The Tupac Effect: Where to from here?
Whether you were jostling for a view in the Indio desert or slumped in front of YouTube, there was no missing that Coachella cameo from Tupac Shakur. While on-screen the resurrected rapper was clearly a CG creation, for the audience on the ground it was a harder call. Had Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg hired an impersonator in spectacular bad taste? Is Tupac still breathing and still wearing his favourite jeans from 1994? When the apparition asked, “What the fuck is up, Coachella?”, it seemed like a pretty good question.
Tupac’s reign on the Coachella mainstage amounted to just five minutes, but it was inevitable the discussion of ‘what it all means’ would carry on a lot longer. While Coachella has had its share of surprises over the years, a feat of technology is not usually the talking point. In 2006, there was the first-ever glimpse of Daft Punk’s pyramid under the festival’s Sahara tent: the result of months of intensive planning between the French duo, L.A.-based production company Daft Arts and lighting maestro Martin Phillips. Unspoiled “wow” moments like that – where technology and stagecraft come together in something truly mesmeric – are rare.
In questionable taste or not, the Tupac effect was one of those moments. Described not as a hologram but a “completely synthetic human being” by its creator Ed Ulbrich, four months of concerted work went into its creation. Within minutes of the live stream ending, thousands of ‘Tupac Alive At Coachella!’ videos appeared on YouTube. CNN, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal made it headline news. Countless “what dead music star would you resurrect?” polls showed up around the internet. A parody Coachella 2013 line-up poster is now doing the rounds, headlined by holograms of Mozart, Michael Jackson and The Clash.
Amongst all this noise, I naively thought I’d be one of the first to track down AV Concepts – the San Diego company that created the virtual Tupac – for an interview. Alas, just a few hours too late. “Unfortunately, all press inquiries going forward have to be directed to Dre Dre’s publicist,” came the reply. I’m still waiting on Dre’s publicist, but it seems everyone’s working on Detox time over there. Here’s the question in all of this, though: do advancements like holographic design make live shows more compelling, or are we drifting into real-life Spinal Tap territory?
Back at the start of March, I wrote a feature ‘Bright Lights, Big Budgets: What Dance Music Did Next’ on the mad scramble for custom stage shows. In the words of Deadmau5: “Now we’ve accepted a big stage production as the thing to go see.” Electronic music is of course indivisible from new technology, and that’s more visible than ever in the live setting. We might be uncomfortably close to Jim Morrison exhumed as a hologram for The Doors World Tour, but can we hope for electronic acts to harness the technology in surprising ways? Or is dance music just as susceptible to a gimmick?