How Unlimited Dream Company Turned Loyle Carner's Latest Album Into a Live Show Masterclass
Hypebeast caught up with the creative direction studio to find out how they turned Carner’s latest album ‘hugo’ into a visual work of art for his UK tour.
Whenever a musician releases a new full-length project, fans can almost certainly expect a tour to be on the horizon.
Whether that’s a string of shows around pubs and clubs in the UK or a worldwide excursion across each corner of the globe, live performances have always been the main breadwinner for musicians who create for a living.
The likes of Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and One Direction, for example, have hit the stage in some of the most remote countries in the world; but now within the sphere of UK rap, rhymers are performing to unimaginable crowds as they use their clean-cut rhymes to paint pictures of the environments they’re a product of.
UK rappers have had to endure plenty of trials and tribulations of whether they can even perform to their fans live and direct – take Giggs’ live show cancellations in 2013 following a previously served firearm charge for example. But now, British rap has manifested into a wide degree of sonics, with artists now free to express them like never before – and South London’s Loyle Carner is the best case in point of this.
During the backend of last year, Carner released his third full-length album, hugo. The project brought the rapper a Best Hip-Hop/Grime Act nomination at the 2023 BRIT Awards and since it’s been hailed as one of the best UK rap albums to come out of the country in recent years.
Since the release of the album, Carner’s sold-out UK tour has received stellar reviews from critics and fans alike – not just because of the music, but because of the way the venue was brought to life by his set designers.
Working in collaboration with the UK creative direction studio, Unlimited Dream Company, the team created a show that supported hugo’s narrative: Loyle Carner’s relationship with his father. Creating a sophisticated design, with the same rawness and emotions contained within the album, the show transitioned through various moods such as anger, contentedness, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Now, only a few weeks after Carner’s tour was wrapped up with a homecoming show in London, and while fans have been reminiscing about one of the best live UK rap shows to come out of the country, Hypebeast caught up with Unlimited Dream Company to find out more about how they brought the show to life.
Hypebeast: As a whole, how have you encapsulated the feel of ‘Hugo’ within the stage design?
Unlimited Dream Company: The show design and direction for Loyle Carner’s 2023 tour is born out of the narrative of his latest album hugo which details a set of driving lessons during which he reconnected with his father after just becoming a father for the first time himself. The album describes the progression of their relationship from hate all the way through to forgiveness.
The emotional mood of the album is reflected on stage with the show taking the form of an atmospheric 12-hour day cycle, divided into 4 acts which develop from the deep reds of sunset “Hate” transitioning through cooler tones of night and into a new day with the warm glow of sunrise and forgiveness – “HGU.”
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 the 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. 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.
“We are trying to do things a bit differently from other show designers out there, putting a clear, consistent, and conceptually rigorous approach at the forefront of everything we do.”
In your opinion, how important is the set design for a live performance?
We always say that music is the priority, and nothing should detract from that. We started out in film, and narrative and concept are at the heart of everything we do. 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.
Family is a key theme throughout ‘hugo,’ do you think you represented that in your design?
This was a core principle for Loyle Carner, and we developed this idea at all levels of design. For example, the overall shape of the stage is based on the amphitheater layout which is a spatial form associated with congregation and communion.
We used a lot of warm light which was directed towards the audience to both the stage and the crowd in a collective glow. As the light travels from the stage to the audience, we aimed to break the hard line between stage and audience unifying these two components with light – bringing everyone together. Olfar Eliasson was a key reference for this collective feeling with the lighting.
The idea of family was also followed through with smaller easter egg moments, such as the car prop which was based on the real car owned by Loyle Carner and used to teach him to drive which forms the narrative backbone of the album. Towards the end of the show, we lit 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.
How do you plan and execute a design from step one?
Loyle Carner is really collaborative with all his work and was involved in every step of the process. In the pitch, we presented a concept design and after winning the job we worked with Loyle Carner to explore all possibilities with various designs at different levels of scale and production complexity. This process helped us and the artist calibrate what was key to the overall vision, and Loyle Carner is interested in finding the minimum number of components to help tell the story whilst creating a clean and clear aesthetic.
Bringing the design to life is very much a collaborative process working with Chris Tyler (Tour Manager), Harry Duffin (Production Manager), Thomas Laurent (Lighting Designer), and Will Reeve (Lighting Programmer). The creative process also extends into rehearsals where we continually tweak and refine as a team, to help develop the design.
“Most of our inspiration tends to be drawn directly from the music and then we take a lot of influence from film, literature, painting, and architecture.”
Do you plan on continuing to work with Loyle going forward, and if so, what’s in store for the future?
Definitely, we are planning to work with Loyle Carner on the rest of his live shows this year and hopefully beyond. Loyle Carner is playing West Holts stage at Glastonbury this year and we are adapting this production for that stage, and developing from this idea to create something special for this important moment. Loyle is incredibly generous and collaborative which makes our life easy and the fact that he is such a powerful storyteller gives us so much to build ideas from and explore interesting and exciting concepts.
Do you ever take inspiration from your peers in the design industry?
We are trying to do things a bit differently from other show designers out there, putting a clear, consistent, and conceptually rigorous approach at the forefront of everything we do. There are a lot of really exciting show designers emerging alongside us and we collaborate with a lot of them. The old system of gatekeeping projects and artists seems to be dying out and being replaced with a more collaborative approach. Most of our inspiration tends to be drawn directly from the music and then we take a lot of influence from film, literature, painting, and architecture. There is so much still to learn from the classics in all these fields.