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The Yeezus Tour, Kanye West’s solo tour, which coincides with his sixth studio album,Yeezus, kicked off in Seattle, Washington on October 19, 2013 and ends in Toronto, Canada on December 23, 2013.
The show is theatrical, cinematic and operatic in its structure. It merges together all of Kanye West’s interests in the the visual and performance arts, creating a powerful experience that transcends the concert format.
Kanye West is known for collaborating with artists from various mediums, including fashion designers, artists and architects. In 2007, he collaborated with contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who designed the album artwork for his third studio album,Graduation. In 2008, the special edition vinyl of his fourth studio album, 808s & Heartbreak,was designed by New York artist KAWS. In 2010, contemporary visual artist George Condo designed the album artwork for his fifth studio album, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. In 2011, fashion designer Riccardo Tisci designed the album artwork for his collaborative album with rapper Jay Z, Watch the Throne.
Kanye West first experimented with architecture and set design in 2008 with his critically acclaimed world tour, The Glow in the Dark Tour. In 2011, he collaborated with Es Devlin, award-winning stage and costume designer, on the stunning visual display and stage design for the Watch the Throne Tour. Kanye West and Es Devlin joined forces again in 2012 for three shows in Atlantic City.
In the summer of 2012, Kanye West launched his own design company, DONDA, which is focused on “content, product and experience.” Virgil Abloh, who currently serves as the creative director of DONDA, has a background in architecture and has been the leader of its design. In May of 2012, DONDA produced a seven-screen pyramid-shaped pavilion at the Festival de Cannes, where his film, Cruel Summer, premiered. The project was designed by the New York branch of OMA, with project architect Oana Stanescu, in collaboration with DONDA and 2×4, Inc. Cruel Summer was filmed with a custom seven-camera rig in Qatar and was designed as a project that would immerse its audience in a cinematic space. In addition to this unique experience, Kanye West has recently been linked to architect David Benjamin, co-founder of the design and research studio, The Living, on a project that reimagines the movie theatre experience.
In his career, Kanye West has referenced architects including Le Corbusier, Antoni Gaudí and Rem Koolhaas – each of whom were accused during their careers for not following the conventional norms of architecture and design. These architects were revolutionary in the ways in which they were able to combine architecture with the fields of industrial design, sculpture and fashion, respectively. In an interview with The New York Times, he stated that the sound of his sixth studio album, Yeezus, was inspired by architecture. “You know, this one Corbusier lamp was like, my greatest inspiration”. Le Corbusier, known for completely rejecting style in favor of minimalistic design, is today respected as one of the founders of modern architecture.
Kanye West’s efforts in film and architecture have been faced with criticism due to his assumed lack of knowledge and experience. There have also been those who have applauded his efforts and have celebrated him for taking these fields in new directions within today’s social consciousness. In the same way he was able to bring the worlds of high fashion into popular culture, he has been able to do the same for architecture and design. Kanye West has stated in many interviews that DONDA’s ten-year plan includes designing amusement parks, churches and films that go along with the idea of intelligent design and creative experiences for the masses.
Kanye has said that the initial vision for The Yeezus Tour came from imagining the end of the world. The visuals of explosions, fire, mountains, masked beings, creatures and God all make their way into the experience of the show.
Vanessa Beecroft, known for her incredible performance art involving the female body, designed the scenography for the tour. West and Beecroft previously collaborated for an art installation for 808’s & Heartbreak. Vanessa Beecroft was also the art director of Kanye West’s 35-minute film, Runaway, in 2010.
In addition to the dance and film elements, The Yeezus Tour effectively combines elements of fashion. Fashion house Maison Martin Margiela and Kanye West worked together to curate the fashion pieces and outfits associated with The Yeezus Tour. Kanye West and Margiela went into their archives to obtain the spirit of the iconic fashion house. The wardrobe for The Yeezus Tour is composed of 10 couture pieces, 20 ready-to-wear pieces and an exclusive pair of sneakers, as well as several head-encasing masks. KANYE WEST also wore his Nike Air Yeezy 2 shoes, also known as the “Red Octobers”, that he helped design, for the majority of his tour.Even the stage’s catwalk, which Kanye West uses when he walks his Maison Martin Margiela pieces, resembles that of a fashion show.
The show features 12 female dancers, or “disciples,” as many have called them, who play an integral role in the show. They wear skin-tight, see-through outfits made of nylon as well as masks that obscure their faces. They not only provide choreographed routines, but they physically interact with Kanye West during certain songs.
During his performance at the Barclay’s Center In Brooklyn, New York, on November 19, 2013, Kanye West expressed that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s film The Holy Mountain (1973) was an important touchstone for the design of the tour. The Holy Mountain is about a Christ-like figure who wanders through bizarre scenarios filled with religious imagery. The man meets a guide, as well as seven influential people, and all nine embark on a journey seeking “The Holy Mountain.” There are various aspects of the show that are influenced from the film, including the stage, which includes a mountain, the choreographed installation of nude women, masks and inclusion of a holy figure. In the opening minutes of the film, a thief’s face is covered in black flies, a visual reference for one of Maison Martin Margiela’s masks, designed for the show.
The influence from The Holy Mountain, however, is more thematic than visual. The film, much like the show, is an experience and asserts its focus on a biblical redemption story; similarly, Kanye West’s show is focused on a similar journey, one of self-realization and self-discovery, as evidenced through the five chapters of the show: Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding. These chapters are used to separate the set list and also as a slight break for wardrobe changes.
The stage design for The Yeezus Tour features a mountain, which many have labeled Mount Yeezus, which is approximately 50-feet high. The mountain is connected to a catwalk, which is about 30-feet long. The catwalk extends from the center of the mountain onto a secondary sage or lower stage, which is approximately 35-feet long and in the shape of a triangle.
There is a circular LED screen, about 60-feet tall, above the mountain that is angled (about 30 degrees), providing fans a closer look of the show, along with two additional circular screens, about 10-15 feet wide, that are placed above the mountain and parallel with the stage. The large LED screen, along with the entire sound system, is held up with custom metalwork. The screen provides information about the chapter breaks, as well as stunning visuals and atmospheric displays of nature for certain songs, such as “Heartless”, “Coldest Winter” and “Blood on the Leaves.” There is a camera that is directly above the lower stage, which syncs to the circular screen to provide an overhead view of the choreography during certain songs.
The mountain and lower stage also include areas for small pyrotechnics and fire displays during some songs, such as “Blood on the Leaves” and “All of the Lights.” The explosions take palce along the ramps in the front of the mountain. In some instances, images are projected onto the mountain from above as a way of changing its texture. In one particular instance, the mountain changes its appearance into a volcano. “Blood on the Leaves” transforms the stage into a pyrotechnic show. The fire bursts come from the mountain and explosions erupt from the lower stage. The mountain also splits in half in the middle of the show to allow a religious procession through and Jesus, himself.
The lower stage is capable of bouncing up and down as it’s being jumped on. In addition, this lower stage was lifted above the ground (about 30 degrees) during “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Coldest Winter”. The stage also houses a Microsoft Xbox Kinect sensor on the south corner. This sensor is used during the performance of “Black Skinhead,” as motion capture is used on the screen behind him. In addition, spotlights directly above him and strategically placed around the arena direct more light onto him. In addition, his mirrored mask for “Stronger,” complement the unique light effects because of the spotlight above him.
The majority of the show is performed on the lower stage. The fact that the stage can be bounced up and down and lifted adds a new dimension to the performance because the entire arena feels engaged. Kanye West further connected to the audience during “Runaway,” one of his most heartfelt performances.
Kanye West performs only one song from behind the mountain (“Power”) on an electronic lift that carries him up. Jesus also stands there at the end of the show before Kanye West walks off stage.
The Yeezus Tour was postponed for 18 days when one of the trucks holding part of the 60-foot LED screen was in a car wreck. The LED screen and metalwork were damaged beyond repair. The equipment had to be reconstructed in a short amount of time; as a result, several shows were postponed or completely cancelled because of routing logistics. The show, however, carried on and retained its artistic sensibilities, despite its challenges.
Interiors attended two shows of The Yeezus Tour, his second show (San Jose, California) on October 22, and his 24th show (Anaheim, California) on December 13, 2013. The set list and visual displays changed slightly, but the main framework stayed consistent.
The three main parts of the stage (mountain, catwalk, and lower stage) were all used during the concert and all were given the same amount of attention and focus. The drawings and graphical data were done by analyzing photographs and tour information, as well as using Kanye West’s height of 5’8” as a scale factor.
The diagrams we designed for The Yeezus Tour emphasize specific moments of Kanye performing various songs. The mountain elevation diagram depicts his performance of “Power.” The lower stage elevation diagram depicts his performance of “I Am a God.” The full stage diagram depicts his performance of “Bound 2.” These specific moments and songs are significant to the show itself. The Yeezus Tour will be remembered for its seamless balancing of all elements of the arts, while Kanye West himself will be known as the architect of this creative endeavor.