Future Festivals – Oxjam Beeston 2021

On Saturday the 25th of September the Future Festivals project unleashed its first hybrid festival experience on an unsuspecting Beeston public and donated £500 to Oxfam in the process.

Debuting our new software platform “Bubbles” we delivered music from eleven performers, eight from our Middle Street Resource Centre venue and a further three from remote locations including Bristol and Leeds.

Our digital Oxjam festival environment allowed ticket-holders to see the bands when they were on stage, see into our physical venue, video chat with each other, view last year’s recordings, and explore a vibrant festival Space.

Our physical venue also contained a view into the virtual, allowing the remote and physical audiences to interact with each other, and the remote performers to appear at the venue on the virtual stage.

A live performer from the band ‘break a leg’ looks out at his virtual audience
An online viewer watches a remote performance from Betti Confetti in Bristol

Our unique platform allows visitors to create “bubbles” – groups of people attending the festival together and sharing their video/audio, while others at the festival – but not in your bubble – appear simply as avatars.

The principle behind this is to limit the size of the video calls to just those you want to communicate with, thus increasing scalability, reducing network use and creating a sense of togetherness with your friends in a wider crowd.

The online experience is a mixture of computer game and video call, with people able to walk around a virtual Oxjam festival site that is set in Wollaton Park. They can watch live performers from the Middle Street venue, Bristol and Leeds; catch up with some videos from previous years, hangout with friends, play carnival games, and even ride the big wheel. For those in the venue, remote performers streamed in life sized on a screen the same physical size as the stage. The setting is also persistent, meaning anybody can drop in at anytime, allowing for impromptu performances, just like a bandstand in a real physical park.

One of the great benefits of our platform is that it provides streaming in near-real time – meaning that performers really can interact live with their audience, similar to performances over zoom for example, but in a much more embodied environment and potentially to very large audiences. Similarly, the transition from audience member to performer is as simple as walking onto the big stage – as long as you have permission to do so, hence the barrier to entry as a performer, at least in terms of learning the system, is relatively low. Sound checking takes place in-world, in a special green room tent, and the virtual audience can see performers getting ready both in the physical venue, and in the virtual green room. The goal is to make the virtual festival feel as much like a physical festival as possible and to create an experience that is engaging for both audience and performers.

Oxjam is a national music event that raises money for Oxfam. Now in its 11th year, the Beeston event has grown to be hugely popular and has raised over £150,000. The University of Nottingham’s Mixed Reality Lab has always been a keen supporter of the event with academics, staff and students regularly showcasing their own musical skills as part of the event.

Future Festivals is one of Horizon’s co-production projects, a partnership between researchers in Horizon, Oxfam, Streampark and Live Cinema exploring how hybrid physical and online experiences might change festivals as we know them.

Photo credits: Hugh Miller, Pat Brundell, Sandra Cook, Sarah Martindale, Paul Tennent