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Eric Prydz’s 5-ton Holosphere shows the ambitious future of concert tech

The Future of Music season 2, episode 1

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sSwedish DJ and producer Eric Prydz and his team are behind some of dance music’s most extravagant and tech-forward events. His latest effort is his most ambitious — and potentially his shortest run ever. It’s called EPIC 6.0: Holosphere, and after years of development the multi-story, transparent LED sphere only saw one performance at Belgium’s Tomorrowland festival. “What a lot of people don’t realize,” Prydz tells me, “is that even though they buy a ticket and they come to see the show and it’s two hours, for us, it’s been two years.”

The Holosphere is Prydz’s latest Eric Prydz In Concert (EPIC) show, a limited-run multi-sensory experience he and his team have been constantly developing for almost a decade. The show has grown dramatically over the years, and versions have included hundreds of laser beams, digital screens larger than a jumbo jet, and colossal holographic effects. They’re breathtaking, but not practical, and production for The Holosphere is so large Tomorrowland had to redesign its grounds in order to accommodate it.

It’s a passion project, says Prydz, since each iteration takes years of development, are only performed a few times, and he always loses “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” If this seems impractical, it is, but Prydz is more interested in pushing the boundaries of what tech can create onstage than relying on decades-old crowd pleasers like pyrotechnics and confetti. “We wanted to use the technology that now is available that wasn’t available then,” Prydz says, “and try and do something different and more exciting.”

“Sometimes I wish I was in the crowd”

An unfortunate side effect of being at the literal center of his show is that Prydz has never seen EPIC himself. But to get a taste, he watches videos that are uploaded to social media after a show. “They upload these videos on YouTube,” he says, “which I love to watch afterwards ... Sometimes I wish I was in the crowd.”

Prydz hunting down EPIC clips and watching them in amazement actually demonstrates part of what’s been driving upgrades and overhauls with stage production. As Rolling Stone wrote last year, show designers increasingly have to consider not just what a show looks like to an audience, but how it looks to the millions and millions of people reached online with every tweet, Instagram post, and snap. “A show no longer starts when the curtain rises,” said entertainment architect Ray Winkler to Rolling Stone. “The show starts the moment the first person takes a picture of it.”

Another driving factor in stage innovation is the explosion of music festivals. As Quartz points out, this increase is in part because festivals have become more cost-effective than concerts. Multiple acts play on a single festival stage each day, effectively splitting the costs of things like lighting, sound, and crew. This can make festival tickets a bargain for music lovers, who can see lots of acts for one price. But if you’re an artist playing a festival, how do you stand out when you share a stage with a dozen other acts? On the easier end, you might customize your visuals, or on the extreme end, you might build incredible props and light shows, like Daft Punk’s legendary pyramid, Gesaffelstein’s Vantablack monolith, or Prydz’s multi-story Holosphere.

A massive, transparent sphere is ambitious by anyone’s standards

A massive, transparent sphere is ambitious by anyone’s standards, but the reveal at Tomorrowland paid off. The sphere’s millions of LEDs completely obscured Prydz when fully lit up, displaying everything from blue, microbial circles to rocky, planetary forms and spinning robotic bodies. One of the most stunning visuals was when the sphere transformed into a giant eyeball frenetically darting about. Just months ago I had seen Prydz’s team working on this very animation. Designer and VJ Liam Tomaszewski tested the idea by projecting it on a yoga ball in a small basement, while head of lighting Ross Chapple played around with different configurations of lasers and LED bars to flash around it. Now, here it was over two stories tall, with Tomaszewski and Chapple working live and in tandem to trigger the mind-blowing moment. Prydz stands in the center, visible through the eye’s unlit iris. The eye holds for a moment, looming over the audience, before exploding into an acid green, robotic tangle of electricity.

While the first Holosphere performance went off without a hitch, Tomorrowland canceled the second one after part of the festival’s stage ceiling sank. One of the troubles these massive EPIC shows face is designing for temporary festival stages, which generally support less weight than permanent venues, and this constraint is something that was considered when the sphere was designed. A spokesperson for Tomorrowland told The Verge that the festival was not able to “reconstruct the structure of the ceiling to Tomorrowland’s standards,” and so, “unfortunately there is no time to build his Holosphere.”

Prydz’s manager, Michael Sershall, called the Holosphere “a tremendous success,” but said that safety concerns prevented the show from being run again at Tomorrowland. “They had issues with the roof of the Freedom stage and ... decided to close the entire arena. We were absolutely devastated, especially as it was a situation beyond our control, but safety is always paramount,” Sershall said in a statement.

Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

Prydz and his team are unsure if there will be other Holosphere performances in the future, but asking about its future might be beside the point. The Holosphere was only scheduled for these two Tomorrowland performances, and part of what makes EPIC shows so coveted is that they’re all limited-run events. Even if it was only for one night, Prydz and his team accomplished their creative goal, wowing the Tomorrowland audience with an incredible spectacle that had never been done before. Now, it’s all about what’s next.

“Ever since we started doing EPIC,” Prydz says, “our goal has always been to try and blow people away, but in a way that they haven’t been blown away before at an electronic dance music event ... New technology will become available and we will figure out a way to incorporate that, and we will be able to do something that we haven’t been able to do before.”

For more on Prydz’s Holosphere, check out The Verge’s exclusive behind-the-scenes feature on how it was designed and built. And check out other episodes of The Future of Music here.

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