Brighton leads the way for Creative Technology

Phil Jones is Managing Director of Wired Sussex and The FuseBox in Brighton, we chatted to him about collaborating on plans for the 5G Festival next year.

Historically, artists such as John Cage and Brian Eno have experimented with technology to create new forms of music. Why is 5G technology particularly exciting for the creative sector and especially for live music events?

Significant advances in technology provide artists with fresh ways to bring to life creative ideas and deliver them to audiences. So, for instance, the advent of the worldwide web and improvements in internet connectivity allowed content creators to bypass traditional media gatekeepers and connect directly with audiences online.

Full 5G connectivity is what will underpin the next generation of technological innovation that’s immersive, intelligent, and connected. 5G is stable, fast, and it significantly reduces the time required for computers to respond to the commands they receive.

That last aspect, called latency, is important. It means that artists will be able to connect remotely and in real time with each other and with audiences in ways that weren’t possible before. Theatrical experiences can be enhanced making them more immersive, the production of films can be synchronised virtually across various locations, and groups of musicians can produce and perform even though they are located in different cities or countries. 

How are Wired Sussex and The FuseBox collaborating with Brighton Dome?

A few years ago, Wired Sussex, Coast to Capital LEP and Digital Catapult developed the first 5G testbed in the UK that was specifically designed to be accessible to small and mid-sized organisations. Based at the FuseBox innovation hub in Brighton, it has helped many different types of business develop products and services that utilise 5G’s unique technical characteristics.

Brighton’s enduring strength is its ability to bring together creativity with new technologies in really imaginative ways, so that’s where we are refocusing our 5G testbed. Our ambition is to make this city an international centre-of-excellence in the use of 5G to support innovation in the cultural and creative sector. With that as our goal, Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival was an obvious partner to expand the testbed, as a world-renowned performance venue and international arts festival and with an unparalleled expertise in working with artists and creatives to support ambitious and innovative audience experiences.

The relationship has developed, and Brighton Dome invited us to be part of the 5G Festival next March, the world’s first internationally accessible virtual music festival powered by 5G technology. It’s a national project funded by the DCMS and led by Digital Catapult with a wide range of industry partners. 

What plans are being developed in Brighton for the 5G Festival?

There are three main elements of the 5G Festival– the first is helping artists to remotely and seamlessly collaborate in the creation of music. Second, distributing live music more effectively and to foster new business models for festivals and live music venues. And third, enhancing the audience experience of live music at home or at a venue. Brighton Dome are leading this last aspect working towards a Showcase in March 2022.

This is also the part we are collaborating on with Brighton Dome and is called ‘Alternative Stages’. It’s about providing opportunities within the project to support new and experimental artists in the earlier stages of their creative journeys and engage with the regional music eco-system that supports them.

Who else is collaborating on the Alternative Stages element?

We are working with Brighton-based radio station, Platform B who have a particular focus on supporting young music talent, which coupled with their enthusiasm for new technologies, makes them an ideal partner. We have also started to engage with local grassroots music venues like Green Door Store.

We’re really keen to get feedback and ideas from artists, labels, venues and other creatives on what we are planning, so we’re running a series of free events at the FuseBox to share ideas, opportunities and technologies that underpin the Alternative Stages aims.

The events have covered issues from copyright in virtual worlds to discussions on whether immersive gigs complement or compete with real world ones. We’ve seen people attending from artists like Colin Newman and Malka Spigel, plus technologists working in Virtual Reality, blockchain, 3D scanning and more. For me, it’s that eclectic mix of participants that makes the discussion so interesting and inclusive.

The next event on Wed 1 Dec will look at The Future Festival and the differences between real experiences and virtual ones. We’ve got some really insightful contributions from Dr Michael Williams from the University of Brighton whose research focuses on music events; promoter Anna Moulson, founder of Melting Vinyl; Matthew Shaw from music festival Sea Change and Donna Close, Brighton Dome’s Digital Cultural Associate. 

Book your free ticket for the next Wired Sussex Alternative Stages event on Wed 1 Dec 

After such a challenging time during the pandemic, how is this project going to benefit grassroots music venues like the Green Door Store and the young bands starting to tour? Will new technology stop people wanting to go out to see bands in person?

I spent a large part of my early career working in the music industry and, in many ways, it’s never been tougher than it is now, especially when it comes to the live music element. We have experienced the eradication of many small music venues through relaxed planning laws and gentrification, the complications around touring in Europe post-Brexit, and the impact of Covid-19.

There is no doubt that people still really value the visceral experience of live concerts and festivals. At their best, they enable us to bond with artists and with each other in ways that can provide us with the memories of a lifetime. In fact, the more digital has made access to music easy and ubiquitous, the greater the demand to experience it and the culture that surrounds it physically.

What I think 5G and the immersive technologies it powers will provide are a different set of experiences. Ones that will deliver new creative and commercial opportunities, enabling artists and venues to reach more diverse audiences that wouldn’t normally be able to attend events in person. It might not yet be able to recreate the physical thrill of a live concert, but it can provide a better and more sophisticated audio experience. And if integrated in inventive ways into a live concert, these technologies can add value to that experience, making it one that could have a commercial premium attached.

I think we are at the early stage of the process with 5G technologies and the music industry. Both creatively and commercially, the best is yet to come. The aim of this project is to try and ensure that all those in the industry, big and small, might reap the benefits.

Why is this project exciting for Brighton & Hove and its creative economy?  

This city is the epitome of the experience economy. Much of what we do in Brighton is deliver great creative and cultural experiences. This project starts to chart a way of taking that strength and making it available in new ways to new audiences across the globe. By doing so, it can keep Brighton & Hove as a leading player in combining the creative imagination with technological innovation.

At a recent event, someone said that these immersive technologies are akin to where the film industry was in 1905 and what we need is the equivalent of a Serge Eisenstein or Orson Welles to reimagine what can be done with it. Maybe, just maybe, they are here somewhere in this city?

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