Cover photo by Taylor Regulski @the.camera.lady
Production teams are constantly looking at visual boundaries and devising ways to break them, create new ones and break them once again. One of the most impressive, ground-breaking minds pushing the boundaries on visual experiences is Anthony Garcia, the creator of Gareth Emery’s Laserface Live show.
Laserface is the world’s largest live laser show, making its debut into the electronic music production scene in 2017. Since then, this spectacular experience has made its way across the world, blowing minds at every stage it crosses. I was lucky enough to see the mind-melting Laserface show in person at DreamState SoCal in 2018.
Watch the full Laserface debut headlining set from DreamState SoCal 2018 here:
Now, almost a year later, I was humbled by the opportunity to catch up with the Laserface creator himself, as he was about to dive into working Lost Lands, Excision’s dubstep festival in Ohio. Read below to deep dive into Anthony’s mind, his creative process and priceless advice on navigating into the production world.
Anthony Garcia: Designer, Programmer and Laser Genius
Festival Squad [Mary]: I am super excited to be able to pick your brain! I’ve been personally looking forward to this interview for a while; I got to experience Laserface for the first time at DreamState last year and I was absolutely blown away. I know that was the first time that Laserface was a headlining set, correct?
Anthony Garcia: Yeah, that was the first time we brought it out to a festival, the first time it was a headlining set; that was a really, really different experience on our side of things. That’s awesome you loved it and had such a great experience. Essentially, our task for that show was to work through the element of it being outdoors and part of a festival, which was a first for Laserface. We knew we had to make it as great of an experience as possible for the fans, so, I guess, job well done!
FS: It was definitely a job well done! I’m sure that’s pretty much every production team’s thoughts, “We will make sure everything looks good to the crowd.” Because every single time there’s a show, there’s always about a million fires to be put out.
AG: Exactly. On that one specifically, we actually had some Red Bull spilled on the laptop that was running the entire production. Not just a laser laptop, but the laptop that’s keeping everything in place. So if that went down, we would’ve just died. I don’t know. I honestly, I don’t know.
FS: If everything went down, you could just bring more performers up on stage to distract everyone!
AG: Totally. Get some laser pointers and whip them around in the air.
So my first question is, you know, how did you first get connected with Gareth Emery and his team? What was the point when you decided, “Yes, this is a great fit for my vision, for his vision, for us to be a very cohesive team to create this.” When did those conversations start happening and when did you guys decide to fully go forward with it?
AG: I had been designing lasers and programming lasers for a couple of years, three years at this point, just as a freelance laser designer in Los Angeles. If the laser company or if a show needed something, they’d call me up, I’d come in, plug in a laptop, run the show and leave. I did that at Gareth’s show at The Shrine. He was different from most other artists; he had an ‘open-to-close’, all-night-set tour. For his show at the Los Angeles shrine, I spent days in a row listening to these six hour sets, learning as much of the music as possible. I had known ‘Concrete Angel’ and the other big hits that he’s had, but I wanted to perform with him as an artist and I did just that. I go to The Shrine, I run the lasers and Gareth was extremely happy with it.
I talked with them after the show and we decided to start seeing what we can do going forward in the future. I wanted to work with them again; I had a great time. A few months later, a tour management job was posted on Instagram, stating that he needed a tour manager and a VJ, the person that runs the visuals at the show. Obviously, I don’t do either of those things, but I wanted a full time job in the industry and I wanted to work with him again. I applied for the job, then as soon as I turned 21, he gave it to me.
AG: That was my career for a while. I was honestly just focusing on visuals and tour managing. He said when he originally hired me to be as a tour manager, “We’re not going to have lasers on every show, but I want you on every show.”
I almost took that as a challenge. “Try to hire me and not have lasers.”
AG: You know, I was just happy to make money, work in the industry and be in a more professional, full-time position. But lasers are my passion and when I quit recently as his tour manager and VJ, it was because of lasers. It’s just what I need to focus my time and energy on. Down the line, Gareth started asking, “Why do I have one of the world’s greatest laser designers as my tour manager and we haven’t done anything with lasers?”
And we slowly converted that into what is known today as Laserface; this idea for a two hour long, time-coded, crazy laser show.
FS: It is truly one of the best laser shows I, personally, have ever seen or experienced, and I have been to many festivals and shows over the last 10 years. You guys really have created something truly memorable, especially in the Trance world. When you are the first of your kind in a genre to create that experience, that is truly something legendary. That is such a crazy story too! You’ve been working with him for so long, so you guys clearly have a really strong relationship, it seems like. That’s everything; you need that bond to be able to have a bunch of creative minds working together.
AG: Exactly. And something between Gareth and myself, we have the same personality and it is known as the debater character. As well as we work together, we need to build up this team and to build up this incredible show so that we have more people to help us work together. Happy is so important; the working relationship has come together really well.
FS: Oh, that’s great to hear!
AG: Definitely. Like I said, I’m at Lost Lands right now and I’m still a freelance laser designer. I work with a whole scale of teams in this industry. I try to bring a lot of my experience and what I’ve learned from these other camps into my camp as much as possible so that we can mitigate. You know, we’re young and we don’t have as big of a budget; we don’t have as many shows as some of these other teams. I hope to bring in this experience that I have from these other camps to show our team how these other guys and these other artists are working with more money and with more shows. We can learn from mistakes and their successes.
FS: I can imagine it only helps having diverse work experience too.
AG: Yep, absolutely. Working as Gareth’s tour manager, as little as it had to do with lasers, it really helped me learn the other side of the industry. All the stressors that a production team can go under; it really keeps you on your toes ready to go into action against whatever stuff that they can throw against you. I learned a lot from that experience.
FS: Just getting in the more technical side of Laserface, how many total lights do you have to handle during the show? For some of our readers that probably don’t fully understand everything that goes into programming a laser show, can you also explain to them the process of how you select either a sequence of lasers or like color schemes for a track or for a certain transition? Could you just dive a little bit into the technicalities of programming the show?
AG: Honestly, it ranges how many we use, depending on budget and the size of the show. We typically have 16 to 32 audience standing lasers, which are lower powered laser projectors that go into the crowd and have specialized lenses on them, to break up the beam and make it softer on the eyes. And, in some countries, we require those lenses. And then we have 16 to 32 of the aerial lasers, which are the higher powered bright ones that go into the air with really tight beams. That is the general rig! How I designed the looks, the chases and the colors, it’s honestly up to me and I roll with artistic creativity that Gareth will throw my way. He will come in and review the laser shows, but almost everything is up to my 100% creative control, which I’m extremely appreciative for.
It really is just me sitting in front of the laptop with my headphones, the speakers cranked, listening to trance music and thinking, “What is the best cue that I can put for this part of the song? If it’s a slow breakdown, do I want to have a single wave of blue beams or does it work better with two waves of blue and white beams? Maybe a halfway of blue beams that change over to white beams at every beat? Or maybe two beats or every four beats or maybe every half beat?”
There’s so many different ways that I could edit lasers that fit a song. And that’s almost why Laserface exists. Because I could see the way that you could edit lasers and create a laser show, and I was upset that no one else was doing this for a trance show.
FS: This laser show is so fitting at trance shows, where sets can be very melodic and each song is like six minutes long. It’s visual storytelling.
AG: Exactly, like in the trance shows, you essentially have these beautiful, slow moments and you have these incredibly fast drops. Not even programming a laser show on a timeline with all these different effects and synchronicity, if you just hit the breakdown and hit the drop, you’re already one of the top one percentile laser guys out there. Given the pallet of a whole trance song to create a look over two hours of music, exactly what you said. It just gave me so many opportunities to use both sides of the lasers and to play with the music.
FS: Do you use different companies for the actual lasers, the products that you use? Or do you have favorite vendors? And how do you go about selecting the lasers that you’re going to use for each show? I’m sure that’s also depending on budget.
AG: It’s all about the budget. There’s not a single laser company in the country, or in the world, that can provide all the lasers for Laserface. There is no one that has the amount of equipment and the specialty of audience-standing lasers that can provide what we need. We have to work with multiple companies anyway. At which point, it is just a week or so of me having a spreadsheet, entering everyone’s different prices for lasers, how much labor is going to cost, the shipping and then comparing and matching what equipment we get from what company.
I, myself, am focused right now on starting a laser company and getting my own equipment. From the start, this has been something I’ve wanted to do and something that would completely change the way that Laserface is created. Right now, I’m programming with my laptop and then I don’t get to see what the show looks like until just an hour or two before the show where we have the equipment finally set up. I’m spending my time and my energy sometimes programming shows for three to four days in a warehouse for my other clients and I get to see everything as I build it. Whereas Laserface, I’m programming with just my computer screen. I really hope to get the lasers going in the next year or so, so that I can provide my lasers for the show and then run my business with them too.
FS: And that would just have everything under your control. When you have to match up different laser equipment with another company, I’m sure there can be a lot of room for errors. So if you could just streamline the whole thing under your own company, that would probably take a lot of stress off of you as well.
AG: Exactly. It’s variable cost, variable projector quality, the equipment that it takes to plug them in and get them all networked. Sometimes they arrive at different times; they come with different accessories. There are many, many reasons why we should get our own equipment versus using others. It’s just too many variables up in the air that using someone else’s equipment doesn’t help out with.
FS: Like you said, everything is pretty much up to your discretion of how you want everything to look in the lasers could be laid out. Where do you personally find inspiration for these Laserface shows, and do you have anyone else in the industry that you look to or any other team since you are working for a variety of festivals and other clients as well?
AG: I mean, there’s no pure, single source of inspiration. A lot of the Laserface set up is just me putting the lasers where I think they’re going to be the brightest, the most visual, etc. A lot of venues will throw out different experiences and different issues for set up. For example, DreamState is a very tall stage. For us to get that entire height of the stage, we had to spread out the lasers a little bit more than I wanted it to. Whereas, Ibiza has small stages but long venues so you can kind of condense the lasers more, but you have to fan them out so that they can spread the beams across. I kind of have a good plan in my head, and then when I get there I do the final 20% to make sure that it looks good in the room.
For my inspiration for people that just inspired me, Richard Gonzalves, who did the lasers for Zedd. I was at that show, front and center, in Los Angeles when I first moved there in 2013, staring at the lasers, perfectly in sync, thinking, “This is what I’m going to do. This is my future job.’ And a month and a half later, Richard had me on tour with Zedd, so that was pretty sick! For a year and a half later.
FS: To go from that moment where you’re thinking, “Okay, this is what fulfills me, this is my passion,” to a month later actually fulfilling that with the artists that you went to see and with the designer that you were inspired by. That is so incredibly special.
AG: It was a mind blowing experience for me.
FS: On par with that, what has been the biggest reward for you since creating and crafting this show with Gareth and your whole team? What is your takeaway from this whole experience so far?
AG: I think the shows’ leaving experiences. I already struggle myself to appreciate them and to smile during the shows. As much as I want to say, “This ‘x’ show was such a good time, this ‘x’ show is such a good time,” they really are quick and I have a lot of things on my mind. It’s hard for me to focus on them. I think that the greatest thing about this show is the comments and the messages that I get weeks and months after, when people still saying, “Hey, that was a fun show. When are you coming back to this venue?” That support keeps me going on the slow months when we don’t have any Laserface shows and I’m working on commercials, or something like that. And people are sending me messages, just telling me how much they love the show… that warms my heart more than anything else — the fact that we created this thing that, months later, people are still thinking about.
FS: Well of course we are going to remember it. When people go to festivals and reminisce on their memories, they remember the exact sets they were at, they remember who they were watching, they remember the songs that were playing, who they were with, etc. So, you guys definitely help create memories that last forever for fans. I love that you want to keep sharing these experiences with us and keep providing this for the people who spend their hard-earned money to see your shows… I’m so glad to hear that you all cherish that as well. As a fan and avid festival attendant myself, it’s really cool to hear that that’s how you all feel fulfilled.
AG: That’s where I look at it too. We provide a value to this industry. What do we want to get out of it? First and foremost, I want to give the best show possible for the fans. I want to give the best experience as possible, but also, have my ears open to whatever they think needs to be changed or whatever they suggest, just to make the experience better. Not only how the show looks but also, you know, where the bathrooms are at in some venues, or what time Gareth goes on. I’m learning, too. We’ve only been doing this for a few years and it’s a very niche industry. Whatever the fans can help me out with, I appreciate.
FS: Because without them, there would be none of this at all!
FS: It’s just a beautiful community. I am so grateful to be able to help shine the light on the incredible teams that are putting together these lifelong experiences for fans. Sharing this with our community is something very special for me as well.
As I can imagine, a plethora of up and coming designers and engineering creatives are looking to get into the production side of the music industry. I’m sure they are looking to you and your team, now more than ever, after bringing Laserface all over the world and headlining a festival for the first time last year. Is there any piece of advice that you wish you knew starting out as a production hand and a laser designer? What would you share with someone looking to this interview, hoping to find some sort of inspiration or push of hope? I know it’s a very, very competitive industry as well.
AG: I’m very happy that you’re asking this question. I’ve actually gotten a few times on Instagram, this week specifically, but also since the beginning of time. People ask me, “How do you do what you do? Where do I go to school? What do I need to buy?”
First and foremost, there’s no school. There’s no laser school. I don’t know how people have the idea of laser school, but there’s no laser school [laughing]. The most important thing you can do, as someone young getting into this industry, is to be as self-sustaining as possible. If there is software that you need to learn, like for us lasers, it’s called BEYOND by Pangolin, Resolume if you’re a VJ, Cinema 4D if you’re making visuals… Whatever it is, go out, get it and buy it. Don’t wait for a company to give you access to it.
If you want to learn lights, buy some lights. If you want to learn lasers, buy some lasers. They’re extremely expensive though, I’m sorry, it’s not my job [laughing]. If you want to run visuals, buy a laptop because no company out there is going to give an 18-year-old the experience of running a show.
The days that made or broke me, the ones where I learned the most, was when I had a laser and the software to myself in my bedroom. I would just spend every single day throughout the summer programming, creating new looks and trying to teach myself things.
I’m totally self-taught on lasers. I’ve had people that have inspired me and showed me things, but I never learned from a company or had a class on that. And I really think that that’s how everyone should do it: learn how you use the programs, learn your own shortcuts. Then, once you get on these gigs and start with one of these companies, that’s when you can get the motivation to learn the more professional side of things.
FS: That makes sense. You can sit down with someone and they can teach you everything, but little shortcuts and a little workflow habits that work for them are not going to work for you and your brain. Plus you don’t want to rely solely on a teacher or a mentor. As great as they are, they’re not always going to be there.
AG: Exactly. And I learned that pretty early on with working with some shady characters in the industry and people that don’t have my interests as their first priority, which is understandable. But I saw myself as the laser designer and I needed to focus and work on that as quickly and as hard as possible. When you have your own equipment and your own software, no one can stop you. I would say that the most important thing for someone getting started, is to be self sustaining. Take care of yourself and get your own gigs.
Often, I think about how lucky our generation is. We are the first to be able to experience the visual masterpieces of lights, lasers and sounds due to the minds of those like Anthony Garcia and everyone on his Laserface team. He creates for himself, but most importantly, he is creating these experiences for the fans. The Laserface team is an example to the rest of the industry: they push each other and inspire all of those who get to experience the Laserface show first-hand.
You can keep up with Antony and the Laserface madness on Instagram, @nicelasers, @laserface_ and @garethemery.
The Laserface masterpiece show is coming to The Armory in Minneapolis for a Halloween special on October 26th. If you want to witness the most memorable live laser show of this century, you won’t miss this show.