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ZHU Brings ‘Grace’ to the Road

By PLSN Magazine
Dec 16, 2023, updated Jan 29, 2024
 ZHU Brings ‘Grace’ to the Road

ZHU's 'Grace' tour recently wrapped with three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Palladium. The design duo of Andrew Dugan & Lorcan Clarke utilized a lighting & video package from 4Wall LA that featured ROE Vanish V8T transparent LED video panels and 120 light fixtures. The article below was originally posted on PLSN's website here.

Ever since 2014 when Chinese American electronic music producer and singer Steven ZHU stepped out from behind a voluntarily imposed mask of anonymity, the artist has expanded, shifted, morphed, and melded jazz, pop, blues, and electronica into a unique form that has to be experienced live. The GRAMMY®-nominated artist chose to record his latest album at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The iconic church has previously hosted artists such as Art Garfunkel, Vince Guaraldi, and Duke Ellington. At the end of ZHU's recording sessions he put on a concert inside the cathedral. Longtime design team Andrew Dugan (Production Designer and Manager), Lorcan Clarke (Lighting Designer and Director), and Video Director Elan Oatway, utilizing the inherent beauty of the church and its architecture, created a space to capture the unique audio recordings for the album. That architecture and space at Grace would greatly influence the tour design that followed.

Scaling the Heights

Produced by Live Nation, ZHU's headlining, The Grace Tour kicked off in Toronto and brought ZHU to major cities North American cities throughout this fall, including Brooklyn, Chicago, and San Francisco before wrapping in Los Angeles with two nights at the Hollywood Palladium. At every venue throughout the tour ZHU wanted to optimize the height of the set, while maintaining the integrity and feel of the intimacy the cathedral provided. "Sketches were passed back and forth," recalls Dugan, "Until we landed on something great, which accomplished that vision and, of course, work within our budgets. I designed the stage with the influence from ZHU. We wanted to recreate the feel of the cathedral altar, while also incorporating strong elements of the latest production tricks and tech. The show is meant to feel as live as possible while also slamming pinpoint accuracy in programming and a clean aesthetic visually." Clarke adds, "For the concert in the cathedral we had staged one huge 16' tower way up and far (into the nave) behind the altar. It was the centerpiece of the whole video shoot and the only 'disco lights' if you will, that were visible."

With that image in mind and ZHU's blessing, three PXL towers each were staged left and right of ZHU's performance platform for the touring system. "He loved how these mimicked the look and feel of the columns and the arches that made up the cathedral walls," smiles Clarke.

Taking Ideas into Reality

In pulling this together Dugan and Clarke worked under the guidance of their artist, says Dugan. "Designing with ZHU is heavily guided by his visions. He is a phenomenal idea person and in the grand scheme of the design process provides plenty of feedback to get things going initially. We just build it and adapt it to reality."

Dugan continues, pointing out, "I think having a product like the ROE Vanish tile as a video surface was absolutely essential to accomplishing all of these different looks within the same set design. There's a lot of different ways to utilize the basic uses of Vanish capabilities. We can do lighting blow-through looks behind it and the band is hidden for portions of the show, so we play a lot with various band member reveals."

Overall, the design was driven by linear pixel battens. Clarke says, "I found the newest, the best and the brightest, fastest moving available in the CHAUVET PXL16. They're bright as hell. In fact, they're almost too bright!" he laughs. "A lot of the shows, especially in the smaller venues, I'd have a group master just to keep those lights down to 10%." Aside from all their visual qualities Clarke found the PXL16s to be an equally roadworthy luminaire, holding up consistently under the strenuous conditions of touring, he notes, "Now, obviously, we went for the classic [Robe] MegaPointe. They deliver a really good beam as well as having all your classic gobos. The MegaPointe delivers far more flexibility. I think they are still probably the best hybrid fixture out there." Clarke also comments, "Dugan came up with the idea, from uplighting the altar back in the cathedral, to add a CHAUVET Solo Batten underneath the stairs of the altar. They're kind of an older fixture but they're really bright and did the job really well. The Solos put out this big glow; keeping everything somewhat mysterious but visible."

Performing Inside a Cube

To light the band playing inside the cube structure, which measured 5' x 12' x 6', proved a bit of an issue as the space was very small. Clarke placed 13 Astera Titan Tubes in with the band and, "They worked really well," says the designer. "I think probably the coolest kit on the whole rig were the Martin MAC Ultras. Essentially, we had three behind the band for chases and strobes, and then we placed one dead center behind ZHU on top of the center tower. Like I've said, the Ultra gobos and especially the sharpness of the focus you could get at all zoom ranges with them is just incredible. They're pretty damn new. I've used them a bunch of times on other shows, and I think they're the best profile fixture out there. They have a really strong shaper system that I use sometimes during the show to curve off the bottom gobo going through the video wall and then bring it back down so you can see the top half of this body backlit. Then as the song progresses you can see the bottom half."

For ZHU's shows Clarke says he focuses more on listening to each individual song; painting a picture to match the emotion in the song. "I'm just trying to match the feeling and evolving nature of the song using the lights at my disposal. This is instead of programming a million super intricate cues that are all just on the beat anytime. I've really tried to create more powerful looks on this run."

Continues Clarke, "A lot of my background prior to coming to work with ZHU was DJ stuff where there is one guy on the stage. So, it's got to be high energy, and everything really needs to overwhelm. With ZHU, there is a lot more texture to the sounds and with a live band on stage, I think it's more important people are listening to the music as opposed to being punched by the lights."

Regarding achieving their overall vision with ZHU, Dugan says, "ZHU has a defined aesthetic, but we want to keep it punk rock and organic. Finding that balance of a big EDM show while blending the organic attributes of the band performing is our secret sauce. Keeping that merging path cohesively bound together is our biggest guiding force."

Flexible Venue Approach

The usual challenges of putting a show into a different building every night were overcome by a heavy investment in time amongst the key players before tour startup. They were never caught flatfooted or blindsided. "Honestly it was pretty smooth sailing; no major hiccups," comments Dugan. "We did a LOT of pre-production calls with all the different teams before we left for rehearsals to refine the best way-a smarter way-to execute the design and build each day."

Venues did vary, from a 1,000-seater to the 8,500 capacity Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. "That has been challenging, but we developed four different rig setups to fit the various venues prior to rehearsal," says Dugan. For his part, Clarke programmed the entire show and went out to operate and direct. Along with programming the main show, which was timecoded, he spent time in pre-production adapting to the three other setup scenarios. "I personally think you often get a better result when the programmer is the guy running the show," says Clarke. "I did a lot of that on the front end which made the day-to-day super easy."

ZHU's platform performance cube is a  space which has a drum kit, a saxophone, and a guitar player; compact yet still comfortable for the musicians. Also inside, Dugan placed several Marshall CV506 cameras which capture the musicians and feed live I-Mag that plays on the cube wall and house I-Mag screens when available. A three-layered step surrounds the cube, mimicking the ascension way to the altar in Grace Cathedral. ZHU and the guitarist or sax player sit on these steps to perform acoustically at points in the show. Clarke has underlit these altar step surfaces with COLORado Battens.

Both Dugan and Clarke give high accolades for their production crew and vendors, which included lighting and video from 4Wall Entertainment and staging and scenery from Accurate Staging. "We've had a great experience with 4Wall LA and Todd Koval," says Dugan. "Will Meyer did all of our drafting for us and had everything prepped properly and has been a massive help. Then I definitely always give a shout-out to Joe Castellanos with Accurate Staging who helped bring the entire structure to life and cut all the fascia." Adds Clarke, "I'd like to give a shout out to Akash Bartlett. He was the Lighting Tech on the tour and has been getting the rig up perfectly every single day without a hiccup. He's been absolutely amazing."


  • Creative Director: ZHU
  • Tour Manager: Kyle MacKinnon
  • Production Designer/Manager: Andrew Dugan
  • Lighting Designer/Programmer: Lorcan Clarke, Owl Vision LLC
  • Video Director: Elan Oatway
  • Lighting Tech: Akash Bartlett
  • Lead Video Tech: Vandevrn "Bong"
  • Asst Video Tech: Andrew "Rob" Thomas
  • Staging Tech: Nery Polanco Jr
  • TM/PM Asst: Marlowe Teichman
  • Lighting & Video: 4Wall Entertainment
  • Staging: Accurate Staging



  • 12        Robe MegaPointe
  • 4          Martin MAC Ultra Performance
  • 3          GLP impression FR10 Bar
  • 18        CHAUVET COLORado PXL Bar 16
  • 6          CHAUVET COLORado PXL Bar 8
  • 16        CHAUVET Color STRIKE M
  • 8          CHAUVET COLORado Solo Batten
  • 13        Astera Titan Tube
  • 1          grandMA3 full
  • 1          grandMA3 light
  • 1          grandMA3 NPU
  • 1          SR-112 Distripalyzer


  • 24        ROE Visuals Vanish 8T LED Panel
  • 1          Brompton Technology Tessera S4 Processor
  • 6          AJA FiDO Dual-Channel 3G-SDI to LC Fiber Converter
  • 5          Marshall CV506
  • 2          Atomos Shogun 7


  • Accurate Staging Structure
  • Custom White Marlite Facia Kit
  • Decking Package
  • Truss Structure Package
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