When the government announced national lockdown measures in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, members of the UK’s festival scene had to come to terms with a complete cancellation of the 2020 season.
Events were postponed and plans scrapped, and as Glastonbury’s Shangri-La creative director Kaye Dunnings tells Design Week: “We had a week or two where we just cracked on with lockdown projects like DIY and planting vegetable gardens, knowing that our summer work had all been lost.”
But come the end of March, she says, new plans were in the works.
“A real festival, in a virtual world”
Today, the creative team behind Shangri-La, the area of Glastonbury Festival dedicated to “progressive culture”, has announced plans for the world’s largest music and arts festival in virtual reality (VR), Lost Horizon.
The platform, which will host the festival on 3-4 July, has been developed in partnership with VR streaming platforms VRJAM and Sansar and is being billed as “a real festival, in a virtual world”. The two-day event will feature performances from international DJs and underground acts, as well as creative work from a host of artists and designers from around the world.
Acts and artwork will be showcased across four virtual stages, some of which previous Glastonbury attendees may recognise, like Shangri-La’s iconic Gas Tower and the SHITV. Others are new for 2020, like the Nomad stage, which was originally scheduled to be built as a new physical stage before this year’s cancellations.
As Dunnings explains: “We couldn’t rebuild the whole of Shangri-La, but these areas have been chosen to give as good an experience as possible.”
As with Shangri-La’s previous iterations, art and design will play a big role in the Lost Horizon experience. Artwork will be displayed throughout the VR platform, and a dedicated exhibition space features in the festival’s fourth area, the Freedom Stage (known previously at Shangri-La as the Truth Stage).
The curation of the artwork for the exhibition has been led by graphic designer and co-founder of Design Manchester, Malcolm Garrett. Some 65 creatives, including the likes of Paula Scher, Clive Russell and Morag Myerscough, have been invited to produce work for the exhibition.
The brief for the work has been inspired by “the global crises that have been erupting left and right in recent years”, according to Garrett, like climate change, Brexit, the growth of the far right and the systemic racism that has prompted the Black Lives Matter political movement.
“We wanted to ask our creatives to produce something that centred around telling the truth and being honest,” he says. “What we’ve settled on is asking individuals to write a graphic letter to the world, signing it off with ‘Yours Truthfully’, which is also the name of the gallery itself.”
Changing the “tone of the space”
The traditional iteration of the Truth Stage uses large-scale banners to showcase its artwork. With the Freedom Stage being virtual, this opens up the space to more artwork than ever before.
“We want to use those billboard spaces as messages to the world,” says Dunnings.
Just how the artwork will be presented is still being finalised, according to Garrett. Digital banners give the opportunity for the “tone of the space” to change throughout the weekend, where traditional paper and paste doesn’t.
Having worked in the digital design space for some 25 years, Garrett says the times in which Lost Horizon has been birthed are an ideal convergence of tech and circumstance.
“Technology has improved so much in recent years,” he says. “But more than just the tech being good, the fact we’re all in lockdown means people are more likely to use it – before all of this happened, a lot of people have probably avoided VR, but now they have no real other choice they’ll realise how interactive and fun it can be.”
“In the face of lockdown all of this really just made sense”
That this is a good time to be establishing Lost Horizon is an idea echoed by Dunnings, who says something like this should have taken a year or more to complete, when in reality the pieces have come together in a matter of weeks.
While Lost Horizon was prompted by the global pandemic and subsequent lockdown, the possibility of a VR festival has been thought about for some time, she adds.
“We talked about doing something like this years ago: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to make Shangri-La into something interactive so that people could come and see us even if they weren’t at the festival?’” she says. “So in the face of lockdown all of this really just made sense.”
And though inherently Lost Horizon is operating with the confines of lockdown and tech, Dunnings adds that in other areas, the VR festival has presented new opportunities and ways of working that the annual physical festival doesn’t permit.
The introduction of digital banners to the Freedom Stage is just one example, she says. Another is the sheer number and scale of musical talent that has been booked to play, which she says would not have been possible to fit into a physical setting.
“A different approach”
Having worked closely with the Sansar and VRJAM teams, there will be several ways for “festival-goers” to experience Lost Horizon. Viewers will be able to stream the event via PC, VR or mobile app. Additionally, it will also be streamed via Beatport, Twitch and via partner and artist Facebook, YouTube and Twitch accounts.
The reason behind having so many access points is to ensure the festival is “as accessible as possible” according to Dunnings. For this same reason, the two-day event is free (though viewers are asked to donate to Lost Horizon’s two charitable causes, The Big Issue and Amnesty International, if they can).
When asked how she imagines most people will interact with the festival, Dunnings says she imagines most will take to stream the event. To ensure Lost Horizon stands out among the infinite number of other streams being engaged with in lockdown, she says huge effort has been taken to make the experience interactive and dynamic. As a result, viewers will be able to move around the VR space as they wish, and explore dancefloors, stages and hidden venues.
As for how Lost Horizon could be used in future editions of a physical Shangri-La, Dunnings and Garrett say there is lots to be learned from this experience. Not least, Dunnings says, will be the help Sansar and VRJAM have given in building a virtual version of the as yet non-existent Nomad Stage.
Dunnings ends: “It’s not a physical space so we have to take a different approach, but how these lessons might be used next year or the years after that is exciting to think about.”
Lost Horizon will take place between 3-4 July 2020. For more information on how to access the event, head to the Lost Horizon website.