I was recently in London, and everywhere I looked there were adverts for ABBA Voyage. The second coming of the Swedish pop gods. Just this time their live show will be holograms or as they’re so gleefully named ABBAtars. Exciting, right? Who wouldn’t want to see these legends live and at their best?
It’s been a decade since Dr. Dre and Snoop shocked everyone at Coachella by welcoming Tupac to the stage. And though it was a little janky at the time, I was pretty blown away. And looking at the ABBA videos you can tell the tech has got a tonne better. They look much more authentic than the pretty cringe crowd-acting.
It’s also exciting to see the potential to innovate what happened in a ‘live’ show. Be that reincarnating dead members of the band, instant costume changes or if they want to have a 30ft tall Benny Andersson, why not?
But I feel like that’s where the fun ends. Beyond anything this gets me a little worried about the future of live music. The obvious issue is that this ‘performance’ is a one-directional show. There will be no real crowd interaction. No authenticity. My favorite part of the shows that I have seen recently, has been seeing the impact of a live crowd on the artist after so long without gigs. That shared emotion. And though the crowd can still have a good time together, there is no conversation with the performers.
This is fine though I guess. If I wanted to go and see something like a ‘David Bowie’ live experience I can just count myself lucky to see something. The aspect of this new trend that really concerns me is the economics of the music ecosystem. It’s already pretty fragile. New artists keep getting squeezed more and more. And this just seems like another way in which more of the money will go to fewer artists.
When options like this exist more and more folks will make the choice to spend their hard earned money on nostalgia, rather than seeing something new and innovative. It won’t take much of a shift before artists that were just about making a living or at least covering their costs, simply can’t afford to pursue music.
This is also the best case scenario. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see a future where the record labels are buying up all the image rights as well as the music rights. Just like football players and FIFA. Allowing them to be the profiteers of these shows and cut out the artists completely.
In the next few months my parents are going to see From The Jam, a band led by the former bassist of The Jam. They play a bunch of The Jam songs and it’s a good time. Give it a few years and gigging older artists like this might have to compete with younger hipper avatars of themselves.
My AS level Critical Thinking brain is telling me that this is all a slippery slope argument. Which is not good writing. Maybe I’m being unrealistically cynical. But this is not going away. I’ve seen lots of 4 and 5 star reviews for Voyage so they’ve obviously done a good job. And it’s already come out that other bands like Led Zeppelin have been approached for a similar treatment.
As with all tech there’s plenty of scope for good as this could increase accessibility and I’m sure some folks will find really creative uses. But if it’s not managed right it could also cause the live music scene I love to stagnate. Companies that manage live events like Ticketmaster won’t do anything about it. As long as they’re making their booking fees they’re happy. So I guess we just have to hope that the Kate Bushes and Fleetwood Macs of the world don’t just go for the cash grab, and realise the threats of this technology. I’m not too hopeful.
Words by Matt Paul