If there’s one thing you need to take a chance on, it’s ABBA’s new futuristic live music experience ‘ABBA Voyage‘. The four ABBA members we know, and love have reunited on stage after 40 years, only they’ve taken another form… the digital form.
Performing virtually, their avatars, or ‘ABBAtars’ debuted the Voyage concert experience on May 26 2022, in London, England. The Voyage won’t be setting off across the country, or the world, just yet. However, the group constructed a specially built arena to host the cutting-edge technology needed to put on such a futuristic live music experience and in the future, has the capabilities of being transported to other cities.
Whilst Björn, Benny, Agnetha, and Anni-Frid (Frida) all take to the stage as ABBAtars, the virtual group is supported by a real 10-piece band that performs live during every concert. The 20-song set-list features fan-favourites ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight)’ and ‘Mamma Mia’, which are quick to turn any arena into a venue filled with dancing fans.
Voyage signifies a momentous occasion for live music lovers, and ABBA fans. The reunion of the band in virtual form allows generations of fans to witness the band live in a spectacle which the BBC says “needs to be seen to be believed”.
Samuel McManus-Maxwell, 26, is a passionate ABBA fan from the UK and eagerly travelled to London to join the Voyage, revealing that it was the best thing he had ever seen.
“I don’t know how they do it, but I also kind of don’t want to know, you know?” Samuel said. “I found myself trying to look for things that would give it away but then realised it would just ruin the magic.”
Samuel was enthralled by how immersive ABBA’s set was, noting the lights and mirrors that moved on the ceiling, and multiple costume changes for the ABBAtars that made the production feel reminiscent of the concert experiences we’re accustomed to.
“There were moments when I was clapping and cheering and then was like ‘there’s nothing actually there, I am cheering nothing’ which was a bit weird, but the crowd was living their best life,” Samuel said. “I heard someone saying they waved at Frida expecting her to wave back, it feels that real. It was as real as any concert I’ve been to.”
This was the goal for ABBA and the incredible creative team behind Voyage.
As explained by Björn and Benny when speaking to the BBC One Show, motion-capture technology was used to digitally project ABBA, who performed the songs themselves on a sound stage whilst being filmed wearing “leotards with dots on them” – aka, motion-capture leotards.
Director Baillie Walsh and choreographer Wayne McGregor spoke to NME about the motion-capture process and digital technology utilised.
“We filmed ABBA for five years,” Walsh told NME, noting that the ABBAtars are more than holograms. “Wayne McGregor extended their moves into younger bodies, our doubles, and we blended those performances together. Now we have our 2022 ABBA.”
When asked to explain the evolution from motion-capture leotards to ABBAtars, McGregor told NME that “we use these little dots to take the maths out your body. We take all these zeroes and ones and put them into a computer and build an avatar.” Noting the lengthy process, McGregor spoke of how the process had to be repeated with the younger body doubles, telling NME that they captured the essence of ABBA and then had to “transform some of that amazing physical from the 70s into maths and find a way of combining the two.”
Speaking to NME, producer Svana Gisla teased why ABBA’s Voyage experience is incredibly unique and more than a concert… an experience.
“The feeling of being inside the arena will be unique, it’s very immersive,” Gisla told NME. “People use that word a lot, but when you go in there, you’ll fully realise the capabilities of an immersive environment. It’s like being in the eye of the storm.”
Samuel agreed after joining the Voyage and seeing ABBA in all their motion-captured, digital glory.
“You forget that you’re in an arena, you almost become part of ABBA’s world,” Samuel said. “You are in a completely different space.”
For the duration of some songs, the ABBAtars take a break and are instead displayed as screen visuals, one factor that Samuel said was a little disappointing, especially during performances of their biggest hits.
However, Samuel couldn’t speak more highly of the ABBA Voyage experience. After all, concerts aren’t only about the performances of songs we all know and love to dance to. There’s more to the experience…
Highlighting this fact, the ABBAtars speak throughout the set, engaging with the audience. Björn, Benny, Agnetha, and Frida each deliver a solo speech, and even some jokes! It’s an element of live music many may overlook… the quieter in-between moments where the artist on stage speaks to the crowd. However, those moments add to the concert experience, leaving the audience with even more personal memories to hold onto. ABBA Voyage has it all, and the proof lies in the creators knowing that audience interaction would make the digital experience even more realistic.
David Smyth, writer for the UK’s Evening Standard reviewed ABBA Voyage, noting that he had once attended Whitney Houston’s hologram tour. His review of live music’s latest Voyage into the future compares the difference between the past use of hologram technology, revealing that ABBA’s live music experience “was galaxies ahead of anything similar” and worthy of a five star rating.
“With every new technological discovery, one might wonder if the limits have yet been reached,” Alina Vietoris writes. “Mostly, the answer is no. In the case of hologram performances, it seems like the fun has only just begun.”
Hologram technology has been utilised in the past, including short performances from the late Tupac, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. ABBA Voyage differs, using motion-capture technology. The difference comes with the blessing of all ABBA members being alive, and involved.
Walsh told NME that Voyage may not be simple to copy, saying that “ABBA were so involved in this, they’re the heart and soul of it. A posthumous show wouldn’t have the same kind of feeling. The fans know that ABBA are involved. This is ABBA.”
When asked about the future of Voyage, and how long the live music experience could run, all involved hope Voyage will be a destination for a long time, and Gisla told NME there are plans in place for the future of ABBA.
“If this is a success, then we could be here for a few years,” Gisla revealed to NME, also stating that the arena is moveable. Seems like future voyages could be possible…
Voyage proves that ABBA will be around for a long time, long after they’re capable of performing themselves. The future of live music is vast when factoring in the motion-capture and digital technology that continues to evolve. As ABBA and their ABBAtars take audiences on a mesmerising Voyage, there’s no doubt in my mind that in the coming years live music fans will witness even more reunions, comebacks, and ground-breaking performances from artists they never imagined they’d be able to see live.
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