The Festival of the Future

Gabby Fernie

Mobile Marketing chats to Kostas Katsaros, Lead Technologist-5G at Digital Catapult and Donna Close, Digital Culture Associate for Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival about the world’s first 5G-powered, hybrid festival experience. The 5G technology will allow for physically separate artists to produce live, collaborative performances and will be broadcast live directly to audiences at remote locations from world-leading venues, as well as producing immersive in-venue experiences.

Mobile Marketing: You’ve just held your second trial for the 5G festival at the Brighton Dome and Metropolis Studios. Can you explain the technology behind it?

Kostas Katsoros: In this venue (Brighton Dome), as well as Metropolis Studios, we used different rooms where we had the audio equipment set up for microphones and in-ear monitering of the performing artists – 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 also introduced video feeds from the artists so they could see each other perform with augmented reality (AR) glasses. We understand that there’s a bit of lag between audio and video at this stage because of the nature of the set up but we are working to minimise that, so the experience is more seamless and more useful for the artists.

MM: What will the experience be like for the audience at an immersive venue?

Donna Close: When you’ve got an in-venue live audience watching the collaboration it becomes a meeting point between a technological solution and a creative solution.

For example, we know that there’s a limit to the technology, but we also know what audiences need to feel emotionally immersed. What we were playing with during the trials was working with a videographer who really understands how you direct videos and a visualist (VG) who can throw that video all over the building and create this very dynamic visual environment. It means that you don’t really notice any of the technical flaws because you’re so wrapped up in an immersive audio experience.

MM: Did the COVID-19 pandemic inspire the idea for a hybrid festival?

KK: The idea of how we could enhance in-venue experiences actually started before the pandemic. So, what additional experiences could you have for a festival using technology? Also, there was the discussion with our partner Mativision for the next steps of immersive capturing and audio-visual collaboration. The pandemic has been a challenge for venues like the Brighton Dome, but it’s been a great opportunity for us to have an empty venue like that to play with and get inside.

DC: From our point of view, the reason we’ve been investing in the conversations with Digital Catapult is that we really see digital in being a part of our future. We’re in the business of one thing really, which is working with artists to create extraordinary experiences for audiences wherever they are. So, we were really interested to see how digital technology could serve that goal.

KK: We are also seeing secondary social impacts. One is reducing the C02 impact from festivals. You don’t have to ship a load of equipment and the rehearsing and producing of new music in studios can also be done remotely. Secondly, this technology can be used for teaching music or other creative arts education. So, you would have a teacher remotely collaborating with the students and using the platform or potentially some of the venues to do this work.

DC: One of the real strengths of this is more people being able to take part and experience it. Not only could you have audiences in outer Mongolia enjoying a performance in Brighton Dome but also you could have an artist from outer Mongolia collaborating with an artist in LA and an artist in London.

Our music partner, Warner Music Group, is very excited about the opportunities for talent development and searching out new talent through this platform. It can be quite expensive to go into a studio every time you want to rehearse, so to be able to do that through the 5G festival platform gives you a much wider sweep of potentially finding The Next Big Thing.

MM: How will the 5G Festival work for the audiences watching from remote locations?

KK: The idea is that there will be cut outs of the artists through depth cameras, and they will be placed in a virtual stage all together. It could be Brighton Dome or any synthetic stage. A 360 stream will then be broadcast and synchronised with the audio.

When you are at home you can watch it on your laptop or on your virtual reality (VR) headset. On a VR headset you can see left and right and the demo will be seamless. On a laptop or tablet you will have to scroll to see a 360 stream or the point of view that you like. For AR headsets it wouldn’t make much of a difference – again it’s a 360 stream – but it would be an overlay on what you see in your room.

However, we will be streaming the actual artist, not an avatar of them performing. This is completely different to some others we have seen in the market. So, it will be a live performance with live artists streamed rather than something synthetic which has already been filmed with a green screen.

MM: Were there any pitfalls at the Brighton Dome trial? 

KK: We did a dress rehearsal on Saturday afternoon which went well, then we went out to do our feedback discussion. We came back for the five o'clock performance and the system crashed. It was like a chain-reaction – one system failed and then everything failed. We had to reboot. By the six o'clock and seven o'clock performances we were able to work. But there were great learnings in terms of how you use the system, and what sort of follow-ups we want to do for testing and configuration, or adding to the complexity of the system. 

MM: What has your feedback been like from the artists who participated in the trials?

DC: We had Stormzy’s musical director Kojo Samuel, as we wanted to work with really established musical professionals. We also had a bunch of highly established social musicians who’ve toured with bands all over the world, as we wanted critical feedback. The drummer and one of the singers were in London, the guitarist and the keyboardist were on the main stage, and then we had another singer and the bass player in a room at the Dome. It sounded beautiful. When we spoke to the artists afterwards, they said that it felt the same as playing together.

MM: What lies ahead for your third and final trial?

KK: We have a trial in November which will be the first time we will invite an external audience and then a big showcase in March.

DC: The idea is that we’ll have a performance on at Brighton Dome concert hall, a performance in the 02 Blue Room, and performances in Metropolis Studios. Those three performances will be brought together in all the different mixed reality (MR), AR, and VR relationships but then we’ll also be having streamed performances from each of those venues into this new immersive room in the Dome.

We’ll also have alternative stages, because it wouldn’t be a festival without things that you stumble across that you weren’t expecting! We’ll have some other things that you might encounter in the bar or the foyer so even after a four-hour event you feel that you’ve got about 40 hours of entertainment crammed in.

What’s really joyful about this is when you bring artists and technicians together. There’s creative and technical skills – that’s where the magic happens. It can be challenging but it’s absolutely what delivers the most exciting, real world experiences.