Virtual gigs – The sci-fi future of live music?

Firstly, apologies for the lack of updates recently. Work and uni have been at critical mass recently and my time for recreational reading/writing has been limited.

I recently gave an assessed lecture at the University of York as part of my Dissertation project. I was commended for how passionately I argued the case for preserving live music venues. Now I am going to ask if there is actually any hope for the future of live music.

Today I experienced a virtual reality concert for the first time, an Occulus recording of The Who at Wembley Arena in 2016. The first thing I have to say is that it hands down beats watching camera phone footage on Youtube (something which I am not adverse to doing and have defended many times in the past). However despite being able to turn your head anywhere within a full sphere of vision you are still essentially restricted to a limited number of fixed camera positions that you can switch between at will.
Given that a recent survey showed that 23% of people who have never been to a gig cite feeling overwhelmed by crowds as a reason for non-attendance it would seem that VR gigs present an ideal alternative, but in my (limited) experience VR concerts fail to emulate the spectacle of a well shot and directed concert film such as AC/DCs “Live at River Plate” (a particular favourite of mine). Whilst it is a brief novelty to find Roger Daltreys crotch at your exact eye height (particularly for anyone wanting to punch him in the balls for his recent elitist comments), eventually you start to feel a bit awkward and find yourself turning away from the band and observing the crowd wishing you were watching from the thick of it.

So it seems that if you want to relive one of your favourite gigs VR is not the way to do it. But how about the more controversial trend of holographic concerts that have started to emerge in recent years? Much of this controversy stems from the use of holograms allowing concert promoters to continue making money from deceased musicians. However, is that really any different to selling live CDs, DVDs and other merchandise of these musicians? Surely fans should still be allowed to enjoy the music of their favourite musicians after they are gone? A hologram concert does address many of the shortcomings of VR, in that it is still essentially a real concert experience where you find yourself in a real crowd free to experience the concert first hand rather than from a pre-set camera angle. However for me the notion of holographic concerts represents echoes of a much more troubling future for live music. Touring the world can be an expensive business. Transporting musicians, support staff, gear, etc is not cheap and these costs could be cut massively by replacing it all with a pre-recorded hologram and audio recording. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch of the imagination to predict a world in which bands, particularly the more corporate minded ones (I am looking your way KISS, Metallica, Guns N Roses, etc), record one perfectly polished gig every few years and sending the holographic recording of it out on tour (potentially even playing multiple venues around the world at once) instead of actually having to go out and tour themselves. Now I am sure most people reading this will probably be thinking “who on earth would pay to see a hologram of an existing band?”. Technology that at first seems like a novelty to the generation that invents it regularly becomes the norm for the generation that follows. Mp3 players, Kindles, music and video streaming services – all were initially treated with suspicion and many said they would never replace physical CDs, books and DVDs. Yet every year they swallow up a greater portion of the market. Maybe by 2040 the concept of going to a gig could mean piling into a concert venue to watch a near indistinguishable from reality vintage recording of the Foo Fighters headline set at Glastonbury 2017 or the latest holo-recording of Guns N Roses “touring” their long long long awaited follow-up to Chinese Democracy (In my mind called “American Dictatorship”)

Now obviously this technological revolution to live music will begin with the mega-rich stadium filling bands but in the same way that even the bands playing your local pub can now produce top quality music videos that compare favourably with the big budget offerings of the big boys, so too will they soon be able to record super high quality VR and holographic recordings of themselves. How long before every pub has a Star Trek style holosuite allowing punters to experience any gig they please in a manner near indistinguishable to the real thing?

Compare a Eureka Machines video from 2011 to a Metallica video from 2016. Aside from the image resolution is there any real difference in the ambition, quality or execution between the two?

Questions like this leave me torn, on the one hand I would chew my own arm off for a chance to try out a Star Trek-esque holodeck and I dread the day I become a luddite bemoaning the evils of new technology replacing “traditional” forms of entertainment. On the other hand I am currently committed to a dissertation arguing for the preservation of live music venues and their heritage values.

I don’t have a crystal ball and I cannot say for sure that technology will put an end to our current concepts of live music and if it does I honestly don’t believe it will be in my lifetime. However, as an avid sci-fi fan it does seem that very few visions of our future ever feature of reference any real form of an active live music scene. Even in the utopian future built on music we get a glimpse of in the Bill & Ted films they seem to only revere the bands of the past. With our every day lives incorporating more and more elements of the fictional futures we have written for ourselves (1984, Fahrenheit 451 and even Star Trek, amongst others, have all accurately predicted technological advances that we take for granted today and their impacts on society) it seems that many don’t see live music as being a part of our future.

Predicted in the late 80s, PADDs in Star Trek appear to be less advanced versions of present day tablet computers

Get out and enjoy a gig whilst you still can!


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