Slowthai performing on a house on stage

Set design for Slowthai aims to "create a show that feels like a nightmare"

Stage designer Lewis James invited the audience to have a peek inside British rapper Slowthai's subconscious by creating a home that represents his mind for the set design of his recent gig in London.

Slowthai, real name Tyron Kaymone Frampton, performed a 19-song show on a simple, stripped-back set created by London-based designer Lewis James for Slowthai's show at the O2 Academy in Brixton, the final of the artist's UK tour.

He performed the majority of the gig on the roof of a house pitched at a 17-degree angle, an unusually steep and difficult angle to perform on.

A stream of videos played in the background while dazzling red and white lights and pyrotechnics, including fire cannons and smoke machines, created turbulent effects downstage.

Slowthai standing on the roof of a house on stage
Lewis James turned the stage into a house for Slowthai's tour

"We wanted to create a show that feels like a nightmare and stage that makes the idea of 'hell is home' really strong and brutally blunt," James told Dezeen.

"We were using that house as a home for the subconscious mind and all those thoughts that live inside your head of being trapped, feeling anxious and angry and then extreme happiness."

Slowthai standing in front of a video of himself
The stage is meant to reflect the rapper's innermost thoughts

The set was designed to mirror the Northampton rapper's hedonistic self-titled second album, Tyron, which explores themes of mental health, class, relationships and partying.

The designer wanted the stage at times to be understood as a "constraining environment" whilst also capturing the free-spirited excitement associated with climbing rooftops.

A rapper performing on stage at O2 Brixton
Blackout fabric was used around the edges of the stage to create a black box

"We switched up the lighting and the video throughout to feel like there were more contrasting moments and hopefully it came across in the show that there were like different chapters," James explained.

"The idea is that it's a sort of protected environment that he's created for himself but also, it could be seen as a constraining environment," he added.

James, who has previously designed shows for musicians including Post Malone, began working with Slowthai on the show three months ago.

To create the set, he worked with curtain hire company Blackout to create a secluded box around the stage. Its sides and entrance points were covered in a black cloth fabric, preventing any light from filtering through.

The designer then constructed a roof with a chimney at the back of the stage.

lLwis James' set design for Slowthai
Videos of Slowthai played upstage

"We had the whole deck covered in fabric, which had to be millimetre-perfect with perfectly tight seams so that there was no light lead," James said. "It was a very delicate design."

"The sides were this white block cloth that lights really nicely from the other side and we had lights all the way around the back."

A rapper crouching on stage on a house
The roof was pitched at a 17-degree angle. Photo is by Lewis James

The accompanying videos that played behind the rapper as he performed were shot like music videos in a studio in Northampton. The films depict scenes of ultrasound scans – a nod to the birth of the singer's son – and Slowthai angrily banging his head on glass screens, juxtaposed with more calming images of floating clouds.

James hoped that the visuals would remind the audience that the stage serves as a metaphor for Slowthai's mind.

"It's a space within Tyron's mind that he's built for himself and the visuals are hidden behind the doors, so it looks like Tyron's larger self is looking in," he added.

Slowthai has been touring his 13-date Hell is Home show in cities across the UK and Ireland since March this year. The final show saw the artist perform in Brixton on Thursday.

Other creative set designs for musicians include London-based Tawbox studio's set for British rapper Dave's Psychodrama tour which was heavily influenced by the way audiences light up the stage and record gigs with their phones.

At Glastonbury, Stormzy performed on a set by Tawbox that honoured the rapper's south London roots with visuals that referenced Croydon's Brutalist architecture.

Project credits:

Show video design: Uncanny
Creative direction: Lewis Rest and Lewis James
Lighting design: Michael Straun

Photography is by George Muncey unless stated otherwise.

More images

James Lewis' set design for Slowthai
James Lewis' set design for Slowthai
James Lewis' set design for Slowthai
James Lewis' set design for Slowthai