Stufish Reflects On Rolling Stones Stage Designs Ahead Of ‘Sixty’ Tour
The Rolling Stones are playing European stadiums this summer as part of their “Sixty” tour, and they selected long-time partners Stufish Entertainment Architects to design the stage.
The “Sixty” stage design remains top secret until the tour kicks off at Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in Madrid, Spain, June 1 (all dates below). In the meantime, Stufish decided to recall all of the other iconic Rolling Stones stage designs the London-based company has been responsible for.
See: Rolling Stones Announce European Stadium Tour ‘Sixty’
“Sixty” marks Stufish’s tenth tour with the legendary band. The journey with the Rolling Stones began in the 1980s with the late Mark Fisher, who founded Stufish Entertainment Architects.
Since then, the company has become synonymous with the biggest stage spectacles in music history. Aside from its work with The Rolling Stones, Stufish has created some of the most innovative experiences in popular culture, from U2’s 360° claw to Beyonce & Jay-Z’s OTR II floating stage.
Today, Ray Winkler leads the company as CEO. Commenting on Rollings Stones collaboration number 10, he said, “Stufish Entertainment Architects are honored to return as the stage designers for The Rolling Stones upcoming tour ‘SIXTY.’ We are delighted to play our part over the years creating spectacular designs for The Stones to entertain their fans across the world. We look forward to celebrating the band’s 60th anniversary this summer across Europe.”
To mark The Rolling Stones 60th anniversary and upcoming tour, Stufish looks back at all their iconic designs and moments over the years. All photos courtesy of Stufish Entertainment Architects.
“Steel Wheels” (1989)
Kicking off their first big tour together, ‘Steel Wheels’ was a dystopian vision of a post-industrial era, designed to look like a derelict steel mill. The Design incorporated stylistic references to films such as “Blade Runner” and the cyberpunk novels of William Gibson.
At eight stories high, the stage was an architectural feat never seen before, stretching the full width of any stadium it encountered – a distance of over 300 feet. Erected by crews of up to 100 men, the stage was flanked on each side by towers measuring 80-feet-high, which Mick Jagger appeared on for the song “Sympathy for the Devil.” A throwback to the band’s 1969 single “Honky Tonk Women,” a pair of 60-feet-tall inflatable Honky Tonk women were inflated from balconies during the song. The set design was reconfigured for Europe using the same dystopian vernacular and renamed Urban Jungle.
“Voodoo Lounge” (1994)
In 1994, Stufish returned for the “Voodoo Lounge” tour, which became the highest grossing tour of any artist at that time. Fit enough for rock royalty, the stage was a mammoth structure at 220 feet wide, 92 feet high and made of 170 tonnes of steel.
The tour was given the working title of “Gigabyte City,” as the stage design presented the audience with an alternative future, a place filled with computers. The giant cantilevering structure arced over the band and was aptly named “The Cobra” and provided dramatic lighting positions for Patrick Woodroffe to light the band with.
“Bridges To Babylon” (1997)
Three years later in 1997, The Rolling Stones were back on the road for the “Bridges to Babylon” tour, which became the second highest grossing tour at that time, behind 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” tour.
“Bridges to Babylon” was designed to be a vizualisation of the Seven Deadly Sins. Reminiscent of Baroque architecture, gilded columns and inflatable sculptures of corpulent naked women were placed around the stage, with a large circular video screen in the centre. At a staggering 46 meters long, a telescoping cantilever bridge connected the band from the main stage to the B stage – creating a literal bridge to Babylon.
The Bridge was an engineering tour de force that had to overcome many technical and logistical challenges but, in the end, defined the bands ability to entice the audience by performing in the centre of the stadium with no apparent way of getting there and back.
“Forty Licks” (2002)
In support of their 40th anniversary compilation album Forty Licks, The Rolling Stones were back at it again for 2002’s “Forty Licks” worldwide tour. Surpassing “Bridges to Babylon,” it became the second-highest grossing tour at that time, behind the band’s own “Voodoo Lounge” tour.
For this tour, Stufish created a skeletal, stripped-down stage made from trusses and lights that transformed into a large billboard for the band. Artwork commissioned by American artist Jeff Koons, slowly revealed itself on the billboard during the show. The custom-made collage by Jeff Koons measured over 200 feet wide and 80 feet tall. The collage was printed on 13 roller blinds that concealed a large tracking video screen, which was constructed as eight self-propelled separated columns at 10 feet wide and 40 feet tall. The screens could track from their stored position behind the stage to their show position immediately above and behind the band. Sheltering the band from the elements, The Stones played beneath an 80 feet wide transparent roof that cantilevered 35 feet outwards in front of the roller blind wall.
“A Bigger Bang” (2005)
In August 2005, The Rolling Stones embarked on their worldwide “A Bigger Bang” tour and Stufish’s fifth show with the band. For this tour, members of the audience were placed behind the band in boxes built into expressionist balconies that formed a streamlined back wall to the stage.
Centerd between the balconies was a large high-resolution LED video screen and upstage, panels of low-resolution LED videos were used to create a luminous backdrop to silhouette the opera audience. The primary structure of the stage was made of steel and was organized into two lines of masts and trusses that supported the balconies.
Three sets of the primary steelwork were created for “A Bigger Bang,” which “leapfrogged” between sets to facilitate the many dates on the two-year tour. A simplified version based on a scaffolding structure clad in expressive fabric pieces toured throughout South America and culminated in a massive open air concert on the Copacabana Beach in Rio.
“50 & Counting” (2012)
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Rolling Stones, the “50 & Counting” arena tour was launched in 2012 and ended in the summer of 2013. To mark the occasion, Stufish translated the iconic Rolling Stones logo into the stage design, providing the perfect setting for the anniversary tour.
Giant inflatable lips framed the video screen that tied in with the curving stage to complete the famous voluptuous lips, which have been a staple across the band’s 50-year history. During the show, the lips deflated to reveal a cleaner more modern look for the second part of the band’s performance.
“14 On Fire” (2014)
The follow-up to the “50 & Counting” tour was “14 On Fire,” marking Stufish’s seventh tour with The Rolling Stones, which started on Feb. 21, 2014. Stufish’s stage design for the tour included an elaborate multi-layered fascia and was specially designed to tour outdoor venues across Europe and Australia. To create a bespoke identity for the show, exterior panels were used, layered with different materials integrated with LED lighting.
Stones Production: ‘18 Hours To Pull It Down’
“No Filter” (2017)
Stufish’s most recent show with The Rolling Stones concluded with 2017’s epic “No Filter” tour, which kicked off in Hamburg, Germany. The set design for the tour was a cool display of clean and modern simplicity, stripped of any superfluous décor, a dramatic departure from any previous Rolling Stones show.
Stufish addressed the concept by looking at what the band had not done before, which was a very modernist design. Instead of one large video screen, the “No Filter” tour included four monolithic towers of video screens, which stood 22 meters tall. The design of the stage moved away from the usual 2D appearance of LED screens, by including a LED return to each side of the four monolithic screens to give a unique 3D slab like look.
Hovering heroically over the band was a cantilever roof that extended 40 feet and 60 feet wide. A simple T-shaped catwalk and B-stage was created that took the action deep into the audience, complementing the minimalist approach of the “No Filter” tour.
See: How The Rolling Stones’ ‘No Filter Tour’ Became 2021’s Highest Grossing Tour And An Industry Beacon
To be continued…
The Rolling Stones “Sixty” European tour:
June 1 – Wanda Metropolitano Stadium – Madrid, Spain
June 5 – Olympic Stadium – Munich, Germany
June 9 – Anfield Stadium – Liverpool, UK
June 13 – Johan Cruijff Arena – Amsterdam, Netherlands
June 17 – Wankdorf Stadium – Bern, Switzerland
June 21 – San Siro Stadium – Milan, Italy
June 25 – American Express Presents BST Hyde Park – London, UK
July 3 – American Express Presents BST Hyde Park – London, UK
July 11 – King Baudouin Stadium – Brussels, Belgium
July 15 – Ernst Happel Stadium – Vienna, Austria
July 19 – Groupama Stadium – Lyon, France
July 23 – Hippodrome Parislongchamp – Paris, France
July 27 – Veltins-Arena – Gelsenkirchen, Germany
July 31 – Friends Arena – Stockholm, Sweden