The creative director’s behind Loyle Carner’s breathtaking 2023 set talk through their inspirations and processes.

All photography by Diogo Lopes (@ddddoiogo)

All photography by Diogo Lopes (@ddddoiogo)

On the last weekend of August, none other than UK rap trailblazer, Loyle Carner, performed at Reading Festival. The performance added to the ongoing successful year for the rapper, alongside other mentionable accolades such as his Glastonbury set and a recent Mercury Prize nomination.

Behind the rap tycoon, there is an army, specifically the creative studio otherwise known as The Unlimited Dreams Company, or UDC. The company constructed Loyle’s Reading set around the rapper’s third album hugo – taking a broad look at his relationship with his father. Working closely with Loyle Carner, UDC has designed a show designed to reflect the narrative of his album.

Audiences witness a transition from anger and resentment to understanding and ultimately forgiveness. UDC wanted to project Loyle’s emotional relationship with his father into a physical one. A car on stage takes place to signify a series of driving lessons with his dad in lockdown, alongside a sun to showcase a 12-hour day cycle to tell the story.

Made up of creative directors, George Thomson and Harrison Smith, UDC has been collaborating and working with Loyle Carner for the past year, bringing his 2023 world tour to life. In addition to Loyle, UDC has worked with other world-class stars, such as Alicia Keys, Sam Fender, and Chase & Status.

We sat down with the creative directors to understand their processes, working with industry giants and Loyle’s captivating set…

Read the exclusive interview below…

With any artist, how do you initially begin researching and ideating to bring their music into a visual realm?
For us, it always starts with the music, that has to be the priority and nothing should detract from that. We started out in film and architecture, and narrative/concept is at the heart of everything we do.
Depending on the brief and specific project we always love to work collaboratively with the artist, we see our role as helping the artist to articulate their story on the stage and use this to make the
performance more impactful and the concept legible to the audience.

Specifically for Loyle Carner and the Hugo album, what was this process like? What parts of the album did you pull out to translate via set design?
Loyle invited us to pitch on the show design for his Hugo Tour after he had seen a previous show we created for Obonjayar and we had a chance meeting with his manager at a Pa Salieu show we designed in 2022. To start the process he shared a set of moodboards, which coincidentally included images of the show we designed for Obongjayar, so we felt like we stood a good chance of getting the job.

From there, it was an extremely collaborative process, as he’s such a visual artist with a clear vision. It was amazing to witness someone so talented. We were in rehearsals with him and the band whilst he was rapping, staying on top of what the band were doing and he would be sketching colour flows and noting down ideas for how he saw the stage design bringing everything together, it was very impressive.

In your opinion, how do the visuals enhance the music and bring it to a new dimension?
The key aspect of our concept, created in collaboration with Loyle, is a sense of progression – an emotional journey reflected in the physical journey of the driving lessons. The stage is designed with a vanishing point and forced perspective to amplify the sense of dynamism, movement, and progression. This is amplified by the lighting extending out into darkness and creating a sense of unity between performers and the audience. The surrounding drapes and all stage props are printed with an abstract horizon gradient, as black tones rise out of the stage floor towards white light at the apex, giving the feeling of passing environments in the car with subtle textured details of the windscreen fitting used on the album cover. This gradient represents both the progression of Loyle’s feelings towards his father and creates the sense of motion blur, enforcing the directionality of the set and performance. These gradients were also brought into the concept for the visuals created for Glastonbury and Reading and Leeds. Essentially the screen is used as another lighting source with abstract gradients based on the colours and movement of the sky and sun to help support the mood of the track and articulate the overall graduation in emotions from hate to forgiveness.

Let’s talk about the fully scaled Volkswagen car installation! How did this come about?
The car prop was based on the real car owned by Loyle Carner and the one used to teach him to drive, which forms the narrative backbone of the album. Towards the end of the show, we light up the number plate, which reads HGU. This was the origin of the car’s nickname “Hugo” and the title of the album which is focused on Loyle’s relationship with his father, so we all felt very strongly that having a representation of this on stage was important.

Initially, we considered not using the car, as it may have been too direct a reference. But when we struck upon the idea of coating everything with the same gradient, it gave us a way to include it in a more subtle and integrated way. It really helped to bring the story together and is only properly revealed towards the end of the show to complete the narrative arc. It also worked really well as a light source, giving it a secondary function.

How rewarding is it to see the final product on stage?
It’s always rewarding to see everything come together in a way that does the artist and their show justice, but this one in particular was a real moment for us. We have watched the show evolve and scale up from Vicar Street in Dublin all the way through to Wembley, and not only have we witnessed how the show design itself has grown and expanded over that time to work and have such an impact in such varying venues, we’ve also got to witness the evolution and momentum behind Loyle’s performances and his constant drive to influence positive change in society. His Glastonbury performance is one that will definitely stick with us, bringing Athian out to discuss the impact of knife crime amongst young people, and seeing how the fans respond is really inspiring and motivating.

All photography by Diogo Lopes (@ddddoiogo)