How might modern technology transform the future of live performance?
Vinyl is back, but technology is still evolving - transforming the art of production and visual displays. We are living in the future, the possibilities are constantly expanding, so there’s plenty of opportunity for some next-level creativity. Some artists are already embracing these new technologies and adapting, showcasing why science along with creative thinking can elevate concerts or reinvent music videos, the use of hologram-like technology is not a new thing - Tupac had a posthumous live performance with Snoop Dogg at Coachella (see video), Gorillaz have experimented with their animated characters coming to life on-stage, and these examples were both well over five years ago. So how might the landscape of live performance be changed over the coming years?
Well to start off, visuals. Background visuals have been a part of live performance for a while, and music videos have been growing stronger ever since Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’, but 25 years later and things are very different. Youtube is where everyone watches their music videos, Spotify is where everyone streams their music, digital and video content have taken over, so how do you adapt to that climate? Audiovisuals - that’s how. People are constantly in need of visual engagement, I love an intimate gig with just a musician and their instrument, but to keep up you have to follow the trends and get ahead of them. A great example of this is the duo Shaka Loves You (see video), who perform a DJ set with live bongos alongside creating song remixes and music videos with overlays they have designed - this is one of the many ways forward for visuals and performance.
What about live bands? Before we even delve into that, a suggestion to modernise would be by sacking off those trashy background visuals that look like they could’ve come straight from Windows Media Player or a laptop screensaver - even the big names are guilty of this. AV and Projection are the stepping stones to get the ball rolling - bring in creative graphic designers who can come up with unique and integrated displays! The crew for Re:Imagine have realised this potential (see below left) and started to utilise it for every band performance at XOYO, the designs may not be wildly imaginative (yet) but it properly adds something extra to the event and punters can see where their money is going, so will naturally enjoy the spectacle far more.
A beautiful and surreal example of this was at Glastonbury Festival 2017, DJ Yoda performed a Stranger Things AV set. The performance took place at the infamous Shangri La, in an open-top and 360 degree Cineramageddon, with about 12-16 screens circled above (see left). It was something unlike I had ever experienced, and it felt superbly futuristic and magnificently engaging (in case you can’t tell by my numerous superlatives, I’m a big fan).
So we’ve discussed the idea of AV production being utilised, but bands and artists have a number of other opportunities to develop at their fingertips. We’re nearing the end of the decade already and look at how much more powerful lights and lasers have become, now frequently being incorporated into stage design. Lights and stage design is clearly the future of live performance, just feast your eyes on the work of Tobias Rylander for The 1975 or Cassus Creative (Dan Hill & Squib Swain) for Jess Glynne and Two Door Cinema Club (see above right).
Then there’s Coldplay, whose Xylobands (see above) are one of the most effective ways to incorporate technology whilst offering the audience participation - light shows are created across the entire crowd, and it looks bloody gorgeous (their 2016 show at Glastonbury is still the greatest live performance I have been to). So lights and lasers have been at a pretty high standard for a while, with international DJs maximising their effect for years. Yet, Eric Prydz is currently reinventing the production methods of a world-class DJ (see below). Eric Prydz is merging this holographic foundation from artists like Gorillaz but with the evolving technology available to him now, combining lights with visuals in a way no one has truly done before - the things his team create on stage are both astonishing and mesmerising.
Holographics are now coming to life with virtual reality, in Childish Gambino’s VR Music Video for the track ‘Stand Tall’ he appears in front of you as a hologram surrounded by some trippy graphics. Although the quality of VR video is still in it’s early days, Gambino has created an awesome experience that takes you on a journey through space. The concept behind Gamino’s PHAROS project is extremely forward-thinking and includes two live performances filmed inside the Joshua Tree dome, with graphics overlaid above and around the stage or audience. Gambino released this as an exclusive to purchasers of the album on vinyl, a nice touch - looking backward to move forward. Donald Glover (the real name of Childish Gambino) is pioneering this technology, and presents a small glimpse into what’s yet to come.
This article is far too short to delve into the science, the millions of possibilities, or the sheer number of artists paving the way with new technology, but I hope it encourages people to appreciate the potential. I mean look how far we've come already, what else might we discover or invent? In 10, 50, or 1000 years time, I hope someone will read this and think ‘he didn’t know the half of it’, because anything could happen - and if we’re lucky this is just the tip of the iceberg.