Rebel Bass: The Making of the bassPOD
- Chris Muniz
If you’ve made the annual pilgrimage to EDC Las Vegas each year, we don’t even have to tell you that the bassPOD is life. You feel it in your bones, it has become part of your DNA. The L.A. Weekly called the bassPOD the “best stage at EDCLV 2015,” and it wasn’t just due to the top-notch PK Sound driven system, the heaving masses, or the world-class talent; it’s all of the above plus that mind-blowing stage that looks like a squad of battle-hardened spaceships that have just returned from a distant galaxy and are ready to rage right here on planet earth.
Designed by Heather Shaw and her Vita Motus design team, the most recent incarnation of the bassPOD is one of many high-tech, 360-degree interactive stages that she and her team have built over the years. Tapped for custom stage designs by everyone from Pharrell, Amon Tobin, and Infected Mushroom on through to American Idol, Coachella, Boom Festival, Lightning in a Bottle, and more, Heather and her team take the art of designing stages to an entirely new level, and the bassPOD seems to represent the very best of that credo.
“The bassPOD is very intriguing to me,” Heather explains. “The audience is one that has extreme passion for bass music and I love that the bassPOD can create an enveloping home to experience the music. We envisioned this particular design as a clan of robots that came down to earth to join us and surround us while we carry out our ritual event.”
Blurring the boundaries between the traditional stage/audience/performer relationship, the design that Heather and her team have dubbed the “Dirty Robots” is pure artistry in motion, especially when the music is full force, the crowd is jumping, lasers are firing, and flames are belching into the air.
Utilizing a three-tiered method—“hear, create, deliver”—with each project they design, Heather and her team utilize what she calls an “avant-garde approach” to discovering the true essence of a project. Once the story, inspiration and passion of the project are set in motion, the concept evolves naturally through a “sketch and review” stage that moves towards final fabrication and implementation.
“There is a ton about this particular stage that was inspired by working with Forrest [Hunt, Executive Producer at Insomniac/Bassrush],” says Heather. “We really wanted to make something that he could be proud of, and to help add to its ongoing evolution in a way that was special.”
For the bassPOD, the challenge was not only to manifest the murky sci-fi vibes of dubstep, trap, and drum & bass, but also to elevate beyond the already game-changing production values of EDC Las Vegas’ other stages.
Our goal was to not steer too far away from all the amazing tech, lighting and LED that had previously made up this stage, but to integrate a balance of the lighting and technology with sculpture, story and concept to hopefully stake a nice step in the evolution of the stage and brand.
“The first year we used these bots was the first year that the bassPOD had a big fabricated sculptural concept. In previous years, the focus was predominately tech heavy. Our goal was to not steer too far away from all the amazing tech, lighting and LED that had previously made up this stage, but to integrate a balance of the lighting and technology with sculpture, story and concept to hopefully stake a nice step in the evolution of the stage and brand.”
Central to that vision is the radial arrangement of the seven robots to create a 360-degree immersive experience. Standing 32-feet tall, four double-faced robots line the edges of the bassPOD floor while two 38-foot robots angle towards the audience on either side of the 54-foot mother ship where the DJs hold it down on center stage. Constructed entirely from aluminum, each robot has two “antennae” that belch fire and smoke along with 50-watt RGB lasers and Versa Tube linings that pulse with colors and patterns. Most notably their fronts and sides are LED surfaces that VT Pro Design can project mind-melting custom content at will.
Initial fabrication and construction of the stage began in March of 2015 with a short three-and-a-half month window, including two weeks on site to get everything ready for a June debut at EDCLV. “It was very exciting to see this year’s bassPOD with all of the elements we had planned—to have hit look like the initial drawings,” says Heather. “We also added more flames in 2016. The goal was to be able to shoot fire all night long, and the big shots of fire, the magma, that was two times an hour. The magma was shot from behind the mother robot behind the DJ. It [shot] 150-180 feet in the air.”
And what about that little extra dose of flames during Andy C’s set this past year? “One of the pyro units was failing. I do know what happened and I also know what will happen for future checks and balances, so even though that was exciting, don’t expect that to happen again.”
For now, the Dirty Robots are exclusive to EDCLV, which made us wonder where the stage hibernates when it’s not in use. Is it just sleeping in a warehouse in Vegas somewhere? “It is exclusively for bassPOD EDCLV, so yes, it sleeps in a warehouse in Las Vegas.”
And what about future iterations of EDC Las Vegas? Are there plans to change the look of the bassPOD similar to the way kineticFIELD changes year to year? “It will be hard to retire those guys, as I feel like they are now a character that is an iconic mark for a passionate group of people. To my knowledge, EDCLV will see these hexagon faces for at least one more year. I have to say I love our robots, but I can’t wait to try to evolve the bassPOD one more time and see what will come next.”
But what about the bassPOD tattoo I have across my back?! “Just leave space for the next evolution of the stage’s tattoo,” Heather says with a smile.
For now, fans of Heather’s work—or those who feel like stage design is an area they want to move into—should know that there is no straight career path. When asked what kind of advice she would give to those who want to follow in her footsteps, she suggests keeping your options open: “I think you can get here through a number of different avenues. I had no idea car design would lead me here, but it did. I think learning what I could design, about fabricating anything I wanted to fabricate, and being extremely passionate about music has basically led me here. I think if one studies up-to-date CAD software, design, architecture, production and fabrication, that’s a good start. I would also simply volunteer for some festivals and shows, and learn what you can about the process. Nothing is better than hands-on experience.”
Regardless of how she and her team got to where they are, the Bassrush family is forever grateful for the inspiring stage that she has brought to life.
“Before we go I want to thank Forrest, Bassrush, and Insomniac for giving us the opportunity to make something like this,” Heather says. “We are consistently trying to change things up for different clients and the unique world surrounding the bassPOD really gave us an opportunity to make something that we had never made before and challenged us and took us places where we definitely had not been.”