Babekühl was first approached by Genesis Owusu’s team in 2021 to help bring his debut album to life on stage as a touring club show - a tour which would go on to be nominated at the 2021 ARIA awards for best live act. What started as a one-off project has evolved into an ongoing collaboration which has opened us up to the exciting and challenging world of show design. Today, our role within team Genesis Owusu is to ensure that every aspect of the live performance is refined to enhance the artist’s vision and create the Genesis Owusu world. Within the parameters of various performance environments (whether that be a club, a festival, an auditorium, or on live television) we have had the pleasure of working alongside the artist to design shows which use light, visuals, stage design, props, costumes and choreography to create dynamic, meaningful performances.
Genesis Owusu’s debut album Smiling With No Teeth is a rare work – powerful, personal and intelligent, while remaining fun and universal. The record was created from a series of live sessions with musicians (and artists in their own right); Kirin J Callinan, Touch Sensitive, Julian Sudek, with keyboards and production by Andrew Klippel. Our task was to reinterpret the record as a live show which would be toured with Genesis’ long-time crew, The Goons.
A DJ would be providing musical playback in the absence of a live band. Working with an artist who is in the early stages of their career, but has grand artistic and musical ambitions presents many challenges; this show would need to be unique and conceptually ambitious, but also be scalable to work in small venues or festival stages. In addition, it would need to be easily toured and executed by a minimal crew.
For this project, we had the pleasure of working closely with musical director Jono Ma to develop the art and musical direction in tandem. By linking the musical and artist development of the show, our creative approach was free to take on a more conceptual and meaningful dimension. Accordingly, we were inspired to create a show which drew more on theatrical practices, rather than a conventional live music approach. In the ideation phase, we were inspired by a range of influences which we drew on to create dynamics in the show: Northern Soul, Militantism, Rave Culture and Football Ultras.
Genesis Owusu at South Eveleigh Solstice Festival- shot using multiple DV Camcorders mixed live with custom graphic treatments
Our process for this project was extremely collaborative. First, we visualised a simple stage design created from easily sourced materials – a modular, scalable set consisting of crowd control barriers, megadeck platforms and chain link fences created a backdrop for the performance. Working closely with lighting directors Colourblind, a simple lighting plot was developed to enhance the set. Drawing on the album’s established themes, a series of hand-stitched fabric banners were commissioned to be made by textile artist Fragile Manufacturing. Throughout the entire process, we continued to work closely with musical director Jono Ma; to continually intertwine aesthetic, performative and musical decisions. Finally, all the elements were combined over two intense days of dress rehearsal. During this time, Genesis and The Goons’ own choreography was blocked, workshopped and finalised, lighting cues were rehearsed to precision. Throughout the rehearsal period, Jono Ma continually reworked and remixed the music and sound design to unite the performance as a whole.
Genesis Owusu and the Black Dog Band
In 2022, Genesis Owusu toured Australia for the first time with the all-star band which he recorded his debut album with - a supergroup known as The Black Dog Band. The Black Dog Band tour was a significant departure from previous Genesis Owusu tour - for the first time, all of the music would be performed live on stage with no electronic playback or DJ accompaniment. Unlike the Smiling With No Teeth run of shows, this tour was booked in large auditoriums with far greater production potential than the clubs which the SWNT tour was performed in.
Conceptually, we envisaged the themes of Smiling With No Teeth as an ancient fable - the story of Genesis’ battles with the black dogs of depression and racism. Accordingly, the visual presentation of the show was inspired by archaic temples and places of worship. An “altar” was positioned at centre stage - framing Genesis Owusu as a shamanic presence, surrounded by a band of disciples. An inverted laser was suspended above the altar, creating an ethereal spire of light which Genesis interacted with during key moments.
Taking advantage of the flying rigging in the auditoriums for this tour, a series of tapestries were commissioned from graphic artist Henry Hablak. The tapestries acted as chapter markers, telling the story of Genesis Owusu and the Black Dogs. This four chapter structure allowed Genesis to thematically group songs within the performance, gradually revealing the full stage design as the set proceeded.
Chapter 1: The Black Dogs Emerge
Chapter 2: The Black Dogs Bring Gifts
Chapter 3: Conflict with Genesis
Chapter 4: The Black Dogs are Defeated
Animated banners replaced physical banners in venues with video wall
The Black Dog Mask is used to refract the laser spire
Stage visuals by Babekühl for Splendour 2022
2021 Aria Award
Genesis Owusu Aria TV performance
Nominated 7-times at the 2021 ARIA Awards, Genesis Owusu swept the ceremony, winning four trophies for Album of the Year, Best Hip Hop Release, Best Independent Release and Best Cover Art (with Bailey Howard).
To kick off the ARIAs, Genesis Owusu performed a medley of Waitin On Ya, The Other Black Dog and Don’t Need You live with his Goons Squad. Collaborating with Riley Blakeway, we developed a three-act performance of Heaven, Hell and Reality.
With the stage divided into two: an LED screen backdrop, and the Sydney Harbour- we set the stage to feel hyper-real as Genesis Owusu ascends into the skies to Heaven, only to be dragged down by the Goons into Hell. In the third act, Owusu breaks the fourth wall, performing live into the crowd of the ARIAs.
It was a huge pleasure to work alongside Kofi, the Goons and musical director Jono Ma to bring the ideas and music of Smiling With No Teeth to the stage. Our goal was to help create a live show which was a reflection of the album – dynamic, unique, meaningful and real.
We worked with Movement Consultant, Aleese Gabir to rehearse the performance of Owusu and the Goons.
Don't Need You Ft. Mick Jenkins
'Get Inspired' was created in collaboration with our long-time friend and creative collaborator Chris Yee. Tapping into our techno-expressionist spirits, we experimented with distorted, glitched, and layered visuals to induce feelings of chaos and exhilaration that sweep through this groovy, post-punk single. The result is a hypnotizing video that is full of bursting color and energy.