Women in Music 2019

How The Chainsmokers Folded the Wildest Circus Stunt Ever Into Their World War Joy Tour

Zachary Mazur/WireImage
Andrew Taggart of The Chainsmokers perform onstage during their World War Joy Tour at Barclays Center on Oct. 17, 2019 in New York City.

Love You Live: This is the first in an irregular series of Billboard stories breaking down some of the most outrageous, delightful and flat-out inspiring production elements of major tours.

The Chainsmokers wanted to go big for their World War Joy arena tour. Real big. Which is why the production team behind the EDM duo of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall went in search of a way to make the tour's name a reality by finding elements that mixed fear and joy, light and dark, hope and stress.

What better way to do that than to hang a 6,000-pound sphere known as the Globe of Death over audiences and invite three motorcyclists to whip around the giant metal ball? Oh, and did we mention that they also have two assistants inside the 16-foot globe with them as they zip around at blurring speeds?

The Genesis

"Basically Alex came up with the name of the tour -- World War Joy -- when they were spitting out their brain in an email sent at 4 a.m.," explains Miguel Risueño (aka Mike808), the Barcelona-bred creative director and production designer for Los Angeles' Production Club, which has worked on production elements and stages for Skrillex, Deadmau5, Amazon and previous Chainsmokers tours. "They wanted to explain in their own words the situation in which world is now -- like their music, there is a big fight or dichotomy between the beauty and the ugly, light and dark, hope and the stress. That's where World War Joy comes from." 

Luckily for the duo, Risueño has been "haunted" by that idea for years, as he's searched for an "escape valve" from the stresses of today's world. His mission was to create themes for the show that were darker and more aggressive and violent, but also somehow beautiful and capable of sparking joy, which is how his thoughts turned to the legendary circus gag. "It [the circus] has that feel of raw, unpolished energy and the scenery could be distressed, but it could also speak to the beauty of art... which is how we ended up with the Globe of Death," he says.

Pall tells Billboard that integrating the Globe of Death was inspired by the Mad Max movies, which also influenced the overall look and feel of the frequently apocalyptic imagery in the show. "We have many happy uplifting moments but when the globe drops it’s during this specific dark section of our show that was curated," Pall says. "We felt like, beyond the obvious drama it adds, the live sounds of the motorcycles really brought the theatrical element of our show to life in a scary way. It literally blows our mind every time we see them do it and we have also found other ways to utilize it like during 'Sick Boy,' where it really represents the prison Drew sings about in the song."

The Globe of Death

If you're not familiar, the Globe is a 5,000-6,000 pound lattice-like steel ball in which a team of motorcycle riders run lightning-fast loops around each other without ever touching, often with the aforementioned assistants inside to add an extra element of danger. In a show packed with an array of eye-popping production elements -- flames that shoot down from the ceiling, a floating bridge above the audience, an elevated drum riser in the middle of the catwalk that's the scene of a flaming drum solo -- the Globe is conspicuous as it hangs heavily from the rafters during the first portion of each night's show.

The first Globe was built in 1912 by Jose Urias, the great-great grandfather of Erwin Urias, one of the riders who brings the jaw-dropping element to the Chainsmokers' tour. "My team is so ecstatic to be part of the Chainsmokers tour because it's a show filled with energy non-stop and it leaves you in a state of 'oh my gosh, what will they do next?'" says Urias, 49, who got his start more than 30 years ago as a kid tagging along with his dad as the family performed on the Ringling Bros. circuit, as well as other events all over the world before taking his place in the fourth generation of Urias riders. 

Though the family has performed at circuses, speedways, championship games and corporate events, Urias says the Chainsmokers tour is a first for them and he credits the band's drummer, Matt McGuire, and the two frontmen for dreaming of something "bigger and bolder" for their tour. "They came to us with this idea and it was probably six months of discussions to try to bring the vision to the tour... but [the initial contract] didn't mention that it would be hanging in the air." 

In fact, he tells Billboard that that first ask didn't even mention the Chainsmokers, but it did note that the clients were very interested in having the Globe come on tour, though stage space was limited so it would have to "fly" up in the rafters until it was deployed. "It takes a lot of engineering to do that and I was like, 'I'm not saying no, but let's sit down and talk about it,'" he says. McGuire, who always plays a big role in planning the group's stage show, explained to Urias that the Globe had to float down in the middle of the show after hanging above the audience for the first part of the night.

"There's not a lot of margin for error," Urias says. "This was really was the first of its kind and such an innovative idea to blow people's minds." 

Bringing it to the Stage

During brainstorming sessions with the Production Club, McGuire tells Billboard they came up with a list of 30 "wow factor" ideas they wanted to try in a search for moments that would "punch through the show" and grab the audience's attention. While a number didn't pan out, the self-proclaimed "huge motorbikes guy" kept coming back to motorcycles, wondering if it was even possible to have them on the stage given the restrictions of doing back-to-back arena shows and obvious safety concerns. 

"When I presented the idea to the guys everyone's eyes lit up about it," he says. "Eric from Production Club said he knew a family who could do it and asked how serious I was and I said, 'let's f---ing do it!'" The key was to set it up just right. So first the motorcycles enter the stage while Taggart sings the eighth song in the set, "Hope," for some rubber-burning spins to give the crowd a taste of what's to come, but hopefully leave them wondering what that giant ball is for and what's next.

"It's hard to hide a 5,000-pound ball in an arena and I wanted to build it up and flex the bikes with the burnouts, so if people don't know anything about it they might not instantly link the cage to the bikes," says McGuire. The 30-second burnout stunt is followed by Taggart performing a full song inside the Globe during "Sick Boy," at which point McGuire hoped the audience would ask, "did they bring that along just for this?," purposely planning to underwhelm them in the build-up to the big reveal.

With the thrust catwalk loaded with production elements -- including the landing platform for the Globe, five hidden flame units and the 20-foot drum lift -- McGuire was adamant that the Globe float down onto it so that it became an immersive, close-up stunt that would totally shock the fans on the floor.

There were, of course, safety concerns, but he felt confident that the family's century-plus experience and the Urias' meticulous preparation -- Erwin and fellow fourth-generation rider brother Melvin wrench their own bikes and review every element of the stunts every day -- put his mind at ease. "We knew we could do pyro or aerial stuff, but motorcycles are loud and people respond to it and in a concert setting it's like, 'what the f--k?'" he says. 

For Risueño, the Globe was different than other gags he's created for the group before, such as rising platforms the duo could be harnessed to in case anything went wrong. "But with this there was no f--k around... you have to be very secure and confident that it will go right," he says. 

"When Drew comes out and does 'Sick Boy' in the globe it ties it all together because you're seeing this giant cage all night without knowing what it's for and then it flies down to the stage and he's in it," says Urias of the payoff moment that comes a short time after the burnout tease. "And a few songs later during an intense moment where everyone is jumping up and down and having fun, the ball comes down, the motorcycles go inside and for people who don’t know what it is they’re like sensory overload."

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