Hard News by Russell Brown


The Sound of Music

I concluded last night's Media7 with a little explanation and commentary about the music at Rugby World Cup 2011 games. If you have attended the games, or simply watched them on television, you may have wondered: who chose this music? And, depending on personal taste, why is it so awful?

I did a quick Twitter survey this week and while there were a few thumbs up for the game playlists, it would be fair to say the mood was very largely along the lines of these comments:

"What?! They needed to PAY someone to make it sound like 90s night at a Courtenay Place sports bar?"

"Awful, the same songs EVERY game. #IRB are trying too hard - cool dad syndrome."

"Abysmal.  Seems to be played in lieu of any atmosphere. Welsh fans start singing Bread of Heaven - pop music played loudly."


"Even watching it on TV at home grates on my nerves. It's like they got the DJ from  Fat Lady's Arms circa 95 in to advise"

"Terrible but fit for purpose. Sick of BEPs assessing the likely goodness of my nite & wish the IRB licensed more than 5 songs"

"Appalling, too loud and too much sickly saccharine pop totally out of place with the vibe of the event"

"I'm in Melbourne but the common view when watching is that the music choices have been shocking"

"Sh*thouse and embarrassing for an OECD country."

"I want to rip my ears off every time I hear the Black Eyed Peas before kick-off."

"like the IRB has bought the rights to Now that's What I call music No. 191."

The RWC press office was unhelpful when Media7's researcher asked about the music and who provided it, but it wasn't hard to discover that the music is programmed for the IRB by the Australian company Great Big Events, which contracts to do "sports presentation" (they claim to have coined the term) for major events, including the 2000 Olympics. (They're also the people behind the mariachi trumpet and the ominous soundtrack for the TMO. They're experts.) According to their website, creative director Greg Bowman:

... has composed acclaimed musical picesfor major events including the Olympics, and has received widespread media praise for his musical compositions. Combining his musician's instinct with extensive research, Greg develops a deep insight into the musical and cultural practices of each participating nation to create an exciting and culturally appropriate music election for every event.

Really? I thought the ground music at the Samoa vs Fiji game was a missed opportunity. There were some nods to the occasion, a bit of ukulele, but most of the music seemed to be standard pop radio fare, overly loud and not particularly appropriate for the crowd. If Scribe and Smashproof got a look in, I didn't notice. The Black Eyed Fucking Peas certainly got their spin, as usual.

So who gets paid? Rights agency APRA receives four cents for every punter in the park and will distribute that based on the playlists it receives from the IRB. Consequent worldwide TV "performances" of the works are covered by the blanket licences of individual broadcasters. (In recognition of the greater role of music in the opening ceremony, APRA received 1.5% of overall ticket sales for the first match, which will also be distributed to the composers.)

But -- unlike, say, the Lions tour of 2005 -- relatively little will go to New Zealand artists. And by the time you've heard the Black Eyed Peas assuring us for the umpteenth time that "tonight's gonna be a good night" you may be thinking "it may -- if I haven't already lost the will to live."


Did anyone predict that some of the most intriguing music of 2011 would have come from pale, British art students singing delicate soul songs to a dubstep accompaniment?

Come on down Goldsmith College alumnus James Blake, whose airy, haunting debut album will be in a few people's best of lists for the year. The swooning remix of Blake's 'The Wilhelm Scream' by Arsenii, a producer better known for reworking 80s British soul funk by the likes of Maze and Silk, joins all the dots. (You can download that here.)

Then there's Alex Clare, whose blistering version of Etta James' 'Damn Your Eyes' is a total showstopper. You can hear much more of his music on his Soundcloud page, including his notable cover of 'When Doves Cry' -- but unfortunately, you can't buy his debut album in the New Zealand iTunes Store. When artists can reach us anywhere in the world but we can't respond by purchasing their work, that's a fail, Universal. (NB: Clare's London iTunes Session from July is available here.)

We will of course be able to hear SBTRKT (aka London producer Aaron Jerome) at Laneway in January (and yes, you can buy his music here). It's electic as hell -- from dubstep to Chicago house -- but mostly reminds me of London in the mid-80s, a lot.

On a different tip -- but still toying with slinky soul in a special indie blend -- Surrey three-piece Vondelpark, whose NYC Stuff and NYC Bags EP is one of my favourites of 2011. It's available on Beaport or on the local iTunes Store.

And, finally, from New Zealand, check out Fabulous Arabia, the collaboration between and James "Lawrence Arabia" Milne and Wellington legend Mike Fabulous, and their album Unlimited Buffet. It's not dubstep -- not even close -- but it's a gorgeously literate disco record that will get plenty of airing at my house this summer. You can get that on Bandcamp, y'all.

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