ABBA Voyage is a concert residency in London located at a purpose built facility – the ABBA Arena – in East London. A lot has been written speculating about the show and how it works. Is it holograms or is it something else?
I was lucky enough to be invited to the VIP premiere on 26 May and subsequently attended again the following two days. Since I’ve seen it three times, I’m here to tell you what it’s really like. There are some spoilers, such as song titles for example and some of the images, so consider yourself warned.
ABBA Voyage Is No Hologram Show!
First of all, there are no holograms. What you have instead are avatars, digital copies of the real ABBA members. Industrial Light and Magic (yes, that one!) worked with the real ABBA members for five weeks doing motion capture for all the songs. All aged in their 70s, they were given basic choreography to do and all of this was recorded. The special effects wizards then created the avatars to resemble ABBA in the late 1970s.
Body doubles helped to extend the dance moves so it would look like younger people doing them and all of this was put together in computers. Real costumes were designed and actually made, then digitised as well. For the show, 120 terabytes of disk storage are required, which is sent to a 65 million pixel screen at 25 gigabytes per second. Not too shabby!
How Realistic Is It Really?!
For starters, it is a technical triumph, with the avatars looking unbelievably realistic and brilliantly detailed. The visuals happening throughout the show as backdrops to the action are superb! It is feast for the eyes almost always, so you really have to pay attention as there’s a lot going on, which is awesome. I was afraid they would look like computer game characters, but it is far from that.
The Visitors as an opener is a spectacular choice. Casual fans won’t know the song and everyone goes pretty quiet staring at the avatars. Frida’s cape is monumentally good and the detail on the clothes is off the charts. The fabrics move, shimmer, sparkle where the light hits sparkly bits, it’s so realistic.
Everything moves fluidly, for example in The Winner Takes It All, Agnetha’s hair is partly over her arm as it’s quite long, and when she puts her head back while singing and the arm comes up, all the hair falls away exactly as it would in real life. The detail is incredible!
What Else? How About The Sound?
Sound wise the concert is faultless. Every song seems to feature the studio vocals, however as they have a live band and live backing vocalists, that gives it a live feeling which really works. If you’ve ever heard ABBA’s music live (such as at a Mamma Mia! performance) you know how good the music sounds in person and this band does it justice. It sounds brilliant throughout in every way.
While you have the four avatars “on stage”, the visuals also feature close-ups and sweeping around shots, views from above and so on placed on what would be the “big screens” at a normal concert. That’s where you can really see the detail of the avatars, the costumes, and the faces, which I really liked.
Some of the songs, such as Knowing Me, Knowing You and Mamma Mia are big screen only, which works really well. There is a fantastic transition from Lay All Your Love On Me into Summer Night City which will make your jaw drop. It’s so well done creatively, that at that point you just go with the transition.
All four members speak to the audience individually, with Björn’s being the least successful, Frida’s the most heartfelt, Benny’s the most amusing and Agnetha’s was plain nice. The introduction they do to Waterloo (which is the Eurovision performance intercut with other 1970s performances of the song), talking to each other and the audience, is pretty fun.
Everyone Agrees It’s Great!
Reviews have been rather excellent, even newspapers from far away such as The New York Times giving it a positive review. You can also look to Twitter and I think this particular tweet sums things up rather nicely.
If you were thinking of going to see ABBA: Voyage – DO IT. I expected to see some fun, campy disco holograms. I ACTUALLY saw what appeared to be REAL, wept profoundly, and left feeling I'd seen the future. ABBA have built a plywood Pop Church in East London, & it's deeply moving
— Caitlin Moran (@caitlinmoran) May 30, 2022
There’s also an excellent write up at Super Deluxe Edition, which is worth a read as well. I like how that one sort of goes into the history of how the group gradually became more popular from the 1990s onwards.
I guess the real question is, would I see it again? Absolutely! All the praise being heaped on it is very well deserved. Quite frankly, I loved it and if you get a chance to see it, go, go and go. Hell, even if you need to plan a trip to see it, plan it, make it happen.
From a creative standpoint, the decisions made really work. Two of the songs feature an animation playing on the screens throughout, which is really cool. The backdrops and the way everything is done is top level work through and through and really has to be seen to be believed.
As an experience on its own from a purely technical standpoint, it’s worth seeing. The fact it’s a concert and an ABBA concert at that, well, need I say more? It’s such a wonderful thing all round – everyone who worked on it should be very proud! Is this the future of live performance? Who knows, but honestly, you must experience this in person. No picture or video does it justice.
Will you be going to the ABBA Voyage concerts in London? If you’ve already been, what did you think of them? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.