3D Or Not 3D? That’s The Question

There’s something decidedly odd about glancing around a field at a festival and seeing thousands of people wearing little cardboard shades. That was the case at Latitude this weekend during Kraftwerk’s brilliant headline set, and it has been at a string of gigs and festivals since they first used 3D projection to animate their backdrops, back on 25 April 2009 at a show in Wolfsburg, Germany.

So is this the future of live music popping out and poking us in the eye, or just a one-off gimmick to animate a band who, as much as I might love them, are otherwise about as exciting onstage as being stuck in a lift with your tax returns? If it wasn’t for the 3D magic happening behind them you’d just be watching four guys play Tetris.

That’s why it’s difficult to imagine any other bands going to all the hassle of handing out all those glasses – although it’s probably only a matter of time before we have 3D technology built into the Google glasses that the NSA will have made mandatory by the time the new royal baby is King of our dystopian future.

They’re not the only band to have dabbled in eye-popping technology, of course. Back in 2008, U2 released their concert film ‘U2 3D’ which its own producer modestly described as a “paradigm shift” in filmmaking, comparing it to the move from silent films to talkies or from black and white to colour. Sadly it wasn’t accompanied by a simultaneous return to silence – the only way to make sitting through an entire U2 concert bearable.

In 2009, Michael Jackson was reportedly in the process of filming a collection of 3D backdrops to be used at the series of concerts which were planned before his death. In the same year, virtual Japanese pop avatar Hatsune Miku performed her first ‘live’ concert at the Saitama Super Arena. Miku is a “singing synthesizer application with a humanoid persona” who has been used to write over 100,000 songs, some of them chart-toppers. That’s a vaster production line than even Rihanna can dream of, although not having to provide Miku with food, shelter or industrial strength chronic probably helps. In 2012, the Tupac hologram proved 3D technology could exist at concerts without needing glasses – but then the company that created him promptly ran into financial problems.

Keane, Live 3D gig from Abbey Road from Inition on Vimeo.

So the road to multi-dimensional innovation is fraught with dangers. Heed this warning from history: on 2 April 2009, just weeks before Kraftwerk played their first 3D show, Keane took part in the first successful broadcast of a live music event on 3D TV. If that isn’t the least rock’n’roll thing that’s ever happened, I don’t know what is.

The real reason we don’t need any more 3D technology, of course, is that gigs already bloody are 3D. You don’t need a wonkily animated rocket ship blasting out of the screen when you’ve got Iggy Pop launching his naked torso out over your head, and who’d want animated yo-yos spinning towards their eyes when you could have Nick Cave stood up on the barrier holding a defenceless girl in white rapt in his awesome, hypnotic power? Now that’s what I call 3D.