The 1975’s ‘At Their Very Best’ isn’t just an arena rock tour. Wrapped within a sprawling two-storey house that screams both ‘90s sitcom’ and ‘Tennessee Williams play,’ the show is split into two acts. The first is a high concept meditation on the tortured artist trope, the relationship between art and consumerism and the modern masculinity crisis, in which frontman Matty Healy eats raw steak and does topless push-ups in front of a TV flashing images of Prince Andrew and misogynist grifter Andrew Tate; the second a more traditional parade of hits. Dramatising the subject matter and self-awareness of their songwriting, ‘At Their Very Best’ first challenges what a pop show should be – and then fulfils the bargain. As Healy has announced to audiences from the stage: “Welcome to the show about the show.”
Central to bringing all this to life is the award-winning light, stage and conceptual designer Tobias Rylander. A long-time collaborator of The 1975, Rylander worked closely with Healy from the beginning of the process.
“Matty is very creative in his thinking with never-ending interesting ideas,” Rylander tells Huck of how the concept came about. “He thinks ART when he creates and is also a very talented actor. I visited the band when they were recording their album and we spoke a lot about the theatre and how they wanted to encapsulate that into their tour.”
Keen to bring the process of a recording studio and rehearsing songs to the stage, the band and Rylander first came up with the idea of a room that could transform – as with a theatre production – which then led to the idea of the house.
“We theoretically wanted the set to be anyone’s house, due to the monochromatic nature of the design,” says Rylander. “We wanted to make sure that anyone could take a photo from anywhere in the audience, and it would be a great shot. The goal was to create a strong visual identity for each song, so that each song was able to be recognised from a single photograph.
“The house and street lamp are inspired by the artwork for their popular single ‘Falling For You’ and each lyric book on the house’s bookshelf represents each song on the set list,” he adds.
Sustainability was also at the forefront of the design: “We wanted to create as little landfill as possible. The house you see is modular and it can therefore ‘put it back on the shelf’ once the tour is over.”
The result is one of the most ambitious and innovative set designs in recent memory. It's also birthed perhaps the most iconic house in guitar music history since American Football's 1999 debut album (the Midwestern emo legends will, incidentally, be joining The 1975 for their biggest-ever headline show at London's Finsbury Park in July).
With songs sung from the roof lit by a single street lamp, a spiral staircase leading to nowhere, and the doorway lighting up in homage to the neon rectangle used in previous 1975 artwork and tours, the set is used to full effect – both as a physical space, and as an extension of the band’s lore.
“This tour is a continual evolution of the band and their creativity," says Rylander. "Most shows nowadays are full of big lights and LED screens, this was the complete opposite. We didn’t know whether people were going to like it or whether it would work. This tour is a celebration of where the band started to where they are now. We opted for a more organic, living and breathing set which provided me with the perfect opportunity to hide the lighting rather than showcase it.”