'This is something new and different': Tomorrowland promises a virtual spectacle with online festival

The mega dance music brand is pulling out all the stops for its digital event

Expect an immersive virtual world, the best in 3D technology and cutting edge sounds when Tomorrowland launches its debut all-digital festival.

The mega dance event, normally home to 400,000 people for back-to-back July weekends in the Belgium town of Boom, is aiming to redefine the digital concert experience with its upcoming event.

Streaming on its website on Saturday, July 25 and Sunday, July 26, Tomorrowland Around the World will see the likes of superstar DJs Armin van Buuren, David Guetta and Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike performing live from the centre of a newly created digital festival site of Avatar-esque proportions.

A new way of doing things

Suddenly, the idea of catching the latest Instagram live concert sounds rather ancient. And that’s the point, according to the event’s official spokesperson Debby Wilmsen.

Speaking to The National from the event's physical headquarters in Belgium, she says Tomorrowland aims to take the online concert format forward after the gluttony of virtual gigs in the wake of the pandemic.

“This was how the conversation about planning this event really began two months ago,” she says. “We saw many other events that were basically live streaming or gaming concerts where the artists and crowd are avatars. We didn’t want to do either of those, so instead, we are attempting to combine both techniques.”

Where normally 15,000 staff would be on the ground to construct the site, a team of 100 digital creatives have been working away building the virtual fields in time for the event.

The 35-second trailer shows eight concert stages held within various landscapes ranging from the mouth of Mars-like red mountains to a teeming megalopolis on the edge of an ocean. Upon entry to the website, festival goers can travel – through their phone or computers – to each stage and check out the particular headliners.

As for the music acts themselves, they will also be strapped in for the ride. Wilmsen says each DJ’s live performance will be superimposed onto the virtual festival stages from various locations around the world.

“We have actually booked video studios in various locations, such as in Australia, here in Belgium, the US and soon in Asia for the artists to come in,” Wilmsen says.

“They will perform in this state of the art space, that includes a green screen, 360 degrees cameras recording their every move and of course a great sound system.”

While all that sounds impressive, Wilmsen admits it takes a certain leap of faith from the artists to sign up to the event.

“We did need to convince some of the artists to take part because they are used to playing in front of a lot of people, and while they still will play to a big crowd, they just won’t be able to see them,” she says. “But once we explained the concept and showed them some of the visuals, they were like ‘okay, let’s do this'.”

Other acts signed up for more practical purposes.

“Well for Armin van Buuren, he loved it because he can now bring his kids to the studio,” Wilmsen says. “For everyone involved, this is all something new and something different.”

Is this the future of live events?

While for Wilmsen dance music will always be best appreciated live and on location, the digital space provides the valuable opportunity to expand the event’s fan base.

When it comes to Tomorrowland, this is a serious endeavour. With the event’s 400,000 tickets normally selling out within the first few hours, Wilmsen says each year countless people are left disappointed for missing out.

This is on top of those dance music fans from the around the world, including Mena and Asia, not being able to attend the festival due to finances or visa restrictions.

In that sense, Tomorrowland Around the World is a worthy cause. It is a chance to create a dance version of Narnia, where for a relatively small fee, all ages and nationalities are welcome to hear their favourite artists perform.

“If this event goes well and the artists and fans are happy then this is definitely a concept that we can develop in the future,” Wilmsen says.

“This can be a festival for everyone and that includes those under 15 who (legally) can’t make it to the festival, elderly people who love music but don’t want to attend festivals anymore, or those far way and who can’t make it to Belgium because travelling here is expensive.”

Dress up and make it a big weekend

However, despite all that effort and technology, no digital festival can succeed without that human element. Like the physical festival, Wilmsen says fans will also play a major part in making Tomorrowland Around the World the industry watershed moment it hopes to be. So, prepare and dress up.

“We want people to block those dates in their agenda,” she says.

“Get dressed like you are going to the festival, invite your best friend over, only if it is safe to do so in your countries, have some pizza and hang up your flag. You basically need to make it a Tomorrowland weekend.”

Tickets for Tomorrowland Around the World, held on Saturday and Sunday, July 25 and 26begin from €12.50 (Dh52) for a day pass, or €20 (Dh83) for weekend passes including a week of video-on-demand content. The festival runs each day from 5pm UAE time to 3am. For details go www.tomorrowland.com

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