I am buzzing with excitement getting ready for what promises to be a pioneering experience – a free Fatboy Slim concert in virtual reality. It is 11 o’clock in the morning. I’m in my lounge in my pyjamas and slippers. I don’t have to worry about what to wear – Fatboy Slim has kindly supplied my avatar with a choice of souvenir T-shirts. I have chosen a fetching tie-dye one. I just pop on my VR headset, enter the Engage metaverse platform and I am there!
Fatboy Slim’s “Eat, Sleep, VR, Repeat” resulted from a collaboration between DJ Norman Cook and the EngageXR team, led by David McDermott. Their aim was to blend Fatboy Slim’s music and imagery into a unique virtual reality experience.
Cook had no background in VR at all, but was really excited when the developers pitched the project as a fantasy gig where they could do pretty much anything, “a voyage into your brain.”
Cook suggested – “Imagine the craziest festival you’ve ever been at and all of the things you might do,” especially things that would be too dangerous or physically impossible in real life. The team came up with ideas such as zorb balls and motorbikes and then developed the basic code to be able to do it. Meetings would be mayhem, with employees zipping and zorbing around, but this playful approach inspired great technological innovation and a lot of upgrades on the Engage platform.
The Burrows of Fatboy Slim’s Mind
(Spoiler alert! This section describes the surprises in the concert.)
I land in a red curtained anteroom with a roped entrance, guarded by two surreal bouncers, each with an enormous eye for a head. Other people are spawning in. The anticipation is palpable. Amazingly, I meet my friend Louise! True to form, she has chosen a T-shirt with an evil psycho clown face on it, and so I recognise her immediately. We wait for the experience to load.
Our adventure begins outside an American diner in a starlit parking lot in a desert. People chat. We have the freedom to roam and interact with objects. It’s more friendly and sociable than a real-life nightclub. People help each other to use the buttons on their hand controllers.
The music starts, and a magical meteor shower signals that the show is about to begin. Fatboy Slim pulls up in a psychedelic playbus. Disappointingly, he is not an avatar, but a 2D video. When DJ Calvin Harris’ recently played a euphoric live concert in Pico, he appeared as a lifelike avatar at the decks, which gave a very strong sense of his presence in real time.
Fatboy Slim drops “Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat!” and the party kicks off! Giant sombreros materialize on our heads. “Put Your Hands Up!” and we eagerly comply. Everyone is dancing, zorbing, and enjoying the vibes. But just as we think we have got the measure of the experience – bam! – Fatboy Slim shocks us with a trippy surprise.
Suddenly I find myself in a truck, hurtling along a road in a Mad Max convoy of eccentric vehicles. We are no longer passive viewers – we are active participants in a mind-bending trip! We discover that we can teleport from vehicle to vehicle, as we dance beneath a pulsating psychedelic sky. I have been separated from Louise. We speed through a neon city, into Fatboy Slim’s giant open mouth and into his head!
The interior of Fatboy Slim’s head is like a plush nightclub with giant speakers and turntables. I spot Louise. She is spinning around on one of the records. We all dance as we spin around or bash yellow smileys with baseball bats. This is the kind of “surreal lunacy” that imbues the Fatboy Slim tour in the real world but is taken to the next level in VR.
“Funk Soul Brother” starts up, and we find ourselves in a rollercoaster. We ride the rollercoaster and are coughed out of Fatboy’s mouth and deposited in a giant American diner! Norm is playing his decks on top of a supersized hamburger. We ride around on giant cockroaches among gargantuan unsuspecting diners who move in slow motion. A milkshake is knocked over and we swim in pink foam.
Louise is nowhere to be found. Later she tells me that the Mad Max ride made her feel queasy, and the spinning record finished her off! This is unusual for Louise, who in real life is far from a lightweight, and is usually the last woman standing at the bar.
The scene morphs into a bright blue sky above fluffy white clouds. We are skydiving! Our costumes have magically changed into skydiving suits, completing the exhilarating illusion. Groups of thrilled ravers join hands, diving together. Aerobatic planes whoosh overhead, amplifying the adrenaline rush. Norm himself skydives among us, at floating decks.
We land in a clearing in Mount Ravemore National Park, surrounded by pine forests beneath the shimmering aurora borealis. I ride joyfully on the back of a dancing Bigfoot. The lyrics “I am you and you are me…we live in a world of love” resonate powerfully, as enormous red heart emojis pour out of Norm’s turntables, surrounding us in a cascade of love. A deep feeling of unity and affection flows through the crowd. Some friendly-looking aliens join the party and a few ravers are lucky enough to be abducted.
The mood shifts as Greta Thunberg appears, passionately delivering her blistering speech to the UN: “How dare you! People are suffering! People are dying! Entire ecosystems are collapsing!” Ethereal sea creatures begin gliding gracefully among us—fish, seahorses, jellyfish, shining as symbols of the planet’s imperilled beauty. Her urgent message hits home. We feel emotionally united behind Greta’s vital call to action.
And then 3-2-1 boom! Norm detonates a nuclear bomb. A mushroom cloud rises above us, draining the landscape of aquatic life. It’s a sobering moment.
Norm lifts the mood with his upbeat hit “Praise You”. Stretching out his arms, he effortlessly transports us.
And we are back outside the retro diner where we began. Ravers hug, buzzing with inspiration. We have shared a truly awe-inspiring experience.
I take off my headset, elated. I have had a workout dancing like a loon. I have shared an awesome experience and had a sense of connectedness with a bunch of other people from all over the world. I have had a mind-blowing psychedelic trip without taking any drugs. I have not polluted the environment flying to Ibiza, nor had a nightmare journey home on a night bus full of drunks. I have an enormous grin on my face – I truly have had one of the best nights out of my life! I am still in my slippers, and it’s only 11.45 am.
The Future of VR Concerts
Since Jean-Michel Jarre’s groundbreaking VR concert “Notre Dame” in 2021, artists have gradually recognized the medium’s potential for aesthetic innovation and meaningful global connection, without the physical demands of touring. While the Fatboy Slim UK Tour 2023 reached 6,000 fans per night, immersive concerts could exponentially increase that reach to millions of viewers worldwide. Although current headset costs limit mass access, VR rental provides an option for interested fans.
Ultimately, VR allows artists to create immersive experiences that complement real-life live performances with extra layers of imagination and storytelling. The Amaze VR platform offers strikingly intimate performances from artists like Megan Thee Stallion, Zara Larsson and UPSAHL, with Korean superstar Kai and K-pop band Aespa coming soon. In Meta Horizon Venues fans can rock out with the Foo Fighters, dance along with J Balvin, and pay homage to the late Notorious B.I.G. who will appear in hyper-realistic avatar form.
Engage do intend to bring this virtual reality Fatboy Slim experience back at some point, and Mc Dermott looks forward to doing more music collaborations. Meanwhile, you can catch a 2D run-through on YouTube. As technology improves, prices will come down, but in the meantime, Fatboy Slim encourages fans who own headsets to lend them to friends: “Share the love. Spread the word!”