Sooner Routhier Creates "Heavenly" Lighting Design For Coldplay

Lighting designer Sooner Routhier, who has won multiple awards for her work, including a Live Design Achievement of the Year Award, has designed Coldplay's Music of the Spheres, one of the most anticipated tours to take place since the pandemic. Her company, Sooner Rae Creative, is known for tours from Imagine Dragons, The Lumineers, and The Weeknd, to Depeche Mode, Motley Crue, and the Game of Thrones Live Music Experience.

RELATED: Music Of The Spheres Designers Put Our Planet First

Routhier first began collaborating with Coldplay in 2019, when the band did select shows in support of Everyday Life, including a one-off show at London’s Natural History Museum. Interestingly, the band would not commit to a world tour until some solutions had been found for the environmental impact of such large undertakings. The Music of the Spheres tour kicked off in March 2022 with a ground-breaking array of changes to the traditional touring model. The goal was to reduce the carbon footprint by 50% compared to Coldplay's 2016-2017 tour, A Head Full of Dreams. Those elements include the use of renewable energy sources, kinetic flooring, solar powered batteries, reduced air travel, sustainable aviation fuel, equipment designed to be light and easily packed to reduce trucking, and a carbon offset program to plant trees.

Click here to learn more about the innovations adopted and metrics used to measure the tour’s carbon footprint.

Live Design spoke to members of the creative team about their part in creating this tour.

Live Design: When did you get involved in this project?

Sooner Routhier: We began discussing the tour in Jan 2020 while we were in the middle of shows for [the previous] album cycle. I worked closely with Misty Buckley and Phil Harvey to light the band’s vision for Music of the Spheres throughout 2020 and 2021. They had a specific goal to bring the new album’s celestial theme to life while creating a more sustainable tour model.

LD: How much of the discussion was centered on sustainability?

SR: Sustainability was at the forefront of just about all the discussions when considering the tour lighting design. 

LD: How did that influence your choice of fixtute?

SR: We made the conscious decision to light the shows with greener, more eco-friendly fixtures. All but 10 fixtures on the show are IP 65 rated to help limit the amount of fixture swaps needed in an outdoor environment. All but 10 fixtures are also LED or laser engines. We decided to forego any fixtures that required traditional lamps and dimming.

LD: Did you encounter any other issues getting the fixtures you wanted because of shipping problems etc?

SR: Touring is certainly not for the faint of heart these days! Upstaging did an absolutely INCREDIBLE job sourcing our fixture choices for the tour. John Huddleston and Matt Gohring were instrumental in helping me choose fixtures that were IP 65 rated and efficient. If a certain fixture type wasn’t available, they helped me find another one that would fit the spec.

LD: How did you interpret the Music of the Spheres concept?

SR: Misty Buckley and Phil Harvey, the co-creative directors of the tour, developed a production design and creative direction with the inspiration of Pythagoras’s Music of the Spheres theory in mind. There’s a specific diagram that displays the arcs and movement of the solar system and its celestial bodies that we leaned on for inspiration. Thus, the architecture for the lighting design, and the cuing of the system is heavily based on spheres, circles and arcs.

Coldplay/Credit: Ralph Larmann
(Coldplay/Credit: Ralph Larmann)

LD: Tell us about the upstage arch. What fixtures are you using there and how are you using this element?

SR: The band didn’t want a roof over the stage. Obviously, this makes any sort of truss configuration and overhead lighting very difficult to achieve. So we had to think outside of the box - literally.

Claypaky Xtylos line the large arch at the back of the stage, above the “moonrise” screen. They are the highest moving light fixtures in the rig. It was important to have some sort of beam fixture to reach high in the atmosphere to give the system height.

Lighting programmer Joe Lott: Creatively, the Claypaky Xtylos fixtures have been essential to building the shapes and looks of each song. As we don’t have a traditional overhead lighting system the arch of Xtylos positioned higher up behind the stage acts as a real workhorse when it comes to creating the dynamic looks in the show. With their laser light source they are able to create very bright beams of light which carry right to the back of the stadium while being very compact in size.

LD: What other fixtures did you rely on?

SR: Our main workhorses are the Chauvet Strike Ms, Ayrton Perseos and Dominos and the Clay Paky Xtylos. The Strike M fixtures create beautiful rings of light around the band on the main stage and on the B stage.

All of the Ayrton fixtures are used to build huge gobo washes, waterfalls of beams, and general effect lighting to highlight the music.

LD: Are you working with anything you have not used before?

SR: The Chauvet Strike M and the Claypaky Xtylos. We needed an IP65 rated version of an LED strobe to create our “planetary aura” around the band. It consists of a large circle of light composed of LED strobes sitting on the stage floor around the band and B stage. It’s an element that has been carried through all of promo since April 2021. The Strike M fit the bill perfectly. The Claypaky Xtylos reach out into the audience with massive beams of light and saturated color.

LD: What were the main challenges?

SR: Logistics, post-pandemic touring constraints, shipping, crew and gear shortages etc… All of these things made designing a world-wide stadium tour very challenging. Everything is more expensive and more difficult to source. Any budgeting parameters change from month to month with supply chain issues and fluctuating fuel costs. Unfortunately, all of these challenges trickle down and greatly affect the creative.

Coldplay/Credit: Ralph Larmann

LD: What is your favorite part of the design?

SR: I absolutely love the LED spheres that Misty and our video creative team developed with Fred Opsomer of PRG Projects. They are constructed with ground-breaking, inflatable technology and pack down to take up very little truck space despite their size. I also love the colors of the show. We run through the spectrum of the chakras. We’re able to use quite a bit of rainbows in the lighting programming.

LD: After this experience, where do you see the industry heading regarding sustainability?

SR: Manufacturers have developed, and continue to develop, more eco-friendly fixtures. As technology progresses, so does the ability to create more efficient lights.

I think the industry as a whole recognizes that our business is inherently unsustainable and everyone is developing new technologies, sourcing more sustainable materials, and moving the needle closer to a more eco-friendly industry.