Inside Arcadia

As thousands of hungover music fans trudge home from Glastonbury 2017, many of them will be considering what their personal highlights are following a five-day festival of music, comedy, performance and art. But one of the most memorable moments, especially for first-timers, will undoubtedly be the Metamorphosis show by Arcadia Spectacular – the fire-breathing 50-tonne robotic spider with a DJ booth built from jet-engine blades.

While Arcadia gained its notoriety at Glastonbury Festival, it now tours around the world, racking up an impressive number of festival appearances across the globe, including the USA’s Ultra Music Festival in Miami and Gravity Thailand, Bangkok. In case you still aren’t sure exactly what it is – or you missed it at Glastonbury! – we’d like to take a look at The Spider’s technical genius, as well as exploring the other elements that make this audio-visual installation such a unique one.

The Spider 

Asked last year – in an article by The Independent – whether there’s a political message in their use of ex-military scrap metal, Arcadia founders Pip Rush and Burt Cole explained: “We try not to get too preachy within our work, but repurposing materials that were originally designed for destructive ends into creative installations that bring joy and unity does underpin a lot of what we do.”

Used to create The Spider, these ex-military scraps include spy plane engines (the eyes), helicopter tails (the body) and blades from a jet engine (the DJ booth), while other recycled materials include log grabbers used as ‘claws’ and Customs and Excise scanning units for ‘legs’. The Spider’s body is then kitted out with lights, lasers, and flame cannons with a 50-foot reach, while the ‘arms’ consist of powerful CO2 fire jets. Finishing things off – delivering incredible audio results – is a 360* sound-field of PA speakers, often housed in a circle of flaming Victorian lampposts for that true steampunk aesthetic.

All of this results in a panoramic audio-visual installation of epic proportions – the ideal platform for Arcadia’s legendary performances.

The Afterburner

An alternative to the Spider is Arcadia’s Afterburner, a fully rigged stage that’s been used at Bristol’s Love Saves the Day and the Gravity Thailand events in Bangkok. Similar to the Spider, the Afterburner is a 360* stage built from recycled materials, but instead of a robotic spider, audiences dance beneath a flaming metal spire with lasers and lights that spiral out into the crowd. Meanwhile, the multi-level dance platforms and inward-facing sound system ensure that the audience is fully immersed in the music and the visuals.

The Bug

The Bug is a modified Alvis Stalwart military vehicle; an amphibious, six-wheeled mobile dance stage capable of entertaining as many as 3000 people. To create the Bug’s shell, Arcadia used recycled submarine moulds, which unfold to reveal wings that provide the basis for a stunning lightshow. Due to its mobile ability, the Bug was used as a dance stage in the closing ceremony of London’s 2012 Paralympics.

Lords of Lightning

Lords of Lightning is a collaboration between Arcadia and Carlos van Camp, a Tesla electricity specialist from New Zealand. Two podiums are raised above the stage, each housing a Tesla coil capable of generating four-million volts of electricity. Standing atop these platforms, two performers wear chainmail suits and hold metal spears, pretending to battle one another as electricity flows from podium to podium in sporadic bursts. This gives the effect of real lightning, as the bolts are long and vivid, providing crowds with an awesome visual display as they dance below.

Showtime: The Landing, Metamorphosis & The Finale

Not only is Arcadia an audio-visual experience, but the team has incorporated a narrative into their shows too. From the Landing to the Metamorphosis to the Finale, Arcadia Spectacular tells the story of an alien encounter, a dramatic transformation and an explosive finale.

This is performance art of the highest calibre, combining dance, lighting, video-mapping and, of course, music to tell a story of transformation and give the audience a night to remember. Aerial performers bring grace and femininity into the mix, flying through the air above the crowd like overexcited aliens, contrasting with the Spider’s angular metalwork. Alongside them, seven-foot mini-spiders attached to zip wires swing forth across a backdrop of LED-mapped visuals, pyrotechnics and robotics. And the Lords of Lightning generate super-charged electrical displays on their podiums.

Of course, all this would be mean nothing without the music. Luckily, Arcadia has a history of booking renowned DJs to grace its stages. Orbital, Beardy Man, Chase & Status, Skrillex and Fatboy Slim are just a few of the big-name artists to perform!