ABBA Voyage review: A stunning vision for the future | music | entertainment

Thank you for the music: Abba Voyage Show in East London (Photo: PA Images)

Abba and the iconic dance queens and kings are back not only giving us the concert we never dreamed of happening, they might even change reality at the same time.

Abba’s last performance together was 42 years ago. Within two years, the marriage ended and the band broke up.

Benny and Bjorn have gone on to work together on a range of projects, including Chess and Mamma Mia. Frida and Agentha sought to act on their own and the band began forming new families.

The four were almost never seen together again. Until now.

This weekend, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad launched a new Abba Voyage concert experience, using tech magic they describe as “amazing.”

ILM (the people behind Star Wars) created digital versions of the band in Prime in 1979. With a live band, these “Abbatars” will perform 30 full concerts a month at the purpose-built Abba Arena in East London.

The technology is really groundbreaking, but don’t call it “holograms”. However, Bjorn insists that everything still depends on an “emotional connection” with the audience.

Abatars...digital versions of the band in Prime 1979

Abatars…digital versions of the band in Prime 1979 (Photo: PA Images)

So for five years, producers Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson worked closely with the band to make sure the “connection” happened.

“We got the artwork done, but it only works because of her,” Ludwig says. “It’s their souls full in every aspect.

“It was their desire and ambition to do it. It made me watch it, you can feel what they feel, all the soul behind their eyes.

“If you went too far thinking it was a great scientific achievement, we’d have failed. You should feel realistic.”

Svana says Abba’s vision has been crystal clear from the start: “They didn’t want to create Wembley in 1979 or any earlier events. They wanted to use technology to create the concert they would be having now, if they were still in their twenties.”

“They are very involved and very creative, all four of them.

“They are very generous and open to ideas. They let us win the debate now and then. They are great people.”

Fantastic...Abba Voyage Party Experience

Fantastic…Abba Voyage Party Experience (Photo: PA Images)

From the start, producers have seen decades, divorces and distances vanish, as the popular band banded together after a long time apart.

Ludwig reveals: “It’s great to watch the dynamic – the quad took off immediately from what it was like.”

“They walk through the door and communicate with each other as they always did.

“It’s amazing. That relationship is so strong.”

After noticing adult men collapsing on top of the band on the Abba Voyage red carpet last week, do they realize what they mean to millions of people?

“You’d make them uncomfortable if you were exposed to the stars,” Svana says.

“They were doing everything they could to make you comfortable.

“Frida is definitely the icebreaker, the Joker. She’s so hilarious. Agnetha is adorable and romantic. Just as you can imagine.”

“They don’t know how to be anything else. This is a Swedish thing. There are no masks.”

Ludwig, Penny’s youngest son, agrees, saying, “They’re the same as ever.

“They don’t go, ‘Wow, cool, we’re daddy.’ There’s no entourage. They show up in their car and drive off ready to go.”

Unusual... the abatar moves and dances with all the idiosyncrasies of each member

Unusual… the abatar moves and dances with all the idiosyncrasies of each member (Photo: PA Images)

And they make drinks, it seems… “They make us coffee,” Svana smiled.

“It’s a good, strong Swedish coffee, and it doesn’t contain milk. It doesn’t allow any room for air and graces, it’s very unpretentious.”

All in their 70s now, ABBA threw themselves into a punishing schedule that would challenge stars half their age.

To create their digital avatars, they were photographed day in and day out with 160 cameras, repeatedly performing songs under retina lights to ensure there were no shadows, all while covered in motion capture points.

“You’re in tight socks and a helmet, and you’re supposed to perform as if you were on stage,” Savannah says.

“I would challenge any artist to do this for several days. They did it for five weeks.”

The band itself joked that they look “ridiculous”, and that the boys are getting an extra experience.

“We had to shave off beards after 40 years,” Bjorn says. With this exhausting process, the producers found an inspiring way to make their stars rest.

Every day the studio was dedicated to a specific song, while all the production team and cafeteria crew danced and cheered in front of ABBA like a real concert.

However, with all the technology and people working and partying, the producers witnessed the moment when the real magic quietly happened among the four cores.

“Seeing them perform together and interact, there was a lot of emotion in that,” Savana reveals.

“It felt like you were witnessing an intimate moment. I felt the special, that bond between them, so touching. And you can definitely see that they felt it too.”

“All her soul, beyond the eyes, comes from Abba,” says Ludwig.

“It makes me watch it, you can feel what they’re feeling. That was then combined with data from younger bodies to create the movement of the avatar.”

It is fair to say that no one knew what was possible when all this began, nor what it would entail.

“It wasn’t supposed to be five years,” Svana admits.

“We had no idea at first – we spent two years exploring and researching, rejecting wrong ways and going backwards.”

Ludwig adds: “It’s easy because getting excited and dream-making was so much fun. But if someone had said five years ago what would it be like, I don’t think anyone would have agreed.

“I’ve never exhausted myself on every level like this, and that goes for everyone. We did it for the love of music, project and dad.”

Svana adds, “They told us how proud they are of this, and that it makes them happy.

“That’s the biggest compliment, especially with something like this, it shouldn’t be possible. It feels great.”

The producers’ work is now complete with the show opening and it’s taking on a life of its own. They describe it as “a bereavement”.

What’s Next? How can they top it? “You can’t,” Svana laughs.

“But if someone sends us more money, we’ll make more songs and do it forever. They have a lot of music left!”

Usually lively Ludvig agrees enthusiastically: “Yes! We can do another show with 20 more songs!”

Benny and Bjorn also revealed that with all their digital data stored, there is an option to switch between two different songs while the current show continues.

Abba lovers, this journey is just beginning…

A mind-blowing vision of the future… It’s totally extraordinary

As the crowd chanted “We want a dad,” just like all those decades ago, the lights dimmed and four shadowed figures rose from the ground.

Revealed by a dazzling burst of lighting, they were right there in front of us in shimmering blues and reds – life-size, life-like and somewhat larger than life, even when not shown on sky-scraping screens.

Not only were we inside Aba Arena, we were thrilled with Planet Apa, a stunning futuristic reality powered by 500 lights and lasers, a giant 65 million pixel wraparound screen and a billion hours of computer programming.

Opening Number Visitors set up a fan-favorite night mixed with blockbuster commercials. Just like any concert, the music intersects with audience interaction – banter from the boys and confessions from the girls. A touching tribute to her grandmother from Frida Fernando Introductions.

The avatars move and dance with every idiosyncrasy of each member – the exuberance of Frida and the refinement of Agnetha sparkle. The light show is absolutely stunning, the sound is impressive on the richly updated orchestras.

One caveat is the frequent breaks when the band is off stage, with Bjorn even joking that he was desperate to get out of his velvet jumpsuit. However, no costume changes or scene resets are required.

The fantasy-filler animation of Eagle and Voulez-Vouz sapped momentum, while Mamma Mia and Knowing Me, Knowing You are delivered in giant video shows for the Abbatars.”

Actual 1974 Eurovision footage was shown in full for Waterloo.

But the real magic happens when ABBA is “there” on stage. Not only in the resounding sci-fi scene of Summer Night City or the euphoric euphoria of Dancing Queen, but also in The Winner Takes It All or the fluffy new song I Still Believe in.

The giant close-ups show affection and palpable affection as they sing to each other. It is very unusual.

Did you think they were really there?

I wasn’t sure until I screamed out loud at the curtain sound with the Modern Era band before the four members walked around and realized I was cheering for more Abbatars. The reality may not be the same again.



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