ABBA: New tour will be created from CGI characters of band
Abba are back and those iconic dancing queens and kings aren’t just giving us the concert we never dreamed could happen, they might be changing reality at the same time. Abba last performed together 42 years ago. Within two years both marriages were over and the band had split up. Benny and Bjorn continued to work together on a range of projects, including Chess and Mamma Mia. Frida and Agnetha pursued solo careers and the band began 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 the new Abba Voyage concert experience, using technical wizardry they describe as “mindboggling”.
THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC: The Abba Voyage show in east London
ILM (the people behind Star Wars) have created digital versions of the band in their 1979 prime. With a live band, these “Abbatars” will perform 30 full concerts a month in a purpose-built Abba Arena in east London. The technology is truly groundbreaking, but just don’t call them “holograms”. Yet Björn insists everything still relies on an “emotional connection” with the audience.
Across five years, producers Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson worked closely with the band to make sure that “connection” happened.
“We did the technical legwork, but it only works because of them,” Ludvig says. “It’s their souls infused in every aspect. It was their desire, their ambition to do this. It moves me to watch it, you can feel what they feel, all the soul behind their eyes. If you go away thinking it was an impressive scientific feat, we will have failed. It has to feel real.”
Abba Voyage: Trailer released for revolutionary concert
Svana says Abba’s vision was crystal clear from the start: “They didn’t want to create Wembley in 1979 or any past events. They wanted to use technology to create the concert they would have put on now, if they were still in their 20s. They are very involved, very creative, all four of them. They are very generous and open to ideas. They allowed us to win the debate every now and then. They’re lovely people.”
From the very beginning the producers saw the decades, divorces and distances melt away, as the iconic band reunited to work together after so long apart. It’s fascinating to watch the dynamic – the foursome immediately clicked into what was,” Ludvig reveals.
“They walk through the door and relate to each other like they always did. It is wonderful. That relationship is so powerful.”
Having observed grown men fall apart over the band on the Abba Voyage red carpet last week, are they aware what they mean to millions of people?
“It would make them uncomfortable if you were star-struck,” Svana says. They would go out of their way to make you comfortable.
“Frida is definitely the icebreaker, the joker. She is absolutely hilarious. Agnetha is wonderful and romantic. Exactly as you’d imagine. They don’t know how to be anything else. That is a Swedish thing. There are no masks.”
Ludvig, Benny’s youngest son, agrees: “They are the same as they always were. They don’t go, ‘Wow, cool, we’re Abba’. There’s no entourage. They show up in their car and walk in ready to work.”
And make drinks, apparently… “They make us coffee,” Svana grins. It’s good, strong Swedish coffee, no milk. They don’t allow any space for airs and graces, they’re so down to earth.”
All in their 70s now, Abba threw themselves into a punishing schedule that would challenge stars half their age. To create the digital avatars they were filmed day after day by 160 cameras, performing songs over and over under retina-searing lights to ensure no shadows, all while covered in motion capture dots.
“You’re in tight bodystockings with a helmet on and you’re meant to perform like you’re on stage,” Svana says. “I would challenge any artist to do that for several days. They did it for five weeks.”
The band themselves joked that they looked “ridiculous”, with the boys enduring an additional trial. Bjorn says: “We had to shave beards after 40 years.”
With such a gruelling process, the producers found an inspired way to make their stars relax.
Each day the studio was themed to a specific song, while all the production team and cafeteria staff danced and cheered in front of Abba like a real concert.
Yet, with all the technology and people working and partying, the producers witnessed the moment the real magic quietly happened between the core four.
“Seeing them perform together and interact, there was a lot of emotion in that,” Svana reveals. “It felt like you were watching an intimate moment. It felt so private, that bond between them, so poignant. And you definitely could see they felt it too.
“All the soul of it, what’s behind the eyes, comes from Abba,” Ludvig says. It moves me to watch it, you can feel what they feel. Then that was combined with data from younger bodies to create the avatars’ movement.”
It is fair to say nobody knew what was possible when this all started, nor what it would entail.
“It wasn’t meant to be five years,” Svana admits. ‘We had no idea at the start – two years were spent exploring and researching, turning down wrong roads and going back.”
Ludvig adds: “It is easy because the enthusiasm, the dream-creating has been so enjoyable. But if someone had said five years ago what this would become I don’t think anyone would have agreed. I have never exhausted myself on every level like this, and that goes for everyone. We did it for the love of the music, for the project and for Abba.”
Svana adds: “They told us how proud they are of what this is, that it makes them happy. That is the biggest compliment, especially with something like this, that shouldn’t be possible. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
The producers’ work is now complete as the show opens and takes on a life of its own. They describe it as a “bereavement”.
So, what next? How can they possibly top it? “You can’t,” Svana laughs. “But if someone sends us more money, we’ll make more songs and do this forever. They have a lot of music left!”
The normally stoic Ludvig excitedly agrees: “Yes! We can do another show with 20 more songs!”
Benny and Bjorn have also revealed that, with all their digital data stored, there is an option to swap in a couple of different songs as the current show continues.
Abba fans, this Voyage is only just beginning…
- Abba Voyage is now booking until May 28, 2023. Head to abbavoyage.com