Last month, Imagine Music Festival took over the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, GA, just outside of Atlanta, September 22-24, 2017. We gave a brief overview of the Imagine experience, which is hosted by IRIS Presents, Inc., the Atlanta-based dance music events and promotion company. This week, we dive deeper into the production and design of Imagine Music Festival, highlighting the iconic Disco Inferno Stage, a pyrotechnic work of art designed and built by the Incendia production team and their collaborators, led by Cory and Tyler Glenn.
Based out of Atlanta, Incendia has been heating things up lately on a national level as they utilize their artistic stage production talents at festivals across the country. The two brothers got their start in the Burning Man scene, where Cory frequently built art projects for regional Burns. After stumbling across the fire inversion technology that they now use in their stage designs and realizing they had a product that could appeal to a wide audience, they took it to the music festival scene, contributing to Imagine Music Festival from Day One. Tyler got an early start in the music business, running a club in Athens, GA at the ripe age of 20. It was this background in music business that gave him the opportunity to get involved with IRIS Presents just over four years ago, when he served as a talent buyer for the first year of Imagine, while also assisting the directors. While Tyler was focused on the music business, Cory was more involved in the artistic side of things. Together, they pulled Incendia into the first year of Imagine Music Festival, where they served a smaller role at the Historic Fourth Ward Park, Imagine’s original venue location. The first two years that Imagine was held at the Fourth Ward Park, Incendia setup misting systems for daytime cooling and fire lounges at night.
The lounges still make an appearance these days at Imagine, however, they are a small part of Incendia’s larger production. In 2016, Imagine moved to its current location, the Atlanta Motor Speedway, giving them a lot more area to work with. Disco Inferno made its first appearance at Imagine in 2016 and built upon its success this 2017. The 2017 stage featured a main half-dome decorated like a disco ball, where the DJs would perform from, as well as two small domes on either side of the stage. Each dome and the trusses above them sported various propane cannons for the pyrotechnic effects. In addition to the flames, the stage featured some more traditional productions like huge sound systems, LED walls, and other various lighting effects. The crew of 24 spent five days building the entire Disco Inferno Stage, working about 16-18 hours per day. It took about three days to break the stage down after the conclusion of Imagine. Of the 24, Cory’s team of about a dozen worked specifically on building the domes and pyrotechnic effects, as part of Incendia’s contribution.
Before the festival kicks off, the Incendia team goes through their safety check. Cory likens the detail and process to the pre-flight check that pilots conduct prior to flying an airplane. “We adjust everything to conform to all applicable standards. We do extensive system checks every day. We check for leaks. … We go around, we check the functionality of everything, make sure everything is dialed in correctly.” They do skin temperature readings with a laser thermometer to ensure that the pressure of the propane system is appropriately adjusted to the radius of the crowd. Once everything checks out, the crowd fills in and the flames start flying!
All of the fire controls are analogue. Cory expands: “We have like an arcade-style button box with different buttons representing different effects. We’ll sit there and try to anticipate the flow of the music,” adding that “it’s kind of crowd interactive as well; we can bring in friends, or other people in the industry … to play with the buttons and have fun with it.” There are a number of effects they can use, based on the build of the stage, but at Imagine this year, the main propane cannon behind the stage could shoot flames as high as about 100 feet in the air, a rough estimate, as Cory adds: “I’m not up there with a measuring tape, I like my eyebrows where they are.”
Long before the festival starts, let alone is even built, Cory and Tyler plan the setup of Disco Inferno. Cory covers the pyrotechnic aspect of the build, while Tyler designs the stage and coordinates the logistics of LED walls, audio, truss towers, and crafting a budget.
When picking a stage location, Cory and his team have to be a little particular, as they have to take into consideration “flatness and proximity of flammable material.” The area must be flat for two reasons: 1) the dome structures they utilize do not have adjustable legs like many traditional stages do and 2) the inversion fuelings must remain flat to operate correctly.
Meanwhile, Tyler details his preparation, which includes a general high-level goal for him: “I really like to create a little bit more of the environment, a little bit more of an immersive experience.” He adds that a lot of bigger festivals tend to have two-dimensional stages. When he’s in charge of a stage, Tyler tries to “design something where people feel a little more comfortable,” so that that the attendants don’t “feel like they’re out and exposed in the middle of nowhere.” Tyler expands: “What I strive for is taking that out of there and getting people more of a space to feel surrounded and feel comfortable and therefore have a better overall experience.”
His process starts by creating a rough design in 3D format using Google SketchUp. His design is pretty close to the final product, but Tyler notes that his expertise only goes “so far in the realm of sound, video, lighting, and fire,” so he works with other people that specialize in those fields. Using Google SketchUp allows him to easily pass his 3D designs off to his specialists, as the SketchUp files are natively supported by Vectorworks, an industry standard product for stage design.
Tyler is able to bring his stage designs to life with the help of his industry specialists and collaborators: 4Life Entertainment provided lighting and video equipment and installation, while Liquid Lux Light Design and Adam Gray Lighting provided lighting design services, and Rhizome NYC took care of visuals. Meanwhile, Music Matters, a local audio company, provided the sound system for Disco Inferno, which included an array of Meyer Leopard speakers. He notes that this specific system was deliberately chosen for Disco Inferno due to its ability to project at a wide range. Tyler and his team wanted to make sure that, given the relatively large width and shallow depth of the stage, attendants would get the full range of audio frequencies regardless of where they were standing.
In addition to the main half-dome disco ball at the center of the layout were two truss systems that extended like wings on either side of the center stage, each hanging an array of speaker stacks and LED walls in ascending height. Further beyond the truss systems were two smaller pyro domes on either side of the stages—the smaller lounge-style setups that Incendia utilizes to fill smaller areas. The lounges feature misting systems during the day and flames at night. Two additional truss systems stood at the back of the dance floor, sporting additional lighting. The whole layout extends almost entirely 360 degrees around the dance floor, so that regardless of where attendants stand, they are able to look in any direction and feel immersed. The back lighting area served as the border of the Disco Infero dance floor, which featured live-painting on the first night from local artists, like Danny Sanzone, giving fans the opportunity to pull back from the main action, but still feel involved. The 360-degree layout was the brain-child of Tyler’s careful crafting and execution by his production team.
In spite of all of the planning, Disco Inferno did run into some issues this year. On night one of the event, the Disco Inferno Stage hosted a slew of bass and funk artists with a lineup that included Andy Bruh, Daily Bread, Squnto, Esseks, Yheti, Buku, ill.Gates, The Funk Hunters, Bleep Bloop, and Minnesota. It was then when issues with Disco Inferno’s power source became apparent. The stage briefly lost power several times on the first night, until the main generator was eventually swapped out with a backup one provided by the power production manager. It was later determined that the first generator had an issue with a loose cable connected to the engine control unit. Regarding the power issues, Tyler commented on the effect that Hurricane Irma, which made US landfall on September 10, had on Imagine:
“Being that we were just at the tail end of the hurricane coming through, our whole generator order that we already had in place got switched up, because everything gets dedicated down to disaster relief. As it should. So it was a little bit of a scramble there at the end to locate the power sources and everything like that. Thankfully, it was executed properly, and we did have a backup there to take care of that.”
Once Disco Inferno got the backup generator rolling, the rest of the weekend went off without issue. After the bass-heavy first night at Disco Inferno, things changed tempo, as nights two and three exhibited more House and Techno artists. Night 2 had performances from Alex Lucas, Ariel, Chris Lake, Nora En Pure, Claptone, and Gorgon City. Night 3 was dominated by the Dirtybird Players Stage. After a performance from Atlanta local, Wiggle Factor, Dirtybird artists took over the remainder of the night. Ciszak, Dateless, Will Clarke, Shiba San, and Claude VonStroke performed throughout the night at Disco Inferno, with Claude VonStroke closing out the festival. The Glenn brothers are both quick to point out that putting together something like Disco Inferno takes a lot of coordination from a large group of talented people. Tyler points to the serious focus from all of the individuals, “it was a very large group of friends that came together” to make the stage happen. Adding, “it wasn’t a whole bunch of hired help. Everybody that was a part of it was a part of it from the get-go and all the way through. We’re all part of a larger group of friends making an idea happen.”
The culmination of Disco Inferno 2017 was especially exciting for Tyler Glenn, as he got engaged at Imagine on Night 2. On Night 3, Glenn Goodhand, owner of Imagine and IRIS, gave a congratulatory shout out to Tyler during the closing ceremony of Imagine Music Festival, at Cory’s request. The two brothers plan to continue building Incendia and Disco Inferno, as Tyler notes, the goal is always “bigger, better, and larger.”
Editor’s Note: In 2017, even weeks after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the US, Imagine still felt the effects of the storm. Through the American Red Cross, they setup a donation campaign for the Hurricane Irma relief effort. In addition to Hurricane Irma, during the festival weekend, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. 3.4 million US Citizens were left without power and water, and limited access to food, gasoline, and other basic life necessities. It will take months to rebuild after the damage of Hurricane Maria. If you are interested in contributing to the relief effort in Puerto Rico, check this list of trusted organizations offering aid to Puerto Rico.