Light Shows/Multimedia Shows

5 Contemporary Light Shows

By 1968, when Tom Wolfe’s best-selling novel about the Trips Festival, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, was published, light shows had become a feature of many rock concerts and discotheques, and hence part of the mainstream culture. The decay of the countercultures in the 1970s and the emergence of repressive right-wing cultural initiatives coincided with a hiatus in the popularity of light shows. However, by the mid-1980s, house, techno, and other electronic dance music, along with Ecstasy and other new drugs, the radically expanded possibilities of digital technology, and the extensive use of lasers, led to the revival of light shows as an essential component of rave culture, often taking the form of audiovisual live performances known as VJing or Live Visuals.

Light shows again became an integral component of popular music spectacles, but now in a massively expanded form. Madonna’s 2004 Re-Invention World Tour, grossing $125 million, featured lights, films, and digital imagery projected on multiple huge screens moving around the stage to the accompaniment of live and recorded music. For their two sold-out performances at 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium in London in June 2007, the British band Muse developed a light show comprised of a video wall with 40 million light diodes displaying a mixture of prepared video and live footage, and using software that allowed the sound of the music to manipulate the imagery in real time. At the same time, similar technologies have become a regular component of corporate and state spectacles of all kinds, and the most characteristic and symptomatic cultural events of the twenty-first century have been multimedia light shows.