Holograms, VR and more: the new technologies revolutionising the concert experience

The influence of Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR) is set to transfigure our traditional gig experience.

As fans demand greater audio and visual thrills at concerts, tech companies are falling over themselves delving into Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR). Bjorn Van Munster, head of Astro Spatial Audio says, “In the very near-future the use of technologies such as enhanced localisation, multi-channel immersive audio and dynamic interactive room acoustics will be expected by audiences, even if they don’t understand the technicalities. The real competition will be in how effectively the technology is used.”

What we’ve got so far is just the tip of the iceberg. Xylobands were invented as concert LED wristbands which flash in time with the music. But on their 2016 tour, Coldplay used them in combination to create an ocean of light, a remarkable effect for those who experienced it. In an even more visionary move, New York sci-fi rock band Starset have crafted an AR app, which, after adding lighting and digital touches to the show, climaxes when a spaceship enters the venue and lands on the stage via punter’s smartphone screens. Elsewhere, Metallica’s WorldWired tour makes heavy use of “flying lights” drones. It took the company, Verity Studios, three months (and a six figure sum) to integrate the drones into the production and lighting. And more, the advent of 4K/UHD screen technology is making those large-scale visuals even more arresting.

Last week in the US, a panel at the PollstarLive conference discussed how live experiences at concerts will become more sci-fi. Digital Nation Entertainment CEO Craig Evans spoke of volumetric rendering and extremely high-res images with 3D depth, where fans would expect to feel the image when they reach out. “At the end of the day we hope to expand beyond the walls of sold out stadiums and shows, and create a long lasting memory of an immersive experience,” he said. “A concert is said to be two hours of a live memory creation. We’re trying to create those memories in a digital world.” 

Much of that panel’s discussion was on three world tours mooted to visit Australia featuring holograms of deceased stars – Ronnie James Dio, Frank Zappa and Roy Orbison. Kinetic experts are used to make them as realistic as possible. 

Holograms create a moral dilemma. Are they immoral and exploitive, as some fans insist? Or, as tech firms point out, they work with the families – Dio’s wife Wendy, Zappa’s son Ahmet and Orbison’s sons – to allow the music to live on, and give younger fans the chance to see them “perform”. Dio and Zappa were futuristic people and artists, and their music was based on sci-fi and creating new worlds. Their holograms are an extension of the new world reality the musicians experimented with when they were alive, in fact, Zappa was talking about holograms 40 years ago. Imagine the splendorous effect of VR applied to the sci-fi imagination of David Bowie, Yes or Pink Floyd, even if we’re to see their extraordinary album covers come to life. The possibilities seem endless.