Going behind-the-scenes of Porter Robinson’s live ‘Nurture’ set with director Mike O’Brien [Interview]
For Porter Robinson, a run-of-the-mill live stream on Twitch was never an option. When he began mapping out the online music festival that became Secret Sky, he approached it the same way he approaches every creative endeavor he sets his mind to— with a fearless heart and a mindset driven by a bottomless passion. Anyone familiar with Porter Robinson knows that he’s an artist who has never shied away from exploring uncharted waters, both in regards to music production and his vision as a whole. This ambition of his has manifested itself in several ways, but his headlining performance at Secret Sky 2021 is perhaps one of the boldest demonstrations to date.
Now in its second year, the digital festival returned bigger and better than ever. Featuring a new and improved virtual auditorium along with performances from acts such as REZZ, Boys Noize, and Baauer, the festivities were meant to serve as a thank you from Robinson to his fans. But beyond this show of appreciation, the festival, or more so Porter’s headlining set, was meant to celebrate the release of his long-awaited Nurture album, which he debuted in stunning fashion.
The first-ever Nurture live set
As soon as the set begins, improvements from the year before are noticed immediately. In place of the table and single-lens projector he used in 2020 is a massive, 16-foot high LED wall, a full team of cameramen, lighting trusses, and a dazzling array of visuals and lasers. A stage design that would rival the setup you would see at one of his live shows.
Spending his time alternating between the microphone, a Push 2 launchpad, a midi keyboard, an upright piano, and a table with some fx paddles, Robinson puts on an impassioned performance as he brings his latest project to life. At times, Robinson walks and even frolics around his glowing, entirely illuminated LED castle, almost like a child exploring a fort they just constructed for themselves. Arms spread wide with eyes closed, lost in a world of his own.
Although the focus of the set is the Nurture album, Robinson takes listeners on a time-traveling adventure through past projects like Worlds and Shelter. Going from an electrifying live edit of “Sea of Voices,” into the tame, cooing, floating, chords in “Blossom,” and then back again to Worlds for a goose-bump-inducing revision of “Goodbye to a World,” illustrates how Robinson’s style and decision-making in the studio have evolved. More notably, even, the creative move demonstrates how effortlessly he is able to stitch these songs with totally different energies into one fluid composition.
It could easily be argued that the performance was one of the most elaborate or well-produced digital streams to date. A performance that wouldn’t have been possible without the people who put it together.
Behind-the-scenes of Nurture live
It would be an understatement to say that Porter Robinson’s ideas are larger than life. Anyone who watches even a few minutes of this incredible performance would agree. But to make something this big takes work. More importantly, it takes talent and people with particular skillsets to put it all together.
One of the individuals responsible for bringing this incredible spectacle to life was producer, director, and filmmaker Mike O’Brien, who Conscious Electronic got the chance to chat with regarding his experience on set.
CE: Porter seems like someone who has very driven objectives behind everything he does. What did he want to accomplish with this performance?
MO: Porter wanted to give his fans an experience they’ll never forget. He appreciates them so much… you have no idea! Aside from a thank you to fans, Secret Sky was intended to showcase a fraction of what people can expect to experience at a LIVE concert. Nurture holds so much energy just waiting to be released!
CE: And what about yourself? What did you want to accomplish?
MO: My main goal was to visually portray the beauty and dynamics of Porter’s music. It was important to match the camera movements with the energy of the music. Certain songs called for a more hyped-up handheld look vs. a smoother, softer look for something like “Blossom.” Shoutout to the crew for riding the wave!
CE: That stage was insane! How did it come to life?
MO: This would be better answered by the amazing lighting designer Ben Coker and FX artist Ghostdad. All I know is that they worked for months on end getting the visuals and lighting cues dialed in. I believe the wall was 16ft high and 24 feet wide. We had 5 lighting trusses off stage which lit Porter. It was awesome to see the video walls in person after only seeing it in VFX renders leading up to that.
CE: What kind of equipment did you use to capture all those angles?
MO: We used all Blackmagic cameras! Had 6 cameras in various spots all around the set. We had a Steadicam rolling, jib, top-down, handhelds, you name it. The power of these cameras is incredible. We also had a bunch of camera operators, AC’s, PA’s. The whole squad brought their A-game that day, I’m so grateful for every one of them.
CE: That sounds like a lot to tackle. What was the most difficult part about the production of the performance?
MO: The most difficult part was making sure everything was in sync as far as lighting, camera movements, Porter stage placement, etc. Detailed pre-production and a professional squad were key to pulling this off.
CE: I loved the viewpoint that looked like a fan’s perspective from the audience. Bobbing around and such. It made it feel like I was there.
MO: So glad you caught that! That was exactly the goal. We wanted it to feel like you were there. That was one of our camera guys, Gabe Rubiano, sitting on the ground rocking a handheld cam.
CE: What was your favorite part about working with Porter Robinson?
MO: Mannn. Porter is just one of those people who you meet and immediately know they’re living in their heart space and not the head. So compassionate and down to earth. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent. Musical genius! Though I only met Porter a few months ago, it feels like we’ve known each other forever. Looking forward to creating more magic together!
CE: We’re looking forward to it as well! Anything else on the horizon for Mike O’Brien Films?
MO: At the moment I’m working on a few music videos. I’m looking to get into more commercials/narrative work the rest of this year. I see amazing experiences and creative projects in the coming months and years!
Given the success and widespread reception of Secret Sky and the Nurture live set, it’s interesting to speculate whether or not other artists will try to replicate Porter Robinson’s cinematic production. Will the return of live in-person concerts, like Robinson’s Second Sky festival in September 2021, lead to live streams fizzling out? Or will Secret Sky 2021 serve as a case study that propels the world of digital music events forward? Only time will tell.
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