One of the most visually impressive performances at this year’s Coachella was special, not just because of what the audience could see, but because of what they couldn’t see. Behind Gesaffelstein, the French record producer and DJ, was a monolith covered entirely in Vantablack, a very scarce, very expensive, and quite fragile material made by Surrey NanoSystems in the UK. It’s the world’s blackest black, erasing any visible features on a 3D surface and making objects very disorienting for the brain. Gesaffelstein’s show producer, Matthias Leullier, laughs as he tells The Verge how difficult it was for their own team to be around it. “One of our sound engineers was onstage and found himself in the monolith,” says Leullier. “[He] became confused and lost his balance. He fell, hit the surface, and I was like, ‘Okay that’s $20,000.’”

Gesaffelstein is colloquially known as the prince of darkness, but he took his informal title to extremes at this year’s Coachella by becoming the first artist to use Vantablack in a live performance. It wasn’t easy, either. It required the team to visit Surrey NanoSystems in person, pitch the idea, create the set, have each block of the monolith sprayed with 70 layers of Vantablack in a special application room, and construct handling systems for the finished set.

The end result: a 30 foot-high Vantablack monolith that can split in two and reveal video screens and a wall of lights. Looking at it creates the feeling that Gesaffelstein is standing in front of infinite darkness.

People in the audience at Coachella could tell something wasn’t registering quite right in their brains during Gesaffelstein’s performance. “This is exactly why we were sober and thought we were trippin balls,” one audience member commented on Twitter after learning about the Vantablack. “Remember me saying that was prob really expensive since it was absorbing all the light?” said another.

When I tell Leullier about these tweets, he’s delighted. “That’s exactly the kind of confusion we were going for.”

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