The Swedish music band ABBA, shown here as wax figures, has sold over 400 million records worldwide.
Jonathan Nackstrand | AFP | Getty Images
Pop legends ABBA are putting a lot of effort into their latest immersive venture, founding member Bjorn Ulvaeus told CNBC.
Dubbed “a concert 40 years in the making,” the highly anticipated immersive performance, dubbed ABBA Voyage, will feature digital avatars of the Swedish supergroup accompanied by a 10-piece live band.
Speaking ahead of its long-awaited world premiere in London, UK, this week in late April, Ulvaeus told CNBC it’s “a risky project as hell in a lot of ways.”
“The risk, of course, is that people don’t find it to be the experience that I think and hope. That’s the main thing. If after the concert people would go and think, yeah, it wasn’t that.” Not bad, but… We want them to feel emotional and to feel like they went through something they’ve never seen before .
The pop icon also confirmed to CNBC that the popular band’s 2021 chart-topping album Voyage — their first in 40 years — will be their last.
ABBA – Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad – burst onto the world stage after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with “Waterloo”.
The band have sold over 400 million records worldwide and were once reportedly only Sweden’s second largest exporter behind Volvo.
It’s been 40 years since the band last performed together, and Ulvaeus said he was “nervous and excited”.
He expects the opening of ABBA Voyage’s digital concert this week to be “so incredibly special” and eclipsing any other moment in his professional life to date.
On the latest episode of The CNBC Conversation, Ulvaeus says the idea came about five years ago – to create digital “ABBA-tar” copies of the band from their 1979 heyday in a state-of-the-art technology concert.
He said trials have already been done with Michael Jackson and Elvis, but the team behind the technology is very keen to use it with live figures.
“It’s better to do it with someone who’s still alive because your skull, even though the rest of your body is falling apart…the measurements inside the skull are the same, so it’s easier to recreate a younger copy of yourself if you’re still alive.” alive,” said Ulvaeus.
To create the human-like avatars, the four members of the band, now in their 70s, dressed in motion capture suits and performed all the songs on stage at a purpose-built studio in Stockholm, Sweden.
“They dressed us in some kind of tight suits, black with dots and there were dots on our faces and we had helmets. And then we went on this stage and played a song, almost like we played it on Top of the Pops, the old Brit [TV] program,” he said.
“It was weird at first. I mean I looked around and there’s Agnetha doing her stuff and Benny just like in the old days. But in the end it was fun.”
Ulvaeus said the band is at the forefront with the technology behind ABBA Voyage.
“We’re pioneers in this field, to create avatars, to build digital replicas that are like humans — down to the pores, through the nose hair, through everything [it] will give you a feeling after a while that this is a human, this is not digital, this is a video of a human, and it’s great fun to be the pioneer and do it in that context,” he said.
But the acclaimed star said he was concerned about how the technology could be misused by those trying to create “deep fakes”.
“I realized it could and will be abused. Not our avatars but other avatars are being used as vehicles to say things that the original people don’t mean, fake, I mean deeply fake, going to be indistinguishable from reality in the future and we really need to look at that.” he said.
“But someone was going to do it anyway, so I thought maybe do it in a positive way, since pioneers would be good to show how it can be used.”
A purpose-built “ABBA Arena” was created in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London, which can hold 3,000 spectators.
ABBA Voyage’s concert performances open to the public on May 27, and Ulvaeus told CNBC they can expect a hit parade with some not-so-well-known songs and some from their latest album.