Mark, My Words: are hologram gigs the Skype sex of pop?

So the Stepford Winehouse tour is postponed? That's probably for the best, reckons columnist Mark Beaumont

Hologram gigs are very much like Skype sex. I imagine. I’ve no experience of either, but I’m a columnist, so it’s my job to pretend I know about this sort of thing. So I’m going with it – hologram gigs and Skype sex, pretty much the same thing. You turn up expecting a mind-blowing, unforgettable experience beyond the realms of normal human interaction. There are glitches. The sounds are right, but seem a bit forced, contrived and unconvincing. And you finish with a nagging sense of shallow half-fulfilment, wishing the other person had actually been in the room.

Because, for all the grunting, hip-swivelling, egotistical posing and shouts of “whoop! I love you! Where all my ladies at?” of live music – and possibly Skype sex, I’ve no idea – a lot of the thrill of a major gig is being in the presence of an idol. You’ve listened to all the songs a billion times; what you’re paying for is time within a confined space with the superhuman cultural behemoth that created it, for them to do with you what they will, like some kind of new-song-fixated Christian Grey.

If you wanted a pre-recorded facsimile of the star in question you’d have stayed at home on YouTube swearing violent death on anyone who works at Grammarly every four minutes. You pay the big bucks to be told, personally, to your face, that you’re louder than Manchester and by far the most special municipality written on the bass player’s back of the entire tour. And to feel, with however much self-delusion it takes to get you off, that this is revealing and open-hearted quality time with your hero, rather than just the same rehearsed-to-the-point-of-tedium first-date seduction routine they lay on all the territories.


So when news emerged this week that Amy Winehouse’s hologram tour has been postponed while its creators work on “unique challenges and sensitivities” and “a concert spectacle which requires creative engineering”, it came with the same sort of relief of hearing that The Emoji Movie 2 had run into funding issues.

Let’s face it, a slick, rebootable hologram Amy tour would feel doubly fake. It could never recreate the unpredictability and tension of a true Winehouse appearance. You wouldn’t catch HoloWinehouse sat on the drum riser for 15 minutes shouting for Blake to bring its other shoes. You’d be paying to watch a Stepford Winehouse, a smooth, pre-planned recreation of an Amy gig that would betray the fundamental essence of the person and the performer.

To have any hope of capturing her true spirit, the show would have to be a holographic Bandersnatch, full of shock twists and surprise endings, driven by the mood of the machine. They’d try to make it go on green screen, it’d say no, no, no.

Likewise, you’ll never get a virtual Mark E Smith that sacks the entire band mid-gig and falls off the stage. Or a computerised Prince that leaps out of a laptop in Camden PC World at 10 minutes notice. It’s the flaws, impetuousness and freedom, the DNA of a creative force, that appeals vicariously to the rest of us Netflixed nobodies.

Holograms might work with more static, predictable singers such as Roy Orbison or ABBA, be able to recreate the choreographed dazzle of showmen like James Brown or, at some sad point in the future, be able to tell the same old Jimi Hendrix story in the guise of a CGI Paul McCartney. And sure, it’s the closest we can get to lost musicians, for now.


But it’ll never be close enough. Even when a hologram’s algorithms can download every performance by a singer and use the information to become a self-determined reincarnation with every quirk and mannerism perfectly rendered in ultra-12D, able to convincingly improvise – nay ‘live’ – a gig, there will always be a limited resource of material to draw from, nothing new to add.

It’ll always feel a pixel or two off, triggering that subliminal human intuition for fakery that you get from a Shakespeare sonnet written by the world’s smartest computer, or an Oasis lyric recited by a Tickle-Me Elmo. For all the buzz and novelty, we’ll always leave a hologram gig feeling, deep inside, that we missed out on the real thing. Just like Skype sex. Probably.

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