Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ’Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
If you’re at a music festival, intimate invite-only affair, or a relatively unknown artist’s performance, Setor Tsikudo is probably shooting it. The photographer went from juggling accounting homework at Syracuse University to capturing the rise of some of this decade’s biggest rappers who include Travis Scott, Meek Mill, YG, and many more. Even though he’s young in the game, he has the discernible eye of a mature vet and knows how to catch a spectacle in a picture.
“I had to look around and make a decision [on] if I want to be invasive, or do I want to step back and see what is doable and not be disrespectful. It was basically me capturing Kanye’s personal choir coming in or capturing the choir congregating in the front,” Tsikudo told REVOLT TV about shooting the rapper’s recent Sunday Service in Queens, New York.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” Tsikudo takes us inside the event, explains how Travis Scott’s live show has evolved and more. Check out the interview below!
How’d you get your start shooting at Syracuse University?
I shot Travis Scott super, super early in his career around 2012. He came to ‘Cuse three times. The first time he came, he did the same venue but was the opener. Then, he came back again and did the same venue, but was the headliner. Then, he did the Carrier Dome. Syracuse was big with getting artists right before they hit the big status. I saw 2 Chainz, YG, Meek [Mill], and Trinidad James. I saw Migos before they had dreads.
How has Travis’s show evolved?
He’s connecting more with his fans and giving them something they’ll remember even after they leave. I remember first seeing Travis and the set was basically dark. The stage was pitch black, he had a strobe light and he would perform in the strobe. If you look back at a lot of Travis content, he barely showed his face. Even now he doesn’t really show his face. But, back in the day, half of his face would be covered.
At his shows, you could be there, and it’s so pitch black [that] you don’t really see much of Travis. With time, he found ways to still keep that rawness to his shows, but have more fans involved. Now, fans are onstage moshing with him. Every single Travis show, he’s either in the crowd or walking through the crowd. The energy he gives to his fans is all about chaos and going beyond that normal concert. He basically created his own cult following.
How was Kanye West’s recent Sunday Service in Queens?
I know right now Kanye is a big topic. But, before his Sunday Service part of it happened, we went through an actual church service. You show up to the church and you see people wearing Kanye merch, which was kind of weird to me — wearing Kanye merch and T-shirts at church. Basically, Sunday Service is going to church, but the choir is talented artists singing to you.
During the Sunday Service part, Kanye brought his pastor to say an actual service. Halfway through the performances, a pastor would give a sermon, and then they’d go back into it. It wasn’t just focused on music. People still got the experience of being in a church. People can hate Kanye for the whole Sunday Service aspect because it might not be genuine enough. But, at the end of the day, the message still stands clear and it’s up to you to take it how you want to take it.
How do you shoot something like that when the main attraction isn’t the center of everything?
Whatever I shoot, I try to create a story to it. It’s much more than shooting an artist performing. It’s about shooting an artist and telling your story. I love to capture an artist going through the show, being frustrated, memorizing steps, or an artist being sick and drinking coffee and hot water just to get them ready for a show. It tells you a story and shows emotions.
Being at Sunday Service, I didn’t even bring all my cameras there. It felt weird bringing all of my equipment there because it’s still a church. It was a weird moment and at that moment, I had to look around and make a decision [on] if I want to be invasive, or do I want to step back and see what is doable and not be disrespectful. It was basically me capturing Kanye’s personal choir coming in or capturing the choir congregating in the front. Kanye doesn’t even show up in the beginning portion. He shows up sort of in the middle. He’s present, but he’s not the first person to grab the mic and talk.
Everyone is quick to grab their phone and show Kanye speaking. But, if you see a full live stream of Sunday Service, it’s mostly people performing hymns and at certain parts, Kanye jumps in. But, the focus really is not Kanye.
I wonder how the Jesus Is King movie will be since that’s how Sunday Service is structured.
I actually got lucky and was able to go to the second part: the listening. The movie actually shows the whole journey of Sunday Service. It shows the different aspects of that. You’ll see Kanye at home. There’s also the Sunday Service part where they’re performing. The visuals relate to the album. So, it’s actually good that the album got delayed because they go together. Before most people listen to the album, they should go see the movie.
Another artist from the Kanye family tree is Tyler, the Creator. What is it like shooting him?
He brings the energy. He thinks about every tiny detail in his set. He’s so unpredictable and his emotions with the crowd are always top-notch. You’ll be singing and he’ll cut his set halfway just to have a conversation with someone. Everyone knows once Tyler comes on, you should be ready to rage and have the time of your life. I look forward to photographing Tyler every single time because not only [does] he put on a performance, but he also gives an amazing production.
What was your greatest finesse to get into a show?
Two years ago, I was in London and I went to the Wireless Festival after someone told me, ‘Pull up. We’re out to London.’ I was like, ‘Oh, bet. I’m down.’ I went to London and I was able to finesse and get my camera stuff into the concert, and Drake ended up being the surprise guest. I believe the ‘Nonstop’ video was basically the recap of Drake performing at that festival. I didn’t even have a ticket until the day of, while being in a whole different country. Mind you, Wireless Festival ticket sell out 24-48 hours after the ticket announcement, which is three or four months before the festival.
What’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to adjust to while shooting live shows?
In 2017 and 2018, 90% of my shots were done in mosh-pits, so that was something I had to adapt to. Most people get a photo pass and just walk into the photo pit to get their photos. I was in the mosh-pit. The first time I shot Playboy Carti was in the mosh-pit. If you’ve ever seen a Playboi Carti set, it’s not an easy set to photograph him or [Lil Uzi Vert]. Even recently at Rolling Loud, I shot Lil Uzi in the mosh pit. I left the festival with my entire outfit drenched in sweat. I threw my entire outfit out.
Who has the craziest mosh-pit?
It’s either Uzi or Travis. I would probably say Uzi’s mosh-pits are crazier because his music and vibe pushes you more to mosh. I would say you haven’t experienced an Uzi or Playboi Carti concert if you’ve never been in a mosh-pit because of the energy.
One of my all-time favorite shots from you is of Jaden and Willow hugging onstage. What was that show like?
They have amazing energy together and Willow sounds amazing live. That was at Baby’s All Right (in Brooklyn on July 30, 2019), which may be a 200-person capacity venue. Jaden came through as a surprise set. I had never listened to Willow’s album before that show and that show made me want to play it. I was surprised there weren’t more dates for that tour.
What’s the photo that defines you?
For me, the story behind the photos draws me more to certain photographs. I can’t pick one. But, a big picture for me was when I saw Frank Ocean at Panorama. I had a pass, but not a photo pass. I wasn’t sure if I could bring my camera or not. I usually always bring a camera, whether it’s my digital camera or film camera. I actually had my film camera and basically took photos of his show. It was Frank being Frank. Chill, relaxed, talking to the crowd. Every single person who left that Frank Ocean performance that night [fell] more in love with him and I captured it.