Smiling With No Teeth Album Tour Creative DirectionLive VisualsStage Design
Working alongside Genesis Owusu, The Goons and musical director Jono Ma, a live show was created to bring the ideas and music of Smiling With No Teeth to the stage. Our goal was to help create a tour-ready live show which was a reflection of the album; dynamic, unique, meaningful and real.
Genesis Owusu’s debut album Smiling With No Teeth is a rare work of art – 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:
In the ideation phase, we were inspired by a range of influences which we drew on to create dynamics in the show:
- Northern Soul: A musical movement defined by cultural exchange, where a cultural feedback loop between American soul music, and working class, English dance subculture gave rise to new meanings and aesthetics.
Militantism: Public Enemy’s S1W security unit which toured with the group had an apocalyptic, military concept which gave context to an intense aesthetic. Air raid sirens and military drill-style routines informed the sound design and choreography of the performances.
Rave culture: The renegade spirit of underground rave culture was something we tapped in to – the aesthetic of freedom, abandonment and an optimistic spirit set against an apocalyptic backdrop. Heavy use of smoke, strobes and monochromatic lighting schemes were also used throughout.
Football Ultras: The intensity and uncontrolled emotion of ultra-fans and their world filled with homemade banners, flares, smoke, chain link fences, slogans, crude symbols and gang/team colours.
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.
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.
The SWNT album tour will go down as one of our most rewarding projects to date. Genesis Owusu is a formidable performer with a vision and talent that was an absolute pleasure to work for, and with. What started as a quick seven-date run, eventually became a 23 show tour. The SWNT album tour was nominated in the “Best Australian Live Act” category at the 2021 ARIA awards.