One thing you can never deny Yungblud is the effort and energy that goes into his shows. We speak to Sam Tozer, the creative director and show designer for the Doncaster artist, about devising the playful theatrics behind the arena concerts for ‘Yungblud: the world tour’.
It’s tough to envision exactly what the inside of Dom Harrison’s brain looks like. From the ever-present glint in his eye, quirky pink socks and maniacal grin, Yungblud radiates a sense of mayhem; the cheeky charmer is unpredictable to the core, always on the move, eager to explore fresh territories and unravel ambitious new ideas.
Yet whilst comprehending Yungblud’s psyche may seem like an impossible task, Creative Director Sam Tozer has it down to a fine art. Not only is Sam able to understand this weird and wild world , but he has also successfully translated this world into a live setting. Sam has allowed the ‘freak show’ to flourish on-stage, resulting in the quintessential Yungblud experience.
While the pair worked together in 2016, the duo have collaborated much more intimately on Yungblud’s most recent world tour. “I did some work with Dom in the past, but this time we really worked together,” Sam explains. “It’s the first time Dom has truly been able to design a show totally from scratch – he’s usually working at such a fast pace – but this time we sat down together and properly built it from the ground up.”
So, how does the collaborative process work? “Dom originally came up with a board of ideas; he wanted this big AC/DC-style, scaffold set piece, and he was certain he wanted a B-stage…” Sam tells us. “From there, I sort of came up with this Tim Burton-esque, grungy feel, and we ran with that.”
And the core the mission at hand? Providing fans with the most honest, accurate portrayal of Yungblud to-date. From moody downpours of rain, gorgeously animated short-stories, and a grimey 21st Century Liability inspired B-stage, the tour oozes Yungblud – and not a single inch of the set goes unconsidered. “I find that people will usually watch a show and that’s that; but if you actually dig deep, you’ll find so much more,” Sam insists.
“Even if you look back at photos from the shows, you’ll find the little Easter eggs… like on the Marshall amp, we’ve spray-painted the same logo he has on his jumper every day. And there’s a broken love heart behind the toilet seat, and behind the sink there’s a little note from his Instagram.”
Despite the intricate attention to detail, there was also a conscious effort to not overwhelm audiences. “The stage was designed to allow Dom to be front and centre,” Sam says. “One that Dom was certain about was that he didn’t want any screens. And, honestly, he’s such a big personality, he doesn’t need to have a scaled-up version of himself up on a screen. Dom is an artist who has enough charisma to fill an arena; he can control a room of that size easily on his own.”
With the big personality, of course, certain precautions also had to be made. “When we designed the sets, we had to make sure everything was you know…” he pauses to laugh, “…something Dom could play on if he wanted to.” During the show, Yungblud does indeed make the most of his on-stage playground – clambering onto the gritty loo as he sucks on a cig, or throwing his mic stand javelin-style, after spinning in dizzying circles. There’s a playfulness to the Yungblud live experience, something scrappy and chaotic, and designing a non-restrictive set is vital to allow Dom to run rampant.
Ultimately, Yungblud’s playful nature is what makes his shows so unique – as well as making Sam’s job quite different to anything else he’s done in the past. Previously serving as a show director and designer for acts like Swedish House Mafia, as well as working as a lighting designer for Muse, Little Mix, Bring Me The Horizon and more, the Yungblud experience is a very different beast.
“It’s quite refreshing because I think we’re on the same wavelength,” Sam reflects. “We’re in the same headspace; rather than just me coming up with an idea, it evolves between the two of us. It’s incredibly collaborative, and that’s what makes the show feel so Dom.” This symbiotic creativity also lies in a shared belief that no idea is a bad one, but instead is “a total free-for-all – there’s truly no limit to what crazy direction we can take.”
Without limitations, Sam and Dom were free to explore any avenue they pleased, resulting in a show that also takes many ideas from theatre. Originally hoping to work within theatre, Sam has been able to play with many ideas that may have otherwise been left untouched.
“It’s very much like a performance piece, especially with the B-stage moment. It’s so different than just watching a normal rock show. I love the Kabuki Drop during ‘Sex Not Violence’, when the back-curtain falls and you properly see all the metal scaffolding for the first time… I like how the whole show is so dynamic – it’s split into four acts, just like theatre.”
One of the biggest challenges with the shows, however, came in the form of intimacy. The poster child of the misfits, Yungblud’s music is something fans hold dear – and an arena runs the risk of stripping away that raw connection. Quite simply, a huge arena stage with thousands of seats (literally) distances the artists from their fans. “While a bigger room means more toys for me,” Sam admits, “the intimacy of a smaller room is nice for the performance side of things.”
With such a huge room, there was the question of how to make the show feel like a sweaty basement show with the answer being, of course, to unleash Dom into the crowd. “Dom always wants to put on a big rock show – when you’ve got 15,000 people singing songs back to you, nothing compares… but he was adamant about wanting to get up-close and personal.”
This is how Yungblud finds himself clambering into the seated area of the show night in, night out, or diving off-stage to quiz fans in the pit. The creation of the show was always collaborative, and that extends to the fans too. “There’s a moment in the show where Dom runs down to the fans and asks them to choose what song he should perform next,” Sam says. The choice is between ‘California’ and ‘Psychotic Kids’, and it helps keep the evening feeling fresh. “Even though it’s a narrowed-down choice, we never know which track is going to be picked – so every department has to be ready to go.” Indeed, nothing can keep Yungblud away from his fans.
Another task was keeping that excitement while also being environmentally conscious, Sam takes a moment to add. Sam points out the efforts made to keep the tour as environmentally friendly as possible. “There’s been a huge effort to be sustainable,” he explains. “The team have really pushed for that this tour. For example, we’re only using LEDs to try and keep the carbon footprint down on the show. We try not to have plastic bottles sold in the venues, and we’ve tried keep the pack-down to less trucks and such.”
So, the biggest show of Yungblud’s life has taken place, and it went off without a hitch. What does the future hold for the Tozer-Harrison dream team? “We’ve definitely got some crazy ideas in the bank…” Sam smiles. While he’s reluctant to disclose exactly what those are, all we can do is conspire… perhaps a Yungblud Marionette will be flying over our heads sometime soon.