This time I want to give a big shout out to John Brott for his support of my podcast. If you also want to get exclusive VIP access and support this project go to htbarp.com/podcastvip.
Today’s guest is my friend and lighting designer Andres Atkinson. I met Andres when he was touring with Fink some years ago and since then we work together whenever he stops by in Vienna.
In this episode, we can all learn from one of the best lighting designers in this industry. He was working and touring with bands such as George Michael, Rick Astley, Kasabian, Mogwai, Florence and the Machine, Gossip, Editors, Manic Street Preachers, The Pet Shop Boys, Kaiser Chiefs, Fink and many more. Andres will share his experiences about stage lighting, concert photographers and why he loves smoke machines. Let’s get straight to the interview..
In This Episode, You’ll learn
- about the job of being lighting designer
- why sometimes there is almost no light on stage
- how Andres works together with concert photographers to deliver spectacular images
- Best Camera For Photography: Canon 6D
- Best Record Of All Time: Friday Night in San Francisco – Al di Meola, John McLaughlin & Paco De Lucia
Follow Andrew Atkinson
Get Your Exclusive Content
Don’t forget! You can support me on Patreon. For $5/mo you’ll gain access to HTBARP content that you cannot get anywhere else, including special videos, exclusive announcements, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of my podcasts.
Download my free Podcast App
Thanks for Listening!
To share your thoughts:
Review my Podcast and help out the show:
- Leave an honest review in iTunes. Once you listened to an episode, follow the iTunes link here and click the blue “View in iTunes” button. This will launch iTunes on your computer and bring up the podcast. Click on “Ratings and Reviews” on the HTBARP Podcast Page. Your ratings and reviews will help my Podcast to reach even more people. I am interested in your honest feedback and I read each one.
- Subscribe in iTunes. To subscribe in iTunes, visit the How To Become A Rockstar Photographer Podcast page and click the blue “View in iTunes” button. This will launch iTunes on your computer and bring up the podcast. Click on the “Subscribe” button and you’re all set.
Special Thanks to The Overalls for providing their awesome music!
Do you want to become a Concert Photographer?
Matthias Hombauer: Thanks for being a guest on my podcast Andrés, how are you doing today?
Andrés Atkinson: Thank you for asking, it’s been a great day here in Bristol, a bit rainy, but it’s expected, middle of winter, happy days.
Matthias: Perfect! You’re a lighting designer, not a concert photographer. You work for bands, you also tour with them and we first met when I was shooting Fink a couple of years ago.
Andrés: Yeah, a couple, we’ve known each other for more than five years now, all for the same.
Matthias: Unbelievable. And we met a couple of times now probably like 5, 6 times. First of all, how did everything start for you as a lighting designer and was this a dream job you were looking after?
Andrés: I think for most of it it’s fair to say yes. I’ve always wanted to do lights, lights was in me. I started very young in a more artistic spectrum as such; funnily enough, I started along with photography.
Andrés: Yeah, very much so. And then I got into sculpturing as well.
Andrés: Deep down in University times when everything is not necessarily speculation, but theory of what you want to do, I was very obsessed with the fantastic possibility light gives you to sculpt, because I started with positive space, a block of stone, you start without a negative space, which is something you learn in University. In between the sets, the actors, the performers themselves and then the lighting; you make use of all of that space. You shape it. My obsession within the architectural side of lighting has always been there, always. It started much very composed through working in theatre, contemporary dance, opera, but rock’n’roll won man and I ended up going to the dark side. I’m not complaining I’ve enjoyed it ever since.
Matthias: How important is stage lighting for bands? Is this a key point for bands to have good lighting, it also depends if it’s a big band, a small band I guess they have less lighting going on stage, playing in smaller clubs compared to big productions but just in general what would you say? How important is it for a show?
Andrés: My answer here when I was thinking about the questions and I was thinking a little bit, one of them for this actually was telling you that the answer is subjective. If you think about it, it really depends on the band. One thing that I really learned with Fink, more so than with other bands, is that you’re allowed to turn it round and make it about them and not the show or the show being them, reversing a little bit how the show gets build nowadays, because in most of the shows you’re kinda building more outwards than inwards. What I like with artists like Fink is that instead of making a big booming show, you make a show quite booming and varied and diverse, but fully inward-looking, so you spend your time looking at the band members, not at the show that is going on. How important it is to light them and with how much depth? It’s so subjective to the band and what the band needs. Some bands or DJs need an enormous visual show and they deserve it, you get some of the most amazing DJs now doing 3D visualization with no optics whatsoever you just look up and see an astronaut floating on top of the whole audience, it’s amazing. But you don’t need that for other artists, it depends on with whom you’re working and maybe that’s also a nice challenge: because I get the luxury of spending so much active creative time with different types of music, you can really explore the diversity. Let’s stereotype, they’re a punk band, let’s go for a punk look, they’re a pop band, let’s go for this. Changing, create or help amplify genres that are already defined.
Matthias: Let’s talk about the bands you mentioned, you sent me a list and there are some cool bands in there like George Michael, Rick Astley, Kasabian, Mogwai, La Rue, Florence and the Machine, Gossip, Editors, Pet Shop Boys, Kaiser Chiefs and many more. How is this working? Is it like you’re joining a leg of a tour? I think it depends on the band, but…
Andrés: Entirely. Well the thing is, everything’s a career, right? So, for a person like me I’ve just gone through a career. I’ve always been a designer, that’s what I wanted but one of the challenges I like is to know and understand all the technical sides. Nowadays the contemporary aspect of work suggests that you should specialise early on so I just design and don’t do all the studio work and developing and whatever, I’m trying to put something that could be in relation of what photography would be and then the elaboration process as such. I’ve always been thrilled by the challenge of it all. I’ve always said that I love going into an empty nutshell in the morning, entertaining whatever it is, it could be 200 people one day it could be 5000 or more on any other day so everyday is a surprise on how many, but what you do is you entertain them, you give them a good time and at the end of your day all you do is you leave an empty nutshell again, and leave a space as it was, maybe hotter and sweatier, but nothing else.
Matthias: That’s great. How much freedom do you have as a lighting designer at shows? For bigger productions, is it that you know exactly what to do and which buttons to press or is it like you have total freedom and you work with bands on this whole concept.
Andrés: I think there’s a little bit of both, there are several different elements and aspects in which you end up being involved with the different bands, it’s very relative, each band has their own ways. Some bands don’t care at all. You’re just something that has to happen.
Matthias: So it’s easier for you.
Andrés: In some cases, yeah. In some other cases everything comes pre-done. When I was doing Pet Shop Boys for example, I was visual director for one leg of a tour, a tour that took 2 and a half years and I just did one summer. In that case I was covering a job that had been done by other people, there was no specialness to me, I was actually making timecode which is a protocol that every single department uses to run a show so basically whoever it is pressing a button, a track starts, everything happens around it, musically, everything. It’s not necessarily all recorded but there’s a time code that unifies everything, including lights. Your involvement with shows like that is literally making sure that everything does it by itself, when as you very well know with Fink, everything is very analogue for the best of ways even though there’s a lot of digital equipment and technology and everything, it’s used in an analogue way, so even though I have a lot of programmed things, everything’s still controlled by hand each show and it depends, every show is slightly different.
Matthias: Yeah, so talk about the Fink production, which is a rather special one, at least for me, as a concert photographer I’ve never seen this before. Can you explain with more detail how this production works?
Andrés: This production is ongoing… let’s say it’s something in metamorphosis, we had elements of the last show, the last design that Fink absolutely wanted to use again and we had to use so then instead of maybe creating a fully new look for the band, we decided to use something that worked well with the old structure, in harmony and make more of it, give us the flexibility to go to any space, whatever size and have a big show.
Matthias: And your structure was, you had loads of table lamps?
Andrés: No, no, that’s the previous-previous. See? That’s how long we know each other!
Matthias: The Perfect Darkness, they had these nice table lamps.
Andrés: Yeah, the Ikea lamps.
Matthias: Yeah, I’ve never seen this before and I thought “Cool”. Don’t get me wrong, the pictures turned out great, but I thought there’s more light on stage so I had to crank up my ISO at 6400ISO because it looked like there was a lot of light on stage but really there wasn’t.
Andrés: I’m sure you were happier with this last one. Which takes us –maybe, if you’re interested– to a very good question which is LEDs and their effect on stage.
Matthias: Yes, because I don’t think cameras cannot really deal with it or at least that’s my experience nowadays, if you go to a club, they’ve switched to LED.
Andrés: Nowadays. I think there’s less than 150 printed so it’s not easy to get, but there’s this amazing book here which was written by XXXX, it’s a photographer that went on tour with The Cure, with everyone in the eighties, Tina Turner, everybody. This is the last show photographer I know, to shoot everything on analogue. I cannot tell you the difference in the saturates, it’s just amazing how bad digital sensitivity has done us and I’m including myself because even though I-m amateurish I have taken a pretty few amount of pictures of shows and in general, I know photography, so… Amateur-wise I would consider myself a photographer.
Matthias: So you’re a light designer and photographer.
Andrés: Yes, that’s how I started. I started with photography and then I went into lighting. I got obsessed, it was just so good to do all of that together, it was great! I was amazed looking at this colour here, how harmonious saturated colours could live with each other without having total sensor freakout shall we say. Magentas, you add any little bit of red on to a saturated blue and you get nothing besides magenta.
Matthias: Yes, it’s weird, when I was shooting the first show in a club here in Vienna, they switched to LED lights, it looked good on the artists on stage, but when you took a photo, as you said, it was probably a little magenta on the artists but if you took a photo it was all magenta.
Andrés: Yes, all the time. No discernment.
Matthias: How is the future gonna be for club lighting? Are they all switching for LED lights because it’s the future, are they cheaper?
Andrés: Just to give you an idea in the last design that we’re talking about pretty much every single element that was added to the design, all of it was LED, all of it. In particular the very warm, tungsten-feel 3200K kind of spots. All of them were LED, not tungsten.
Matthias: But the photos still didn’t look like typical LED shots.
Andrés: Totally, I’m with you, I’m being challenging.
Matthias: Because you’re the guy, you know how to deal with it.
Andrés: At the same time I know I’ve been unfair or positively fair for photography and filming, pretty much for the first time in a Fink sure since ever, because by using a much brighter source of a much mellow-coloured temperature, we can punch it more and accentuate more what we always had as a brief to do which is attack them from so many angles and whenever you just turn anything on it just looks amazing. For any photography, any camera, it doesn’t matter where you spot you’re always gonna have at least 3 or 4 shine bounces from each artist and the guitars and everything and it’s every photographer’s dream, realistically.
Matthias: Yeah, as a concert photographer you want to have great photos, great looking photos as well as the band wants to have it. Sometimes I wonder why bands don’t turn on the lights.
Andrés: You know what? There’s a challenge and I have to be on both sides here: one is a photographer which we’ve just discussed, on trying to improve things and make them better and brighter, but you know what? On The Perfect Darkness Tour, another one that you know very well, you took photographs, they’ve asked me on several occasions to make it brighter for you, but more importantly, I really cherished and enjoyed that we had a show only good to the naked eye, that’s very magical in itself, it’s just a moment, it’s a fleeting moment it’s just that moment and that’s it. It came and it went.
Matthias: I think that’s also a very important thing for the band, they want to have a great show for the audience and not for the concert photographers.
Andrés: Exactly, I think there’s a lot to learn. I think that cuts both ways. I think you do need shows or moments in shows that are really worthwhile for good photography, just to get the good image that everybody wants and needs, let’s be realistic, but at the same time you need to give the band… like Mogwai for example, another band that I worked with that are very intimate, it’s not about them, Fink talk more than they do, they’re like “Hello, we’re Mogwai and we’re gonna play.”
Matthias: And that’s it, yeah.
Andrés: It’s more about the show, more about having something there to tie you back into this exceedingly loud music that they’re playing but that’s amazing live so it really depends, you can’t do that with a pop concert. The 14-year-old child would not even have the attention span for it.
Matthias: So therefore these huge shows are kind of easy to photograph, so if you shoot a show of Miley Cyrus or the Red Hot Chili Peppers you’re at ISO 100 or 200 and all lights are on and every picture looks perfectly lit and on the other hand, I was shooting King Buzzo from The Melvins solo show in Vienna and when I entered the venue and he was on stage it was just red lights, just three red spots and then I went back to the lighting technician and I said “Will the light change in the first three songs and he said “Probably not because King’s team said just one light, he doesn’t care what” and he just chose red. Which wasn’t the best for me as a concert photographer. I think I ended up with one shot and I just did a black and white conversion, but that’s it. You cannot expect to have someone standing with an acoustic guitar playing an intimate set and have full bright lights going on.
Andrés: Not something that maybe I should discuss of, it’s irrelevant, but I’ll tell you a funny or ironic story. I was given the chance of doing the lights for an American artist that had quite a lot of fame over here and this was only a press release tour, it was a brand new album, the last one he did with her band, a lot of European coverage but all kind of little shows like in La Cigale in Paris, things that are not enormous, but still considerably big. Basically I would have 23 shows, 17 were internet live broadcasted. Management tells me that these shows are not for internet promotion or for her to be seen, it’s all about the music, so I should make it all dark. How, how, how if I’m doing a promotional tour for an artist to get exposure, they book 17 live-broadcasts and they ask me to make it all dark.
Matthias: What did you do?
Andrés: I didn’t make it dark. I made all the television people as happy as I could. For some songs I made it dark and punky which was the idea management had for her to the very big queen gay very, very, energetic songs were probably for the brand new album and those were pop fantastic, as they should’ve been. You just follow the music really, let the music be the one that informs.
Matthias: That’s interesting that you kind of went your way and didn’t just obey what the management said.
Andrés: I’m an idiot, I’m sure I’ve lost far too many jobs in my life only looking for the greater good and honestly the greater good must prevail for every sake of anything.
Matthias: Yes and therefore you’re the best and you’re a great guy because otherwise it’s just a job, right? If they just tell you what to do.
Andrés: Maybe that’s why I don’t get along with that many management as well as I perhaps should.
Matthias: You’re doing pretty well.
Andrés: I’m not complaining, I’m an Argentinian with a German Passport living in England for now 20 years. Last year alone I was 45 countries, 27 in two and a half months.
Matthias: That’s amazing. So you just told me before we started the recording that you’re back home in the UK after six months of touring. How do you like touring and how hard is it to actually do the job?
Andrés: I think it can be really easy and rewarding and it can also be a royal kick in the teeth.
Matthias: You can say “butt.”
Andrés: It’s just one of those were honestly sometimes it’s just to die for, most of the times. It’s just really, really good and enjoyable. You get to live experiences in far lands, places you wouldn’t expect. Some of the highest most fun maddest experiences that I’ve had was with pretty much a band that I had only met less than 3 days before, it’s quite common in my line of work that you’ll get a call: “Such and such cannot do the job, he can’t, he’s ill,” whatever. “So, please go to the airport, you need to meet such and such and then you’re going to Japan.” You’re doing two shows, one for 50,000 people and the other one to basically a stadium full of god knows what, screaming people in Kawasaki and by the way you’re going with Manic Street Preachers and even though you never met any of them, you’re gonna see them now in the airport when you’re all going to Japan. And then we spend 2 or 3 nights literally eating dim sum with these monsters of techs and musicians and everything having a really nice, very tiring, it was hard work, but the reward of going in your own free time to temples in the middle of town which is really nice and then at night we used to go not necessarily drinking but drinking all of these wondrous amazing things on offer there in Japan and there’s a lot of mad times like that which are epic. And there there’s another band where managers have an order and order has to be maintained and there’s all of this PR, it’s all a stunt and everything’s kind of a parody, shall we say. Those are also painful and I’m very thankful that I haven’t had too many of them.
Matthias: And that’s probably more with the bigger productions, right?
Andrés: Yeah, when you answer to three clipboards.
Matthias: So do you prefer to do the smaller shows or the bigger shows?
Andrés: I think smaller shows, up to a Brixton Academy, something like the Fatale or bigger than that, I don’t know many places for you in Vienna but when we did the Hall that was the perfect size.
Andrés: Maybe it wasn’t the nicest hall to do it in, but that amount of people I think is the ideal for connection so that you can have that amazing proximity vibe. No more than 5000, 3000 to 5000 is the maximum I think. Smaller, up to 1200 is amazing really. The really, really, big shows… I’m not saying it’s a fuss, that’s when my industry becomes super Batman and Robin fandango in every single sense when you’ve got things like Aerosmith when you look at them and the show now looks like you can put the DJ doing absolute Ibiza stunners and the set would go fantastically with that, not so much with Aerosmith, which is paying for all of that production. How much do you need to show for a show to be a show?
Matthias: I see. Let me ask you, how’s a typical day in the life of Andrés Atkinson if he’s on tour? For musicians and photographers it’s very different, so for a lighting designer…
Andrés: Normally, because you’re gonna be taking the lead in a couple of things if it’s a festival season and it’s not a tour it’s quite common that you’re going to start the day early, very early at whatever time it is that you’re allowed to have the stage, then the day is gonna pose constraints to you, technical ones, you can’t hang this there because there are two columns up in the air and we’re gonna have to move blah, blah, blah that has a consequence of blah, blah, blah and all of that, if you’re a good designer, you’re gonna wake up and you’re gonna do that and you’re gonna talk to your head lighting technician to make sure that you know very early on what you’ll be able to achieve on that day and perhaps what things you won’t be able to achieve and that’s a thing that happens very early on because if you’re doing lights you’re probably the first one in and last one out so much of the order, the time structure for other departments in a way will depend enormously on how efficiently you can achieve your job so it’s me, me, me, we’ll always go first but at the same time we do it in the full understanding that we need to be out quickly because everybody else need their time and space as well.
Matthias: And do you have your own equipment with you, like a mixer or something like that?
Andrés: Yes, I do, I have like a keyboard so to say like for a musician it’s an element that allows them to compose whatever it is they’re doing. For us, I used to use an English company called ChamSys and now I use a German one called MA, brand MA. Basically, I have my desk, it’s a flier rig which allows me to then wherever the band does shows in far flown places for me to still be able to take my interface and then I use whatever they have locally to try to make that show.
Matthias: So, you have your own interface and then you have to work with what you get.
Andrés: Yeah, pretty much, and make a show out of that. Nobody –depending on the show, depending on everything– you’re gonna have either a brief that you’ve received already so you know what you have or there’s minimum amounts of A, B, C or D that have to be covered.
Matthias: So in theory this would mean that every show is a little bit different in regards of equipment.
Andrés: Yes, but I think that the main challenge on a design site is to be able to always achieve the same moments. You can take equipment away, you can modify, you cannot have, you can have, but the idea is that the show and its emotional structure shall we say must remain the same, doesn’t matter what venue you’re in. Sometimes it’s very difficult when you have a production with two trucks appearing in a place that’s literally a café where the stage is 3 metres by something, it happens to every band, big and small, such is life. It’s all good.
Matthias: How important is it for you to like the band or the music?
Andrés: It helps enormously. Having an appreciation and enjoy the music that you’re working with makes a difference between something that’s pleasurable or something that’s literally just painful.
Matthias: Yeah, if you have to listen to the band every night and you don’t like it…
Andrés: If you give me Despacito every single night for literally every single night for literally the rest of my life I’d want to kill myself pretty much. I think also it’s hard to say that professional people will have a bit of a shield so you have to deal with the job as it comes and normally it has to be an extreme measure to realistically allow the quality of what you’re doing be a dampener XXX , but I think it also depends on the role that you’re covering. For many people working with bands, there’s this image that a band is a band and it’s always the same, it’s always the same people. I think it depends in what department those people are in respect to the band to how long they’re gonna stick around. Normally when you get lighting technicians if you’re lucky they may last for a couple of decades, if you’re lucky with a band, normally it would be for a couple of years it always depends on who’s the head of lighting design. When I was younger in my years, when I was doing more jobs as a chief electrician and senior technician doing bands like Kasabian and plenty of big productions who would do the festival season, you just do your role and in a way have a little of time with the band, but most of it is just hard work, get it done, amazing experiences, travelling around the world, but it’s not the same when everybody is in the same truck, musicians, promoters, like we do with Fink and it’s just a bit of a family, that’s also really nice. That’s why I prefer smaller shows than bigger shows because there’s more of that empathy, it’s nicer, it’s less systematic. Well, it is, but it doesn’t feel like that.
Matthias: Right, I totally get it. How hard is it for you as a lighting designer in the music business in general, is it hard to get a job as a lighting designer if you’re starting out? Are there a lot of guys doing this?
Andrés: I think that there always is a steady amount of new people that come in, get to know the equipment better than you, all of this and the thing is that this industry has been growing exponentially in the last 20 years, festivals now alone have gone up ridiculously in the last 5 years across the all of Europe so there’s still an enormous amount of space to cover with people willing to mostly be vigilant, I think that for any job that you choose, being observant of what you have around you and try to make the best out of that and what works well and yada, yada. That’s really all you can ask for in life if you know what I mean. It’s that advancement that you can’t carve yourself in the industry. I think Europe has got this fantastic possibility for foreigners that come here and work legally or well, yeah… to just be able to move forward, realistically Europe has these amazing possibilities, at least England has, of all you have to do is to want to do what you chose to do and if you work hard… If you give it everything you have, it will pay back, it will. My twenty years here attest to that. I don’t expect to be with the number fives, I don’t care. I think it’s a choice of life for some people, being number 1 or being up on the biggest tables, it’s really important. I think that in time my own targets changed. I feel now that the targets that I wanted to achieve in life I already have, so I’m very happy, I’m very content. Other things can be more, can be less, but realistically I’ve done in essence everything I wanted to do and laid down to do: I’ve travelled the world doing shows, entertaining people, creating unique, magical moments for hopefully one or two people in the whole wide world to remember for the rest of their lives and I call that a job. Winning!
Matthias: Yes. What else can you ask for? So, what would you say where the biggest takeaways in your career as lighting designer, are there any points in life where you said “Ok, this is the thing that I want to share, this is the key point that I’ve learned.”
Andrés: I think sometimes as with every job, it teaches you the most horrible things that you don’t want to be talking positively about. I think with every job, the more you do it you end up learning the most out of the things that sometimes hurt you the most. Besides that, what I get away from my job and I’d love to do for the rest of my life forever is being able to transpose creativity to practice, to realization. Being able to not only do the packing and unpacking but physically designing, all the engineering side, making sure that something can live through the shows, passing through the worst roads of Ukraine and end up at the other end thinking you could do another 200 shows and it’s not a problem and really be early on in that kind of problem solving, I love it. I went back to Argentina and I’ve got through friends because I kept in touch with my old school I’m literally doing consultancy and sorting out all of these stages and multi-use spaces. My way of sharing what I do, maybe not so much on design itself, helping the circle that asks me for help to achieve what they want in the best way they can, pretty much. We’re doing that with the schools.
Matthias: That’s awesome.
Andrés: I’ve always done a lot to not necessarily teach, but put on paper very simple things –I did a very little thing for my school years ago trying to explain the 15 important things within lighting, what do you need, what’s a spanner, what do you use it for, health and safety, all the things that would be later in the 15 most fool-proof things that you have to know kind of thing and I find it fun. I think that passing on a little bit of what you have is good, it’s always enjoyable.
Matthias: And that was only for the school or is it also online?
Andrés: Not yet online.
Matthias: Bring it online!
Andrés: I know, I know, I need to do more of that. Another thing that I started nearly getting involved here and as always work kind of takes over, there’s an amazing –I think in the beginning of February when it’s cold and horrible– they’ve got one day where the idea is that you make up a light display out of your front window, whatever you want, a big light display. There’re people doing giraffes on their window from the bottom to the top floor and it involves the kids and it gives all the neighbours to talk the neighbourhood and to get to know each other, it’s really nice. I got involved the first two years I lived in Bristol with the architecture society, it’s a little bit geeky but it was a good way of getting back into the architecture which is something I’ve always liked and I started talking to this guy who basically dealt with the big national buildings, council buildings and for this display he wanted to try to make kind of like a portable light box to use in the whole state. Like a whole riser of 20 stories and put something on each window to have video mapped and use a lot of technology to make it into something good, the plans where there, money never materialised, maybe in two years time, it’s a good solid idea.
Matthias: Cool, keep it up! Going back to lighting on stage and concert photographers, do you have any experiences with concert photographers who come to you before the show and ask you how the lighting would be and if you can do something for them.
Andrés: Yeah, I normally send them pissing off.
Matthias: How do you deal with this? Is this common? I’m just surprised.
Andrés: It’s very common that you’d have the band telling you just during the sound check “Hey, we’ve got our mate here he’s gonna be taking pictures” and there you go: a photographer with big bright smiley eyes coming straight and you saying “Hello! Could you do all of this for me? Because my photography is so much more important than your light show today and I’ve to really portray…”
Matthias: Is this me?
Andrés: Not necessarily, I’m not imparting guilt. But it’s quite common, it’s a typical joke that we have in the industry, it’s guys operating the light show with a teacher that at the back says “I’m not the DJ” because everyone comes to you and says “Can you put this on?” It’s within human nature, most of it. You do get asked a lot and it’s normal and sometimes you can do something about it and sometimes it’s really impractical. A lot of that is entirely gonna depend on the band and what the band wants, what they’re going for. You’ve got some musicians that they go “No, absolutely not.” And you’ve got other musicians that are absolutely all about the photography and looking fantastic like Miley Cyrus is and much bigger shows, you get a little bit of both.
Matthias: I think it also depends if someone’s coming to you and says “Hey, I’m working with the band tonight can we do this and this” or if it’s just a local photographer that says “I’m doing this for my local magazine, make it nice for us.”
Andrés: Being entirely honest, out of the experience I’ve had in life, both personally because when I was not operating and designing as much, but being more on the technical side it meant that I had all the show time free and a triple A pass to be able to brand it better than normal photographers because as you very well know, you only get the first 3 songs. I use to go head of security and said “Oi, mate, I’m taking pictures and I’m with the band so I’m gonna be wherever I want so let them know” and nobody would is gonna be hiking me out before the show and then nobody touched me. I’ve got some amazing pictures from my first tour with White Lies with Florence and the Machine doing the NME tour. I’ve got some magnificent pictures of a couple of tours with editors as well where I had the time to learn the show to know what part was where and position myself and think as a photographer composing your image. Realistically the best photographers I know that do concert touring get the chance or try to get the chance to tour with a band more than just doing the one show, because the one show is great, but it’s only though touring with the band that you’re gonna learn their dynamic. Photography is as systematic as anything else. If you really want to go for that really good shot, you’re gonna through 15-20 shots in every single approachable format that you can and between aperture and timing, everything, just to get what it would look like in the margins. At least I do that as a photographer. I think being able to bide your time, learn the band, understand what they’re gonna do and when and maximise that as a photographers. Where you’re gonna stand, when you’re gonna hide behind the drummer because the lead singer is gonna throw a big up in the air and you know that all the mobile phone cameras are coming out. What’s important, where, where are you gonna be at what point. Are all the artists, all the photographers gonna be in the pit for the first 3 songs, have you got the chance to not to be there? Be somewhere else but there, be there during the other songs. Then understand, they say you see a show without obliging you to take pictures, you can think of getting composition or colours, what colours work best for you as a photographer, what do you like more? The greens and yellows look horrible for you and you can’t work with that is that a good song to actually bugger off and go and walk to the other position and crawl through 20 million people to get from one position to the other. It’s only when you start dealing with audiences, the bigger it gets, the more you hate the audience. Nothing in particular, I don’t have hate for any one person in the audience but the general mass can become very infuriating when you’re working and you’ve got to go from point A to B. It’s things that you as a photographer have to consider even more, when do you want to move, what’s convenient so having at least a show of reckying is a sensible thing if you’ve got the chance. Understand what you want to do, who you want to get at what time.
Matthias: I totally understand and I totally agree with it because when I was also on tour with Fink I was also touring with Chantel for a couple of weeks.
Matthias: And I was also two days in Mexico and we played Jazz Fest Montreal and as you said, once you’ve photographed the same show every night, you know exactly what happens because it’s always the same, there’re always the same jokes, it can get a bit boring, it gets challenging as a photographer because after 5 days you need to think what shots you want to get.
Andrés: And how to prevent repeating yourself. By show number 5 I’m in the same place during the same song because I like it so much, what are you doing there?
Matthias: Exactly. But sure, if you’re on tour you get other possibilities; maybe you can be in a balcony where no one else can be. Perfect. So, let’s do a short Q&A. Please answer the 7 short questions as quickly as possible, I changed them a little bit, probably I can ask you what your favourite camera is, but I’ll ask something different.
Andrés: You can, I’ve got it here.
Matthias: Ok then, let’s ask you, what’s your perfect camera?
Andrés: Canon. Right now, 6D.
Matthias: Fog machine, yes or no?
Andrés: You know the answer to do. Absolutely yes!
Matthias: But last time in Vienna, you were not allowed to use it, were you?
Andrés: We did use. We were not allowed and we were allowed because we didn’t do it without permission, we were permitted to do something that hasn’t been done for about 15 years, c’mon!
Matthias: There’s no fog machine allowed, but Andrés is not gonna do a show if there’s no fog.
Andrés: I’ll be a Prima Donna, darling.
Matthias: Perfect. It was a great show. Favourite record of all time?
Andrés: You know what? I’m gonna say I have a song and then I have an album, I’m gonna put the album: Friday night in San Francisco by Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía playing live, never rehearsed, for the first time for that. They’d never rehearsed before, they just talked two hours before the show and they recorded that and it’s just… ah!
Matthias: Is there lighting technician or designer that you admire?
Andrés: Too many people to mention, and yes. I think I’ve eluded to explain a couple of times, it’s a very fragmented job. Even though the people see the visual side of the show, there’s many aspects, many elements to it. In a very good team you’re gonna have several people doing very important roles of supervision so to say and supervision does not necessarily suggest no work but there’s a lot of technical speed dexterity and it’s very important with all of that the show happens quickly and efficiently. Make or break.
Matthias: Coolest concert you’ve worked on so far. Regarding lighting or stage light.
Andrés: Regarding lighting is different, I think that one of the craziest things was being with an artist that I was working with like Little Boots in Ultra Festival in Miami, I had flame shows that were singeing my eyebrows and I was 200 metres away, it was ridiculous and I could just control that with my lighting disk, I was a very happy man. But regardless of technical wizardry I think that one of the most amazing tours because every night was different was Africa Express, it was Damon Albarn and 80 African musicians, took a train, a physical train, left from London and did a whole tour across the UK and in each town we would have a band from that town come and visit and play with us so we had Portishead, Massive Attack, Fratellis, Franz Ferdinand, Paul Mccartney in London, it was intense and every single night was magical, just people loving life and not believing the chance they had of playing amongst all of these aces of music. I think that is the best gig for the sake of happy memories and happiness.
Matthias: Sounds good! Water or beer?
Andrés: If an image can answer everything, there you have it; it’s water.
Matthias: It’s beer, right?
Andrés: On tour, beer. Not on tour, joyous sweet water.
Matthias: Which band is still on your bucket list?
Andrés: Pink Floyd. Basically I think any person doing lighting from the age of 30 upwards to the age of 50 is gonna have a very special dark corner for a show that was Pink Floyd doing Pulse which is the last probably filmed show, live concert, production of Pink Floyd. We call it lampy porn. It’s just so good it’s wrong. It’s an amazing show. Basically being able to work with a band like that doing something like that would be amazing, a dream come true.
Matthias: So this would be your dream as a lighting designer?
Andrés: Yes, I think so.
Matthias: There’s one more question from Tim, your bandmate so to speak as he’s asking to you: do you dream in colour or in black and white?
Andrés: I think my answer is gonna have to be in technicolour, baby. Colour man, colour! I think all my memories and dreams don’t come in black and white.
Matthias: Probably with fog in it.
Andrés: No doubt. Without a shadow of a doubt, that’s for sure. Literally, I think I dream in colour, but if you ask me what language do I dream in I think that depends on each dream. Some dreams have languages I don’t even understand it’s just weird things coming out of people, dreams.
Matthias: I see. And the last question: what advice would you give to your twenty-year-old self? If you could start again your career, would you do anything different?
Andrés: It’s tough, it’s a tough one. If anything, take business more seriously, but past that, not really, just live your life man. I don’t know. I’m sure they can think of many little things, but in general, man… I wouldn’t have lived what I lived and I wouldn’t be here now as I am.
Matthias: Thank you so much Andrés for this interview and your insight as a lighting designer, a totally new world for me.
Andrés: Thanks for having me, it’s been surreal talking for a long time.
Matthias: Perfect and see you next time in Vienna?
Andrés: Indeed, in a couple of months!
Matthias: There’s already a…
Andrés: I don’t have the liberty to disclose.
Matthias: But you’ll be there in a couple months.
Andrés: Yeah, If it it’s not with them then with another band, but I’ll let you know. Wearing your t-shirt.
Matthias: You’re the man! Thanks so much.
Andrés: All the best, have a good one.
Matthias: Perfect, you too.