Interview: Xylobands inventor Jason Regler 2 February 2012 9:05 pm The man behind the flashing wristbands tells us the story behind them
Coldplay fan Jason Regler invented the Xyloband flashing wristbands which have become such an incredible part of the Mylo Xyloto live shows - and which feature in the new Charlie Brown video. We gave him a shout to find out more.
Hi Jason, how are you? I’m good, thanks. Just getting my head around what’s coming next with the Xylobands.
Let’s start at the beginning. How did you meet Coldplay? The original connection came via buying tickets to go to the Crisis gig in Newcastle, because my son had always wanted to go and see them. There was an auction where you could bid for meet and greet tickets, and we had some of those. But we didn’t get there because of the snow.
Oh no! Yeah, my son was absolutely devastated, so I got in touch with Crisis and asked if there was anything else we could go along to. And lo and behold I had an email from Phil Harvey and he asked if we wanted to come up and watch the band rehearse. So we did that and I decided I’d be brave and tell him about an idea I’d had a long time ago for Coldplay. Which was the wristband. And it all just went from there.
When did you have the idea? In 2005, when Coldplay did the Glastonbury Festival. I remember I was going through a few down days and I saw them doing Fix You. And there was just such a feeling of it bringing everyone together, as well as the line “lights will guide you home”. That’s when the idea of a wristband came to mind.
So it was specifically invented with Coldplay in mind? Absolutely. To this day, I still have my doubts that this would really work for anyone else. I feel Paradise, Charlie Brown and MX are almost too perfect for them, really. Like Chris said, it’s quite freaky how he wrote a lyric a long time ago about glowing in the dark and then all of a sudden it all comes together and we’ve got wristbands making people do exactly that.
What’s your background then? Have you always been an inventor? Well, when I left school I went to work for the family vehicle repair business, but after 17 years I realised it wasn’t me, and that I liked making things, fixing things and creating things. So that’s when I ventured out on my own. And I managed to prove that I could have an idea and take it from my head to being successful. I’ve ended up working with people like Disney, Jim Henson, Sesame Street and Sony.
So, when you met Phil, was he immediately receptive to the idea of the wristbands? Definitely. He’s someone who needs to be as praised in this story as anyone. He’s the one that saw the potential and took the chance. We were just talking and I was saying that I’d had a bit of a tough year and I could do with a break. But at that time the band were finishing the album and the priority was obviously to get on with that. And then all of a sudden one day I had an email from Phil saying he’d been chatting to Chris and that he had that break for me. He wanted to know when we could start looking at making the wristbands. With the idea being that the Madrid UNSTAGED show would be their debut? Exactly. That was a nerve wracking situation. We had a product that was untried and untested. We knew what we thought it could do, but we had to put it on stage with Coldplay at this huge YouTube show and hope that it worked.
You didn’t have a dress rehearsal? No, we jumped straight in at the deep end. Everyone said we were mad. The wristbands only arrived in Madrid on the morning of the show in a van which had brought them overnight from the UK the minute they landed there from China. Me and Phil walked down from the hotel to the venue carrying a huge bin of wristbands and I told him that I was shitting myself. He was great. He just said “It is what it is. We’ve done it now. Let’s see.” So it was a really scary night, but it worked.
That must have been a relief. Absolutely. After the show, I had no idea what the band had thought of it. But when I got back to the hotel and charged my phone up there was a message from Chris saying well done, that it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen and that he wanted to do it again.
So there was a chance they could have gone no further than Madrid? Yes, exactly. We were ongoing with talks, but nothing was concrete and agreed before that.
But you obviously ended up doing the whole tour. Yeah. Which has been such a rush. What we did and how quickly it was done is pretty unheard of, really. It was beyond madness. But we did it. How were they manufactured? You get your team of people here to design them and do a prototype and spend a little time testing and then you turn it over to a Chinese manufacturer.
So how do they work? Basically they’re an RF-driven wristband. They’ve got a receiver in them which receives data and that data tells them how to flash and when to flash, basically.
How far can you transmit? I think at the moment we can go to about 300 metres. Hence the story of the lady who lived near the Charlie Brown video shoot who’d been to a gig and suddenly found that her wristband was flashing again!
Ah yes, the Xylobands feature prominently in Charlie Brown video. Yeah, and I think that video’s going to look amazing. They had about 20 dancers with neon paint and we put like four or five wristbands on each arm. So they were definitely glowing in the dark. It looked really cool.
Could you do it over a bigger area? That’s a good question. We’ve not really tested that yet. 300 metres is quite a long way. But we’d love to be able to do it over a big festival site one day. Somewhere like Glastonbury is the dream. But you could always have multiple transmitters. It’d be amazing to see that moment of unity that the Xylobands seem to create on that kind of scale.
It’s amazing to hear the roar the moment they kick in at the start of each show. Definitely. Even if you watch the footage of the X Factor show - you can hear a massive roar when they first come on. It really does seem to blow people away.
Have there been any problems with them? No, they’ve generally been fine. You get the odd faulty unit - you get that with any electrical item - but that’s not been a big problem at all. And the feedback has been incredible. It’s almost hard to imagine Charlie Brown live without the wristbands now. They just make it seem so alive and bouncy.
The X Factor performance must’ve felt like another big moment. Oh totally. It was a production dream, how they shot it. It looked amazing.
A lot of fans have been asking if they could make the wristbands work at home? Not at the moment, no. We are looking at a product which does work at home, but the main concern is that if you make it possible to activate them at home, then you’d get people trying to set them off at a gig, and spoiling the effect.
Is it theoretically possible for someone to make a transmitter like yours which matches your signal? Possibly. But we put code and other stuff in there too, to stop that. But it would be possible to change your battery if it’d run out and bring it back to another show.
There’s a lot of dates in the diary for 2012. Is the idea to take the wristbands to the entire tour? I believe so. The order is a big number. We’re looking at more than a million pieces.
Will you be there for the whole thing? We’re sorting that out at the moment. I’m a family man, so I’ve got to balance all that out. There’s a lot of dates. We’re discussing that now.
But you enjoyed being on tour in December? Oh, it was brilliant. It was just nice to see people having fun with what we’re doing - the band and the audience. I loved it.
Have you got plans for future tweaks and changes to the wristbands? Yeah, we’d like to do something that’s a bit more tailored for home. We’re looking at that for the future. The dream would be to create a global event with the wristbands - almost like a global Mexican wave. Just bring people together and let them have fun for a little while. Another dream would be that the band could do a gig on the net and we could provide people with a small, low-cost device that would flash in exactly the same way as people who were at the gig. We’re also trying to look at zones with the wristbands, to see if we can do different shapes within the crowd and that sort of thing. There’s definitely a lot of possibilities.
And are you marketing the Xylobands to other companies? Well, the band don’t want the experience diluted for Coldplay, so we’ll see. But I think we will see some organisations using them for other kinds of events.
Do you guys have some kind of patent on them? Yeah. The band and I have an agreement which covers the design trademark on them, patent protection and the intellectual property rights. So we’re pretty covered. We believe it’s a product that belongs to Coldplay and us, so if people want to do it themselves, they’d have to find a different way to do it.
It sounds like 2011 was a pretty crazy year for you. Well it started with no notion of what was going to happen at the end, that’s for sure. If you’d said to me I’d be flying on a jet with Coldplay and feeling like I'm the happiest man in the world, I’d have said you were off your head. When I had this idea, I was sat in a dark room, I’d split up with an ex, with all these doom and gloom feelings, and there’s Chris singing, “When you lose something you can’t replace, stuck in reverse”. That was certainly how I felt! And then “lights will guide you home” was the line I really hooked onto for the wristbands. Actually, the first show we did the Xylobands, they suddenly started flashing of their own accord just as he did that line. That was pretty freaky! A lot of this whole thing has felt like fate, to be honest. But I’m incredibly grateful and thankful to Phil and the band for giving me this chance.
Do you have any top tips for aspiring inventors? Believe, believe, believe. Don’t ever give up on the belief in yourself and if you try hard, you’ll get there eventually, for sure.
Final question, did you put any wristbands on your Christmas tree this year? Haha! Well, we’ve certainly had some fun with them at home, yes.