effort.”

Fully relying on version 2 software for the grandMA 2 console for the first time, Pavelo says that the software itself has been his workhorse. “I am happy to say that the console did not go down a single time during the first portion of the Drake run. Of course, it has some quirks, but after some of those, and working around them, the console is as solid as I could ever want,” he says, adding that programming didn’t go without its challenges, citing the “compound angles created by the articulated angles of the set. First off, all the MACs and Sharpys are hung at 90° from the floor—not a massive biggie—but two of the three sections of wall started at a 45° angle, and eventually, were adjusted to approximately 15°. Adding in these other angles made focus initially a much larger task.” Video runs via two SAMSC Designs Catalyst V4HD media servers, one main and one backup. “The content was created to use the Catalyst more as a playback machine with small adjustments, than heavy cue-to-cue type triggering,” says Pavelo. “The servers run via Art-Net into the console. Cues were written to drive the Catalysts and are triggered via my main song cue stack.” I-Mag content is via three HD camera operators: two handhelds in the pit and one fixed near FOH. All cameras are cut live by Ivan Gomez.

Pavelo adds that each ParaCube “holds its own in adding to the show. Artistically, we can take the lighting to great heights, with a massive range of looks and possibilities, from using them to light up our geometrics again, within and outside of the cubes, to great wide fans and crosses to keep with the overall theme. We can even use the Sharpys, as well as the LEDs, to almost make the rigid set ‘move’ with hard color change.” Rigging for the tour is provided by Showrig. “The articulating video panels from Elation give the overall look a massive touch when they start to move during the show, making people do a double take, to question if they are going crazy or if the video is actually moving,” continues Pavelo. “Eventually, we light up the wall in solids and then show that the panels do, in fact, move, panning and tilting. We can even not display video on them, but use them as a moving surface to reflect other light sources.” Dierson notes, “The outcome is akin to the look of a huge cathedral pipe organ,” adding that this is his first time using the Elation moving head video panels.

Of the overall production, everyone seems pleased with the design and the opportunities it has given everyone to be creative. “I think video is becoming the new lighting,” says Pavelo. “So many LED-style fixtures out there, all getting smaller and smaller, as well as brighter and brighter, and the mapping combinations are endless. This and the potential in the future that we have with our LED tape striping all the set pods—if we are able to map it all out, the entire set will become a uniform video surface. Other than the massive amount of universes needed to accomplish this, the look potential is endless. Technically, integrating the two is easy if the appropriate amount of prep work is done ahead of time, and the results are fantastic. You always get what you put in. Put in what’s needed, and the results will speak for themselves.” And time is just what we don’t normally have. “It sounds crazy, but the reality was that we ended up with approximately 72 hours from the first custom weld to the first delivery truck arriving at the rehearsal space,” says Dierson. “We can design things to within an inch of their lives, but in the end, it all has to be engineered to a real-world specification and physically constructed, so a crazy time constraint on that process is never helpful.”

Dierson specifically mentions Erik Eastland from All Access Staging & Productions, Kevin Forster and Matt Talent at Epic Production Technologies, and Derek Burt at Upstream Multimedia, all of whom, “worked in concert to make sure that all of the pieces were in place to make the final build of the ParaCubes as efficient as possible. You go through the inevitable snags and challenges when you’re trying to pull off something big and complicated rapidly, but all of these guys had cool heads about them and powered through smoothly. I can’t thank them enough for their professionalism.”

Drake’s tour currently continues in Europe and returns to North America in May.