LONDON — Ecstatic cheers erupted around a specially constructed 3,000-capacity hexagonal arena on Thursday night, as members of Abba – one of pop music’s stalwarts – slowly emerged from under the stage, playing their classic ’70s Kay hairstyles led to her first concert play. over 40 years.
As a synthesizer and lights pulsated, singer Annie-Frid Lingstad waved her arms skyward, unveiling a giant cape decorated with gold and red feathers of fire, while she sang a slow-burning disco.visitorsBenny Andersson, leading his synth, smiled as if he couldn’t believe he was on stage again. The band’s guitarist Björn Ulvaeus focused on his instrument. Agnetha Faltskog raised his arms in hippie trance. rotated, adding his voice to the chorus.
Soon, Anderson took the mic. “I’m really Benny,” he said. “I look great for my age.”
The audience – some already dancing out of their seats, Rose Prosecco glasses in hand – laughed as the comment went straight to the heart of the event. The members of Abba on stage were not real; They were meticulous digital re-creations made to look like the group in the heyday of 1979. The real abba – all of whose members are at least 72 years old – watched from the stands.
Thursday’s concert had its world premiere abba travelA 90-minute spectacle that runs seven times a week in London until at least December, with the potential to be extended until April 2026, when permission for the Abba Arena expires, with land designated for housing .
During the show, digital avatars – known as Abbaters – performed a set of hits with the help of a 10-piece live band and an array of lights, lasers and special effects. For Spanish-tingedchiquitita“Group sang in front of a solar eclipse. For a stadium disco”summer night city,It appeared in pyramids made of bright light, with the rings of Saturn rotating in the background. Avatars also appeared as 30-foot-tall figures on giant screens at the edges of the stage, as if being filmed at an actual concert. At points, they began appearing on stage in dozens of places such as in a frantic music video.
Show director Bailey Walsh said the show was “a sensory overload”.
Walsh said the project led to digital concerts. hologram display The one that has made headlines in the past is the result of years of covert work, protected by hundreds of non-disclosure agreements. This included five weeks in Sweden filming the real Abba in a motion capture suit; four body doubles; endless debate over set list; and 140 animators of Industrial Light & Magic (known as ILM), a visual effects firm founded by George Lucas that typically works on Hollywood blockbusters.
The event’s creators, Savannah Gisla and Andersen’s son Ludwig Andersen, said in an interview last Friday that they faced a number of problems during the eight years it took to develop the show, including fund-raising challenges and poor toilets.
“It’s been stressful,” Anderson said, tired and sucking down the mango-flavored vape pen. “But, make no mistake,” he said, “there is nothing more pleasant than that.”
The idea began around 2014, Gisla said, when she was brought in to help create music videos for the band with a digital avatar, a process that was a “total nightmare,” she said. Around 2016, Simon Fuller, producer of the “Idol” franchise and Spice Girls, suggested a show starring a 3-D version of the “singing” group when backed by a live band. (Fuller is no longer involved.)
The group needed to get creative because Faltskog and Lingstead made it clear that they “didn’t want to go on the road,” Anderson told The New York Times in 2021. But the quartet wanted to incorporate fresh music into the show, so it reunited in secret to work on a few songs that became something more: “Voyage,” Abba’s first new album in four decadesReleased last year.
The team quickly realized that the holograms weren’t up to scratch; Neither were a host of other techniques. “We kissed a lot of frogs,” said Gisla. When they met with representatives from Industrial Light & Magic, they thought they had found a company capable of “convincing truly digital humans” who could be “running, spinning, performing in floodlights”. The key is “for them to emotionally connect with the audience,” Ulvaeus said in a video interview.
ILM’s creative director, Ben Morris, said that during test shoots in the fall of 2019, the male members of the group “jump without any qualms.” (Musicians’ biggest concern? Shave your beard. “I was scared what I’d get down to,” said Ulvaeus. Lingstead had just had hip surgery and was using a cane. “But we Some songs started playing and she slowly slipped off the stool, stood up and said, ‘Take my stick away,'” Morris recalled.
The following spring, the band was filmed by about 200 cameras in Sweden for five weeks as it hit repeated hits. British ballet choreographer Wayne McGregor and four body doubles, selected from hundreds of hopefuls, watched the band’s every movement, stance and expression with the intention of learning how to imitate its members, then using their own hands to develop the show’s final choreography. to expand the movement.
ILM’s motion director for the event, Steve Aplin, said they went through “literally hundreds” of iterations of each avatar to get them right, and stylist B. Also produced clothing designed by Ackerlund. He said Anderson was the hardest to achieve, because “his personality is the gleam of his eyes.”
While Abbottres was being developed, a 10-piece band was being formed and Gisla was raising funds (the final budget was £140 million, or about $175 million, she said), developing an area that would embrace all the technology. Be able to handle and was trying to keep the big project a secret. A moment of potential danger came in December 2019, when the team submitted a planning application to London authorities that contained the word “logo” on the building’s technical drawings instead of “Abba”, in the hope that no one would investigate further. .
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, a project that “already looked weird” from Covid became “doubly ridiculous”, Gisla said, as she was asking supporters to trust the idea that in the near future. 3,000 people would like to dance next to each other. The material for the sound insulation of the arena almost got stuck outside the UK when A ship jammed in the Suez Canal, The wood for the building’s façade was to come from Russia, but was imported from Germany at increased expense after Russia invaded Ukraine.
When asked what he had to go through while making the project, Walsh replied, “a nervous breakdown,” then laughed.
Abba Journey isn’t the only Abba-themed event in London; The long running “Mamma Mia!” music The West End also regularly attracts boozy bachelorettes and birthday parties. Gisla said that like the West End show, Abba Voyage would have to sell about 80 percent of its seats to make a profit. Tickets start at £31, or $38, although some of those cheaper seats appear to be available for early runs. Attendees pay more for a spot on a dance floor in front of the stage — starting at $67.
The producer, Anderson, said that he clearly expected the Abba Tour to be a commercial success – as did members of Abba, who are investors – but stressed that he was glad the team had just done “something beautiful” after so much effort. Make”. Ulvaeus said he wouldn’t be surprised if some of the group’s contemporaries consider a similar undertaking: “If they ask me for advice, of course, I’ll say, ‘It takes a long time and it’s too expensive. ‘”
At Thursday’s premiere, the audience was divided between invited celebrities (including the King and Queen of Sweden) in the stands and members of Abba’s fan club on the dance floor, yet people in both sections happily embraced to the sound of lovely songs. met, and danced and sang along. The fact that the band Flesh and Blood on stage wasn’t original doesn’t matter. For “Waterloo”, Abbotts Just Introduced A giant video of his 1974 Eurovision performance And while the crowd was cheering wildly, they danced outside the stage.
Jarvis Cocker of the band Pulp stated that he was left in a “state of confusion” by the show. “I felt very emotional at certain times during that performance, which I am calling a performance but it was not – it was a projection,” he said. He continued, “But I don’t know what this means for the future of mankind.” He suggested that Avatar shows featuring the Beatles and Elvis Presley would not be far behind.
Outside fans were too overwhelmed to worry about the show’s implications for the live music industry. Teresa Harley, 55, a postal worker who attended with a friend and ran in front of the arena to get the best view, said she found the avatars so reassuring, she even waved at Faltskog when the show ended.
“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Harley said, “even though we’re coming again tomorrow and Saturday.”
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