Coming to a venue near you: Performing live, while dead
I loved gangsta rap. Of course I did. I was a middle-class kid in an ethnically diverse public high school in Sydney’s inner west, in the 1990s. That’s many ticks in some record-company’s market research survey.
Warning: explicit language.
The music doesn’t resonate with me the way it once did, but when I hear the blasting horn intro of the Joe-Cocker sampled California Love, the wannabe ‘G’ inside resurfaces and I want to pour one out for my homiez, and wish I could see Tupac or Biggie in concert.
By ‘Pac’s death in ‘96 hip-hop was well into its golden age. It was at a turning point where the genre was going mainstream, but hadn’t yet mutated into mindless pop-rap. It was a time where there was no possible universe where Snoop Dogg would collaborate with Katy Perry. And when that happened, all hip-hop heads ever talked about was how Pac and his deceased contemporary, Notorious B.I.G., would never have teamed up with these ‘sell-outs’. But Tupac’s posthumous performance as a hologram at Coachella showed us this scenario was definitely possible, whether Pac 1.0 (the flesh and blood one) wanted it to be or not.
Tupac’s resurrection at Coachella was a heady combination of technological wizardry & macabre theatre. The hologram was created by James Cameron’s VFX Company Digital Domain, and modeled off technology previously used by The Gorillaz and Madonna but more grandly adopted used by Mariah Carey, who in 2011 simultaneously staged ‘holographic’ Christmas concerts in 5 major cities.
The obvious point here is that Pac’s Coachella performance steps up the spectacle a few levels - because he’s been dead for 16 years. So when he shouted “what the f—k is up Coachellla” you know anyone who’s seen this Dave Chappelle skit had a chuckle, and the rest might have found it a bit creepy.
While largely succeeding as an amazing visual stunt, the ‘performance’ was hardly flawless. The CGI does ‘stutter’ a bit, Pac’s standing figure often ‘sliding’ across the stage - you know Michael Jackson is coming back on tour soon.
Either way it was a true ‘3.0.’ moment, combining social-media era participation (Pac 2.0 even has his own Twitter account @HologramTupac) and rapidly maturing 3-D film technology, with a nod to the 19th century illusion ‘Peppers Ghost’ that creates the effect of viewing a live object. Digital Domain used a lightweight foil that mimics the properties of semi-transparent glass, allowing them to scale the movements easily across the length of the stage.
The thin ‘foil’ is a specially plated metallic film that runs across the stage at 45 degrees towards the audience. A powerful projector placed below the screen then beams up a bright image, and from an audience perspective the images appear to be on stage.
After the Coachella segment, Janelle Monae quoted futurist Raymond Kurtzweil, tweeting that ‘The Singularity is Near’, referring to the blurring of lines between man and machine. How long before technology renders performances so lifelike that they can simply be adapted, vocal cadence and all, for any year and event well after an artist passes?
Issues of consent from the deceased aside, the Tupac segment gives us a glimpse into the possible future of how concerts are delivered. With the music industry struggling with ever diminishing revenue streams (even Kanye West and Jay-Z’s recent groundbreaking US concert tour barely broke even) the first to find a buck in this may be the touring companies.
They could save a pretty penny on roadie expenses and artist expenses if audiences willingly shell their hard-earned to see a ‘holographed’ version of their favourite artists. Of course, everything else that creates atmosphere would stay – the large crowds, the stage pyrotechnics, perhaps the dancers and always the overpriced food & drink.
Live shows with an already large global audience, like the MTV Music Awards, could expand their ticket paying audiences by projecting the event in venues worldwide. In Sydney, we could go to the Superdome to watch the Grammy’s, as would other audiences in Albert Hall and Germany’s Festhalle simultaneously.
Of course there would be tackiness. Maybe Elvis and Michael Jackson together Live in Vegas! Or The Beatles and The Stones (original lineups all) at Madison Square, and other shows no purist could ever forgive.
Although I suspect the truth is probably closer to Coachella 2012, and that the ‘hybrid model’ will still be around for a while with holograph appearances as the ‘gimmick’. That is, until we don’t know who’s real and who isn’t – *cue eerie music*.
Right now you’re probably thinking the same thing I am, that you would never pay to see any music in holograph form, especially by your idols. But if David Guetta can pack a stadium by just fist pumping and pressing a play button, why not pay for a Nirvana show with holographed Kurt Cobain and maybe a few real guests who actually play instruments?
I’m up for starting a company that produces the foil, and sells it to the estates of famous deceased artists – who’s with me?
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