U.K. design studio Newsubstance dropped Spectra, the Coachella tower that swirled with psychedelic light, on the California festival in April 2018. Expect it to remain onsite in the coming years.
When Patrick O’Mahony first visited the grounds of the California music festival Coachella, he was struck by the quality of light. “The sunrises and sunsets out there are incredible,” says O’Mahony, creative director of U.K.-based, entertainment-focused design studio NewSubstance. “That light always seems very distant; it’s always kind of behind the mountains. You can never really get close.”
Tapped by festival organizers to dream up an installation for the event’s 2018 edition, O’Mahony and his team sought to encapsulate people within that sunrise and sunset. The result is Spectra: a seven-storey tower whose spiralling walkway is wrapped in translucent panels, bathing visitors in reds, greens, yellows and purples. Offering a reprieve from spring temperatures that can reach 35 degrees Celsius during the event, the pavilion is air-conditioned. And with an observation deck at its summit, Spectra provides a view of the grounds rivalled only by that from the on-site Ferris wheel.
During the day, the project is a psychedelic beacon that soars above the desert landscape and crowds that total more than 250,000. Once the sun fades, it transforms, animated by 690 custom LED fixtures. To conceal the source of illumination, lighting designer James Bawn recessed LED tape into the roof beams of each of the seven swirling levels. Custom power supplies were also installed to control each individual fixture. An additional 22 lighting sources placed on the roof create aerial effects.
The system can produce about 16 million colours, along with a myriad of effects. During the 10-day event in April, it was programmed to progress through a subtle series of shifts during the day and evening, building to more dramatic animations as the sun set and the festival buzz hit its peak.
Coachella 2018 wrapped in April on April 22, but Spectra is set to remain on the site for a few years to come. NewSubstance plans to adapt the installation so that it will remain fresh for future editions of the festival.