It’s been a while since I’ve been to a music festival. Circumstance, shitty licensing laws about dancing, new jobs and myriad other factors have kept me away from tents/tickets/trouble of that nature for quite some time now. Nonetheless, I do still throw on a bit of the BBC Glasto coverage whenever I pass a TV at the right time. As well as the biggest and most obvious nearby festival, there are a few others that always tend to grab my attention in a wistful, “ah sure I’ll go one of these years”, lackadaisical way. Fuji in Japan, Sziget in Hungary, and of course Coachella in the states. Yes, yes, Burning Man, blah, but mostly Coachella. This was the festival that saw Rage Against The Machince play their first gig in donkey’s a few short years ago, and this year’s festival had a few points that were noteworthy right off the bat:
1. At the Drive-in making the same sort of return that RATM did not so long ago. For anyone that’s not familiar with them, ATDI are equally loud, equally 15 years ago, equally diluted into various lesser projects by former members, equally 4-letter acronym, and significantly fucking better than rage.
2. Huge portions of the festival being streamed (if that’s what the kids are even still saying) over the Yoo Choobs LIVE. In your very own sitting room. To your laptop or mobile device. Free.
All quite pedestrian so far really, right? Then this fucking happened.
No, don’t read on, go back and watch it. Really. That is, in fact, an extremely expensive semi-holographic projection of Tupac Fucking Shakur, playing “live” last night. The men that make this magic technology happen are quoting between 100 and 400 thousand dollars for the technology when used in a live event. There’s lots of babble that could go here about how good/sharp/realistic it looks. Here’s the truth of it, so if you don’t want to know the scores, look away now. It uses three glass screens with sputnik-high definition projections to give the illusion of an actual dead guy shouting something about the west coast or some shite. Having watched this a few times today, it raised a few questions; what does this mean for live performances at festivals in future, is there an ethical question here, and most importantly what the fuck is snoop dogg doing on stage singing to a picture like it’s going to buy him a beer once they get off stage.
The idea that a dead artist’s likeness can be used on stage is actually a little bit staggering if you use your imagination for a few minutes. Firstly, for those of you that managed to find the volume controls and actually sit through 5 minutes of a Shakur performance, you’ll notice that at the end his avatar explodes. A spectacular finish to a strangely upsetting and technically rough-around-the-edges performance, surely. For the benefit of the nit-pickers – yes, his feet slide around from side to side at times when he shouldn’t be moving. This is, J-pop bands and Gorillaz tours aside, pretty much the first we’ve seen of this kind of thing. Back to the point. We now find ourselves in a situation where the audience may be presented with pretty much any conceivable image as the artist. The performance is, for the first time, no longer limited to the physical constraints on the human anatomy. Not too early in the “song”, Tupac name checks the Coachella festival. Tupac Shakur in his lifetime never played at Coachella, which means that at least some level of editorial input was added to his vocal performance. Not only this, but whether the source for the footage we see projected above was a video or not is actually irrelevant when you consider two incredibly important things here:
1. If they didn’t have a recording of what they wanted him to sing, they could make one.
2. If they didn’t have a video of how they needed him to look, they could make one.
The only reason any of this becomes horrendous, even to those of you that embrace technological advances as much as I do, is the ethical question. Is it right to be trotting out fully posable dead celebrities to dance for our amusement? Well fuck it, why not? It’s roughly 15 years since the Beatles had their last number one in the UK charts (look it up!), and I know for a fact John Lennon wasn’t hanging around the studio, glibly shitting all over Christianity during the Blair years. Is it wrong to use the images of dead people this way? Who cares? They’re DEAD! They surely don’t give a shit, and their families are probably being well paid for the privilege. Not only that, but we don’t have to stop at simply making them sing and dance. Even exploding finales aren’t anywhere near the threshold on this one.
If I may for a moment take you to the future. The year 2015, in fact. The new Apple Cerebellum is THE gadget to have this year, what with its direct access to your thoughts before you even have them. Facebook has been replaced by Govbook, a website where your national government stores and files your photos and opinions. Paranoid horseshit on blogs has been outlawed by Emperor Kenny. BUT IT’S OK! Because tonight, you’re heading down to Dolan’s Holo-House, to see 50-foot tall Jimi Hendrix playing live in almost 3-d, with Darth Vader on the drums, Gandhi on bass, and a squid with three heads (all exact replicas of the Mona Lisa) on lead vocals. Between songs they perform various obscene acts and then melt, re-solidifying as 300 tiny lego men. Ridiculous? Sure. Would I pay a few quid to see it? Sure fuck it, why not? Because if it can be imagined it can be drawn, and if it can be drawn it can now be projected, and apparently if it can be projected then it can be charged to view. The smashing Pumpkins have split up, have they? Well no, not if billy Corgan has trouble paying his mortgage. They just sell the rights to their digital image and the studio owns their gigs for as long as they can sell tickets. Watch the lineup for bigger budget festivals in years to come include bands that no longer exist, artists that are dead, and eventually the same artist appearing “simultaneously” on all 6 continents at once. A quick point on this, Sony were already talking about using 3d projection during major sporting events to show matches in stadiums where the match wasn’t being played at exactly the same time. That’s two thomond parks for every munster match in layman’s terms. i.e. lots of fucking cash.
And the final question. Seeing as they probably met in real life once or twice, why would Snoop Dogg go on stage and sing along conversationally with a picture of a man that’s been dead for 16 years? Well that one’s simple. Snoop Dogg is a talentless whore who’s basically spelled his name into a microphone for 30 years. If you do happen to see him in the street, don’t bother to brake.