It’s never been done before: Inside first ever 5G Festival

Headliner has spoken exclusively to Sonosphere director and immersive audio/live streaming expert Jamie Gosney about the world’s first ever 5G Festival, which recently sailed through a second set of trials to test the technology that will power the event.

The 5G Festival is a multi-platform, hybrid event that combines elements of live, in-person performance, remote collaboration and augmented reality. At present, it is undergoing a series of trials to ensure the technological infrastructure can sufficiently withstand the demands of what will be first-of-its-kind event. It is currently pencilled in to take place early in 2022 at a yet-to-be-confirmed venue.

The event will see performances broadcast live directly to audiences at remote locations from world-leading venues, and produce new immersive, in-venue experiences. The recent trials built on the practical testing and research established during the first stage trials held in March 2021 with the aim of having artists collaborate from different locations to see how an immersive festival experience would work both in a venue and at home.

A new group called The Remotes’ - the most data divided band in the UK - was put together especially for the trials, led by musical director Kojo Samuel, who has worked with Stormzy, Jess Glynne and Dave. A collaboration of experienced session musicians, The Remotes rehearsed and performed from physically separate locations. A vocalist and drummer were located in Metropolis Studios in London, while 60 miles away in Brighton Dome’s iconic venue, a vocalist, bass player, lead guitarist and keyboard player played in two separate spaces.

The Remotes performed using augmented reality (AR) glasses, live streaming through a 5G network-ready 360° content distribution platform, and an innovative immersive audio mixing interface. This meant that even though they couldn’t perform together physically - or take cues from each other - in real life, the individual performers were able to collaborate using technology to recreate the same kind of rehearsal and performance as from a band performing together on one stage. For the audience, the technology is designed to provide a more emotionally connected experience in-venue, and via AR, virtual reality and 360° video, will enable streaming of their favourite artist live into their own homes on their preferred viewing device, or from one venue to another.

Headliner spoke to Gosney to find out more about the innovative new concept…

What exactly is a 5G Festival?

The 5G Festival is part of the wider £200 million 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme (5GTT) funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, that will produce a 5G powered, virtual, live immersive collaboration platform for artists. It will enable them to produce and perform seamlessly from wherever they are, as well as enriching the festival experience for audiences at home and/or at the venue. Using 5G and its ability to transmit with low latency (delay) and in ultra-high bandwidth alongside Mativision’s 5G-ready 360° content distribution platform, the 5G Festival will transform the ability of physically separate artists to produce immersive live, collaborative performances across multiple venues including Brighton Dome, O2 Blueroom at The O2, and Metropolis Studios.

The collaboration is led by Digital Catapult and brings together global music company Warner Music Group; renowned live arts venue and culture organisation Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival working with Brighton 5G testbed partner Wired Sussex; telecommunications service provider and sponsor of The O2 and O2 Academy venues O2; pioneers in music production Metropolis Studios (audio mixing, production and venue), Sonosphere (immersive audio and live streaming) and Audiotonix (audio mixing consoles and AoIP networking); and innovative digital technology companies Mativision (5G, 360° immersive live streaming and distribution platform) and LiveFrom (blockchain ticketing).

How does it work?

With remote music production, two (or more) artists in remote locations will be able to play synchronously, see each other for visual cues, and experience audience reactions. The virtual festival (at home) aspect will enable fans at home to consume a combined live feed from collaborating artists using any device for a rich immersive live music experience without the need for travel.

The hybrid festival (at venue) element will see groups of fans at a physical venue experience part of a live collaborative performance physically with the collaborator ‘present’ in extended reality (XR), augmenting their traditional experience.

This has never been done, we're learning as we go. Jamie Gosney, director, Sonosphere

What did this latest set of trials entail?

The recent trials built on the practical testing and research established during the first stage trials held in March 2021 with the aim of having artists collaborate from different locations to see how an immersive festival experience would work both in a venue and at home.

The trials tested how much audio latency (delay) can be tolerated for a group of performers to be able to play together remotely and how the use of spatial audio delivery instead of stereo helps them collaborate with each other seamlessly in-sync. Video latency was also tested to determine if the performers could take visual cues from each other remotely from two separate venues with live streams of the band’s individual performances creating an immersive in-venue experience created by artist Zach Walker from Make Amplify and videographer Nick Driftwood. For the first time in the project, spatial sound was used to trial how this new and emerging audio technology can create a ‘virtual festival’ experience, which transports the audience member from an intimate space elsewhere in Brighton Dome to the very centre of the Concert Hall auditorium.

What are the biggest challenges in producing an event like this?

Obviously, the biggest challenge to date has been getting a stable network between two venues, 60 miles apart, working. But having Kostas Katsaros from Digital Catapult working closely with the network specialist Dave Sampson from Auditonix, we managed to get the network up and running, allowing the musicians to collaborate remotely with unnoticeable latency.

The next challenge, which we’re currently working on, is producing a live showcase with a number of musicians and bands collaborating remotely, playing to an invited audience over three venues. This has never been done before, so we’re learning as we go.

How many more rounds of trials are there before the festival can be given the green light?

Further trials will take place during 2021, to introduce the third venue with further testing of the spatial hybrid elements and culminating in the live public event, with the 5G Festival taking place in March 2022.

Do you anticipate 5G technology changing the whole concept of live music events moving forward?

Yes. One of the most exciting and moving experiences about these recent trials was not only the musical connection between the artists but the emotional one, too. They seemed totally oblivious to the technology and communicated and played together like they were in the same space. Covid has had such a devastating effect on our precious industry, not only because artists and technicians have not been able to work and thus had no income, but also because of the effect on peoples’ mental health by not being able to connect on a creative level with other artists. I’m convinced that what we’re doing will go some way to changing that and act as a safeguard should anything like Covid happen again.

There are so many more incredible possibilities that are already presenting themselves from the recent trials and the collaboration between the consortium members. The only thing we can say right now, is watch this space.