Courtesy Timeboy

Art & Architecture

Timeboy and the Art of Set Design

As soon as Timeboy picks up the phone, he tells me that he’s just seen The Room.  "Have you seen it?” he asks me. We delve into the merits of the cult classic, followed by a discussion of James Franco’s take on the original and then proceed to talking about jetlags, because Timeboy—whom I will now refer to by his given name, John King—and his wife have just returned from a trip to Berlin and he feels oh-so-wired and ready to tackle life early in the morning. This all happens within the first five minutes of our call.

That’s how King, a 33-year-old Los Angeles-based visual artist, composer and VJ, likes to conduct himself when being interviewed: He talks—a lot. Which is great when trying to profile him and, in a way, reflective of his artistry.

King started off as an EDM music maker but is now a producer, director, stage designer, video projection mapper and an expert in just about anything else that being an artist in the age of the Internet—an era in which everybody has access to everybody—demands of: He is a Jack of all trades. The characterization isn’t obscure to King, who seems to truly rejoice at doing multiple things at once. “The more tools that you have as part of your artistic arsenal, the farther you can take yourself at being independent,” he says. “My skill set grew naturally on its own just because of the necessity. I needed to learn all these different things for the given job. That is a game changer: Knowing a lot of different little skill sets.”

His open disposition and eagerness to tackle projects as they come is what landed him a gig with Kendrick Lamar back in 2013. “Kendrick Lamar was the opening act on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour,” he recounts. Hired on a recommendation made by EDM artist Flying Lotus, whose 2012 shows he worked on, King recalls his collaboration with Lamar fondly, as a great stepping stone to developing his artistic process. “Kendrick wanted to have a meaningful show but he was only limited to a small stage footprint for this massive stadium tour so we had to figure out what kind of impact we could create using this small stage footprint,” he remembers. “I developed a lot of respect for [Lamar’s] determination and passion for his live show.”
When prompted about his methods and inspirations, especially when discussing stage design, King is adamant about highlighting the importance of familiarizing himself with both his clients and their work—and the necessary research required to develop a concept and then constructing a stage. “Getting to know what inspired their last album, a memorable experience they had, what their last tour was like, trippy visuals they saw somewhere, a movie they love the aesthetic of—all these things help facilitate deeper connections that I depend on when manifesting initial concepts or ideas,” he writes in an email following our phone conversation. “I hone in on a stronger aesthetic when we sync up on the same wavelength.”

Take Tchami’s 2016 Coachella show that King worked on, a beautiful play on lights and colors that undoubtedly enhances the DJ's presence at the center of the stage. “I wanted to transform the huge array of LED screens for the Sahara Stage into an iconic temple-lice structure,” he explains. “To do this, I not only spent a lot of time researching medieval architecture and gothic facades, but I also worked with the Coachella team to recreate a 3D scale model of the Sahara stage; which was vital when illustrating my proposal.”In a way, the “concert” is the most cohesive presentation of all of King’s crafts, allowing him to display his diverse expertise in a single bombastic package. When asked whether he agrees with the statement or not, the artist settles on a “yes” and starts ruminating on the ways in which the concert experience has shifted, reflected and molded our culture throughout the years. “Adding visual elements to a show has becoming super mainstream now,” he happily acknowledges, given the industry’s resulting need for visual experts like himself. “People are now wiring their expectations of a music show to have this massive lighting, this massive visual accompaniment,” he continues. “The pros and cons are interesting. Back in the day, it used to be a little bit more boring but now you can have an hour-and-a-half-long experience because people are encapsulated by the visuals as well as the music, so it kind of changed the game when it came to VJs, especially [for] EDM music. I think we’ve become now even more desensitized to these massive spectacle shows.”
Does he expect things to change soon, forcing him to master yet another trade? “I just worry that if people become so adjusted to that type of show,” he thinks out loud, “Well, can you strip that stuff away and still appreciate the music?” Weirdly—given the fact that the bigger the spectacle, the greater the chance of his hiring—King actually seems hopeful about a future solely dedicated, or at least mostly dedicated, to music. “Maybe, people will rebel against a huge visual spectacle and will want to do something a bit more minimal so that people can relate to the music,” he says. “That will actually be a nice break: Once the whole spectacle thing kind of dies down, maybe artists will end up doing strictly musical performances just so that they can pass that musical message on without all the other distractions.” Wishful thinking indeed.

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