U2 spent the better part of four decades crushing the expectations of concertgoers, each time reimaging the tech available to them as artists and pushing so far into the breach that it would be easy to wonder what’s left for them.
Enter the longtime U2 collaborator and technical director Stefaan “Smasher” Desmedt, and technology partner Weka who would work together to make the band’s residency at Sphere a truly unique experience for audiences as they would be immersed in visual imagery while surrounded by the band’s sound. In the past U2’s shows demanded 4K video content. Their shows at Sphere need the ability to move around 200 to 300 gigabytes of data per minute. In addition to that, they had to bring more than 500 terabytes of archival video footage that had been rendered in the U.K. to the servers for the venue in Las Vegas.
The bnd just extended their residency in the venue.
Desmedt quickly realized Weka’s platform was one he could trust to store, archive and manage the data that U2 needed for the shows they’ve designed for now. An added challenge, Desmedt explains, is that the band often likes to change the imagery in their shows in an effort to fine tune and experiment with the environment.
“Especially with (U2), they’re very impatient,” says Desmedt. “They have a new idea and they want to turn it around in a week. So, with (Weka) we have a few local animators, and they just log in locally and they make their changes and they render locally and it gets pushed to my servers as well.”
While much of the show bathes the audience with rich, unforgettable visuals that recall everything from images of Las Vegas icon Elvis Presley to techno/rave inspired geometrics, songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name” are given an elegant and almost restrained treatment with the desert sunrise images that accompany the performance. It’s a moment that could only happen now with the right venue, the enhanced tech around it and a band willing to push all of it as much as possible. Desmedt explains that to make moments like this happen, “we needed to find a storage server technology partner that could meet both the band’s vision and the production’s extreme scale and performance requirements and deliver flawlessly in real time.”
Known for taking enormous shows on international tours, U2 is no stranger to tech challenges. Desmedt is quick to point out that the Sphere and Weka’s supporting tech could make residencies an appealing alternative to the costs and environmental impact of a full out tour. The Sphere seats around 18,000 and its interior features the largest and highest resolution LED screen in the world.
“I needed somebody who understood all the challenges because this was new territory for me,” says Desmedt, who realized there would be issues around access, archiving, directories and so many of the other structural concerns that need to be worked out for the art to happen. “It gets really complicated because I’m putting all my footage into that thing as well.”
Though set to take a well-earned break after our interview, Desmedt didn’t hesitate when asked if he’d be up for whatever the band imagined it wanted to do onstage next.
“Oh, yes, it keeps me going,” he said.
Phish is scheduled to perform at Sphere in April 2024.
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