June 30, 2022

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ABBA hopes to do better than Elvis and Michael Jackson with immersive performance

ABBA hopes to do better than Elvis and Michael Jackson with immersive performance

Swedish music band ABBA, shown here as wax figures, has sold more than 400 million records worldwide.

Jonathan Nakstrand | Afp | Getty Images

Founding member Bjorn Ulfauss told CNBC that pop legends ABBA are taking a big gamble on their latest immersive project.

The much-anticipated immersive performance called ABBA Voyage has been described as a “concert that took 40 years to prepare” and features digital avatars of the Swedish supergroup accompanied by a 10-piece live band.

Speaking in late April ahead of the much-anticipated world premiere in London, UK, this week, Ulvaeus told CNBC that it’s a “risky project in many ways”.

“The risk, of course, is that people won’t find it is the experience I think and hope it will be. That’s the main thing. If people go from thinking about the concert, yeah, well, it wasn’t bad but… we want them to feel , you know, with emotion and they feel like they’ve been through something they’ve never seen before.”

latest album

The pop icon also confirmed to CNBC that the much-loved band’s 2021 “Voyage” album — their first in 40 years — will be their last.

ABBA – Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – took to the world stage after winning the Eurovision Song Contest with the song Waterloo in 1974.

The band has gone on to sell over 400 million records worldwide, reportedly second only to Volvo as one of Sweden’s biggest exports.

It’s been 40 years since the band’s last show together, and Ulvaeus said he’s been “nervous and euphoric.”

He said he expects this week’s ABBA Voyage Digital Gala opening to be “very special” and beat any other moment in his career so far.

On the last episode of “CNBC’s Conversation” Ulvaeus says the idea first came about about five years ago — to create “ABBA-tar” digital versions of the band from their 1979 main concert, in a sophisticated concert.

He said that experiments had been conducted before with Michael Jackson and Elvis, but that the team behind the technology made sure to use it with live characters.

“You’d better do it with someone who’s still alive because your skull, even though the rest of your body is collapsing… The measurements in the skull are the same, so it’s easier to recreate a smaller version of yourself if you’re still,” said Ulvaeus.

To create the human-like avatars, the four band members, who are now in their 70s, donned motion-capture suits and performed all the songs on stage in a specially built studio in Stockholm, Sweden.

“They wore us kind of tight costumes, black with dots and there were dots on our faces, and we had helmets. And then we go to that stage and do a song almost like we had it performed on the old British ‘Top of the Pops’ [TV] program,” he said.

“It was weird at first. I mean, I was looking around and there’s Agnetha doing her thing, and me, just like the old days. But in the end, it was fun.”

deep fake

Ulvaeus said the band has been leading the way with the technology behind ABBA Voyage.

“We are pioneers in this field, for making avatars, for building digital copies like humans – into the pores, through the hairs in the nose, through everything [it] It will make you feel after a while that this is a human, this is not digital, this is a video of a human, and it is very interesting to be a pioneer and to do it in that context,” he said.

But the celebrity star said he was concerned about how the technology could be misused by those who want to create a “deep fake”.

“I realized that they can be abused, and they will be abused. Our avatars will not be used, but other avatars will be used as vehicles that say things the original people don’t mean, fake, I mean, deep fake. Indistinguishable from the real thing in the future and that’s Something we should really pay attention to.”

“But somebody was going to do it anyway, so I thought maybe I’d do it in a positive way because the pioneers would be good to show how it can be used.”

A purpose-built ‘ABBA Arena’ that can seat 3,000 spectators has been built in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London.

Shows for the ABBA Voyage concert are open to the public on May 27, and Ulvaeus told CNBC that they can expect a hit show with a few little-known songs, and some songs from their latest album.

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