Brighton Dome has been participating in 5G Festival trials to test new technology that could revolutionise the festival experience. Donna Close shares the findings.
The impact of Covid-19 on the live music industry has been severe: artists unable to tour and perform, venues closed, staff on extended furlough, freelance creatives leaving the sector, and audiences having gigs postponed multiple times.
Although 5G Festival wasn’t born of the pandemic, the project is part of efforts across the sector to create innovative, long-lasting solutions, using advanced digital technology, for audiences to attend events and for artists to perform. At Brighton Dome we see digital technology as a huge part of our future, which is why we’re collaborating with leading UK innovation agency Digital Catapult.
As an arts organisation and a venue, our core purpose is to inspire and enable artists to be their most creative and to champion the power of the arts to enrich and change lives. The 5G Festival will enable us to work with artists to collaborate remotely and develop new types of digitally enhanced live experiences in our venues, at festivals and for audiences at home or wherever they are in the world.
From atmosphere to sound quality, attending a concert remotely could never ‘feel’ the same as doing it in person – or could it?
What is 5G Festival?
5G Festival will be a showcase of creative talent using the power of advanced digital technologies to broadcast live directly to audiences at remote locations from world-leading venues, as well as producing novel immersive in-venue experiences. Harnessing the power of 5G technology will allow for physically separate artists to produce live, collaborative performances.
Recent trials of the technology built on the foundations established during the first stage in March 2021. These new trials were about pushing the limits of enabling artists to collaborate from different locations - as well as testing how an immersive festival experience would work both in a venue and at home.
The trials were split across two venues - Brighton Dome and Metropolis Studio 60 miles away in London. We used different spaces where the audio equipment was set up for microphones and in-ear monitoring of the musicians. These all linked back to our 5G testbed. We were then able to communicate and make the latency low enough for the artists to communicate and synchronise with each other.
We worked with Stormzy’s musical director Kojo Samuel and a group of experienced session musicians so we could not only see and hear some great music but, critically, we could get feedback on how the experience felt for the performers.
The drummer and one of the singers performed in Metropolis Studios in London, while the guitarist and the keyboardist were on the main stage of Brighton Dome. Another singer and bass player were in a different space in the venue. The sound was incredible and when we spoke to the artists afterwards, they said they felt as if they were playing together in the same room.
Immersing artists and audiences
5G Festival is about reinventing the wheel on immersive experiences for audiences and artists. For the artists, we set up video feeds so they could see each other perform with augmented reality (AR) glasses. There was a bit of lag between audio and video at this stage due to the nature of the set-up, so we are working to minimise that to make the experience more seamless.
Audiences also need to feel emotionally immersed. So we worked with videographer Nick Driftwood, an expert in directing livestream videos, and visualist Zach Walker from Make Amplify who was able to ‘throw’ projections of the video inside the building to create a dynamic, visual environment that wraps the viewer in an immersive audio-visual experience.
We hope the 5G Festival project will have impacts far beyond enhancing artist and audience experiences during the event itself. By proving that seamless, hybrid events can be produced we want to see wider, long-term social benefits.
One example would be reducing the CO2 impact of festival logistics. Festival organisers wouldn’t need to ship so much equipment; and rehearsing and producing of new studio music could be done remotely. The technology could also theoretically be used for teaching music and other creative art forms.
We see this project as opening the doors to participation and to the experience of live music. Not only could live audiences on the other side of the world enjoy a performance in Brighton Dome, but an artist from a remote location could collaborate with an artist in LA and an artist in London – the opportunities for talent development are endless.
Inviting audiences in
Looking forward, we’ll be running a final trial later this year to which we will finally be able to invite a public audience to test their reaction. The project will culminate in March 2022 with live 5G Festival performances taking place in Brighton Dome Concert Hall, London’s O2 Blue Room and in Metropolis Studios. The three performances will be brought together with different mixed reality (MR), AR, and VR relationships. There will also be streamed performances from each venue playing into a new immersive room in Brighton Dome.
“Alternative” stages are being designed with our partner Wired Sussex - it wouldn’t be a festival without accidentally stumbling across something that you weren’t expecting! And audiences will come across interactive elements in the bar or the foyer, so after a five-hour event we hope they will feel they’ve crammed in a full festival experience in one night.
The pandemic has been an enormous challenge for venues like Brighton Dome. One of the positive aspects of being involved in this project is how it has united artists and technicians: honing in on both creative and technical skills is where the magic happens. It is an experiment but it’s what delivers the most exciting, real world experiences. And it’s where the future of live entertainment could lie.
Donna Close is Digital Cultural Associate at Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival