No Sir Martin, Alex Da Kid is not a good choice for your music venture. Here are some alternatives…

Despite what you may think of him Sir Martin Sorrell is a very clever man, he wouldn’t be the global emperor of Adland if he wasn’t. It is for this reason that I am surprised at his choice of partner for WPP’s new music venture KidinaKorner. If you don’t know who Alex ‘Da Kid’ Grant is, he’s the pop mastermind behind providing the production to compliment the former provocateur and enfant terrible of pop-culture Eminem’s transformation into ex-junkie motivational speaker and MOR purveyor (i.e. ‘Love you the way you lie’ and ‘I need a Doctor’). He’s also produced some low impact chart-filler for high tier popstars such as Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, B.O.B. and Imagine Dragons (yeah those guys who Kendrick Lamar shat all over his current credibility in collaborating with).

Speaking about the venture Da Kid has stated “Music is extremely powerful and plays a very important role in people’s lives, connecting them to a moment that is uniquely personal. Unfortunately, it can often be the last thing to get attention when programs are being planned. KidinaKORNERCreate offers a new model, bringing music to the forefront of every level of the creative process; planning, strategy and execution. This approach will create more substantial and meaningful engagement with the audience.” This in itself is a fantastic, profound observation which some parts of the industry have started to pick up on.The question is whether Alex Da Kid is the right person to do this. SMS has called the producer ‘ a genuine innovator’ which, in the age of Kanyes, FKAs, James Murphys, Beyonces, Jamie XXs, James Blakes, Diplos, Tylers, ASAPs, Skeptas, Arcas, Bjorks is pretty laughable. Creative Directors, Planners and Account Handlers shouldn’t be rushing to soundtrack beautiful ads with crossover tunes which sound like they’ve been thrown together from existing loops at the last minute. I am not arguing that an established producer should be sidelined for some obscure soundcloud based minimal tech producer or ‘proper’ indie band. I am arguing that more thought should be given to selecting a partner with a real in-depth understanding  of popular music, culture and trends- and most importantly what constitutes ‘cool.’ Far be it from me to shit all over an idea without suggesting an alternative so here are my pics for a better partner in this venture:

A.G. Cook

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Kicking things off with the wild-card here, AG Cook- PC Music’s benevolent leader has a history of working with brands such as Illamasqua form whom he provided Art Direction for the company website and complied a tailored playlist and the Red Bull Music Academy who have been heavily involved in the label’s live shows. Despite making his name as a pop and dance producer, Cook’s tastes (past and present) have been wide-ranging citing Hudson Mohawke, David Guetta, Scritti Politti, Captain Beefheart, UK Garage, Girls Aloud, K-Pop, Frank Zappa and Cassie. Cook is also a good fit due to the nature of his music, unlike the broader consensus among artist, he seems open to working with brands and engaging more with the capitalist music machine. With a production style that apes commercial pop and a growing portfolio of high-level collaborations including Charlie XCX, Cook interrogates our commercial reality and is fascinated by the concept of artifice.

Pros: A history of working with brands, embraces commercial realities of music industry and has a seemingly wide understanding of popular music and culture.

Cons: Resides over sometimes controversial and divisive roster of artists and might lack music and advertising industry leverage being somewhat marginal at this stage.

Dev Hynes

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As the darling of the now R&B-friendly blogosphere and indie critic circle, the eclectic Dev Hynes has been through several musical incarnations. Starting as an indie and folk artist under the name Lightspeed Champion before moving on to post-hardcore and Dance Punk with the short-lived Test Icicles, Dev Hynes has since plateaued with his creative re-imagining of 80s New Wave and alternative R&B as Blood Orange. Despite these varied alt credentials Hynes remains a go-to songwriter and producer for everyone from Britney Spears, Diane Vickers and The Sugababes to more critically acclaimed artists such as Theophilus London, FKA Twigs, Solange and Heems. Hynes clearly has a broad knowledge of various types of music posting videos or everyone from Michael Jackson to Ice Cube to Oasis to Talking Heads to John Cage on his Facebook page. He is also something of a style icon with his interpretation of 80s normcore style making him something of an icon.

Pros: Connected to a wide range of artists across genres, proven and varied track record of creativity and deep knowledge of different types of music.

Cons: No significant experience of working with brands aside from appearing in a GAP Advert alongside Evian Christ and Kelela.

Emily Haynie

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New York’s Emile Haynie cut his teeth on the obscure Hip Hop releases of C-Rayz Walz, Cormega and Obie Trice before falling in with bigger names such as Raekwon, Ghsotface Killah, The Roots and Kid Cudi. Since then he has expanded his production credits across genres to work with Lana Del Rey, Fun, Linkin Park, Rufus Wainwright, and Lykke Li with many of the aforementioned appearing on his solo debut We Fall. This eclectic mix of collaborators from Brian Wilson to FKA Twigs to ASAP Rocky plus the fact that he has a history of brand ownership after launching the now defunct label DreamOn with Kid Cudi and Plain Pat makes Haynie and ideal candidate.

Pros: Well connected and with a proven track record of producing records across genres.

Cons: Probably working on various projects as we speak, likely to be unavailable for the foreseeable future.

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Cool Shit Round Up 19.06.2015

The Ad 

Germs on Holiday by DKLW Lowe for Domestos

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The Art

Low Poly Game of Thrones by Mordi Levi

 

The Tune

Leaders by Rome Fortune x Fourtet

The idea

James Murphy, veteran New Yorker and the man behind the excellent LCD Soundsystem is making a symphony from NY Subway bleeps


The Article
‘photographing strip club culture in the south’ by Felicity Kinsella at i-D

Lantern, Hudson Mohawke reclaims his brand


When news of Hudson Mohawke’s Lantern tracklist first broke, many of us were surprised that there appeared to be no rappers featuring. Existing for the last couple of years as a sought-after beat-smith for A-list rappers such as Kanye, Drake, Pusha T and Rick Ross, it seemed logical that he would put out a release affirming his position as chief purveyor of Trap. Fresh from these huge Hip Hop releases and the short lived TNGHT project with Canadian fellow Trap avant-gardist Lunice, the Scottish wonder-kid has turned his back on Hip Hop-based releases in favour of electronic Power-R&B.
Throughout the record Mohawke riffs on popular EDM, pop, Hip Hop and R&B to create a kind of kitsch interpretation of contemporary dance music. The big drums from his Trap releases such as last year’s Chimes EP remain but they are matched with stadium synths and pop riffs. Mohawke makes it clear that this is the music that he wants to be associated with for now and seems keenly aware of  the potential for his brand to pigeon-holed into Trap producer to the stars and takes a radical left turn. This is not to say that he has a foolhardy approach to brand consistency, his trademark electronic sonic maximalism remains but the absence of the expected rap gods in favour of the subdued Jhene Aiko, Antony of Anthony and the Johnsons and Irfane tells us that he is more interested in building his own sound.

‘Scud Books’ and ‘Kettles’ both nod towards his signature maximalist approach whilst embracing epic stadium-level triumphantism, with ‘Very First Breath’ we get an RnB-tinged electro-pop effort with powerful evocative synth work and HudMo’s signature experimentalism is indulged on ‘Little Djembe.’ The Hudson Mohawke brand is demonstrated to be as fluid as Kanye West’s or David Bowie’s and like the aforementioned he retains his core creative values of immaculate execution, disregard of genre confinement and unabridged risk-taking.

The album isn’t perfect, I’d score it a strong 7/10 in terms of the final product, some of the clunky songwriting on ‘Warriorz’ and the underwhelming Jhene Aiko assisted ‘Resistance’ falls a little flat. From a ‘brand’ point of view however, the record proves to be a clever move by the producer to create something that clearly belongs to his own artistic ambitions, defies pigeon-holing and lays the foundations of a varied and exciting career.

Cool Shit Round Up 12.06.2015

The Ad

Apple Music- History of Sound by TBWA Media Arts Lab

The Art

Federico Babina Inkonic Faces

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See full collection here.

The Music

I’m a bit late to Washington DC’s Goldlink but I started checking out his stuff this week and it’s fantastic. Offering insightful yet casually free flowing raps over a Soul and House infused sound- this is definitely worth a listen. Stream his mixtape The God Complex on Spotify.

The Article

‘The Revolution Will Not Be Digitized’ Amir Kassaei, CCO of DDB Worldwide in Campaign US

Miscellaneous

Music Round Up May 2015 over at Mook Life. I can’t praise this guy enough for the diversity of releases here, make sure you check it out if you’re stuck for something new to listen to.

Quick thought: My moratorium on the word ‘consumer’

We do occasionally get a slow day at work, nothing but dull PoS items being requested by clients, waiting for translations back for a European market, getting the odd TV Ad through Clearcast etc. On these days I usually trawl through the ad press and blogosphere for ideas for posts on here (when I’m done with catching up on admin of course).  I was watching a talk given by the legendary BBH founder and Tech-incubatoralist Sir John Hegarty to an audience of marketers when I heard him express his dislike for the word ‘consumer.’ Intrigued by this I googled around and found it elaborates on in a written interview with Ad Age. Sir John states that ‘It’s demeaning. I think it just implies that the people we talk to just wait for our sales messages to be directed to whatever it is we want them to do. And I think that great advertising, great work, great brands have a dialogue with the people they talk to.’ For some reasoning this reasonated with me, I’m reminded of an analogy I read somewhere about advertising essentially being like one of Istanbul’s famous Bazaars where stall-owners all selling very similar items get mere seconds to capture your interest as you make your way through the crowded scene. One doesn’t walk through the crowded market simply waiting to hear the various propositions on things that they don’t really want or need, the individual’s attention is an earned prvillege, not a right as the passivity of word ‘consumer’ suggests. So just a thought really, something to mull over in the old noggin! I’ve certainly used the word a lot here, here and here but for now I’m retiring it from this blog.

The Great Beauty and the soul of the Ad Industry

Recently I watched Paolo Sorrentino’s 2014 film The Great Beauty on Netflix. A meditation on humanity’s relationship to beauty which has us following the dapper party-king and writer Jep’s existential crisis around the fading opulence of Berlusconi’s Rome, the film takes us into the lives of an ageing group of artists and intellectuals who have largely squandered their gifts in favour of hedonism and the status and power to be able to make parties ‘fail.’ This journey towards spiritual redemption through recognizing the sublime nature of existence and the power of beauty is an important film for those who care deeply about the advertising industry.

Jep, officially a novelist although he has writtern only one book some thirty years ago and relied on earnings from gossip-journalism and art reviews ever since for income, has become consumed by the narcistic stagnancy of Rome’s artistic community and finds very little that is geniune and nourishing to the soul. Triggered by the news that his first, and possibly only love has passed away confessing in her personal diary that she never stopped loving him, Jep is confronted by a sense of spiritual emptiness that can’t be filled by alcohol, partying, drugs, sex or religion. Reflecting on his youth in possibly Eurpoe’s most culturally and artistically crucial city, Jep visits everything from museums after dark to strip clubs. Being suave and intelligent has consumed the best parts of his character which manages to render him simultaneously sociable and aloof. Following the unexpected death of an ageing stripper with whom he was having a brief affair, an eldery woman stops to ask him ‘who will look after you now?’- and that’s what he has become, someone to look after rather than someone to actually live with and revel in life’s remarkable moments. He has created before and was a roaring success, his novel The Human Apparatus is lauded by his contemporaries as a modern classic and his journalism seems to be well recieved. There is however a sense of unfufilled potential that seems to have been suffocated out by his relationship to the city of Rome. He appreciates the beauty of the city through the lens of his own narcissism, seemingly more enthused that he is able to get exclusive access to the museums at all hours of the night than he is about the art itself. Jep goes treads a painful path through grief, bitterness and existential funk before his redemption culminates in starting his second novel at the end of the film.

It is not only the breathtaking cinematography of Luca Bigazzi and overall peerless aesthetic of the film that the men and women of the ad industry should try to observe and absorb but also the underlying theme- the redemptive qualities of beauty and the sublime nature of human existence.This is not a piece that aims to put creativity on a pedestal or minimize the importance of Sir Sorrel’s ‘Math Men’– technology should be harnessed for the benefit of agencies and their clients and the tools afforded to us by ‘Big Data’ may yet prove to be valuable. This is a call for creatives and those who got into the industry ‘to do great work’ as the agency Mother’s motto goes, to remember what it is they do and that all of the clients, data analysts, planners and account managers (including myself) can’t. Data collected and analysed properly is a great starting point for reaching the right people in the right way and the practical targets must always be the end point but we all got into this industry to make amazing, beautiful, innovative and striking work. Without this in mind creativity becomes relegated to after-work drinks posted on Instagram and well-worded emails.

Creativity exists in the conjecture between facts and can’t be painted in numbers. We’d all like to clock-off at six and slide into a rooftop party in some swanky European city but we must remember that we are in the business of creating the best work that our imaginations will allow and giving businesses the beautiful face that they need to seduce the consumer.

What The Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop

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So the dust has settled following Labour’s crushing GE2015 defeat. Ed Miliband has faded into Memedom, four hats remain in the ring after Chuka ‘strictly vinyl’ Umunna bowed out gracefully from the Leadership race and Labour’s Left-Flank are battling it out with the more pragmatic centrists over the soul of the party. This isn’t a politics blog so please do not expect any deep analysis of the results or persuasive rhetoric, it is simply a few thoughts on what the Labour Party can learn from Hip Hop culture when considering the root of its brand.

Left Wing politics doesn’t always have an easy relationship with the world of art despite the popular perception of artists, writers and musicians as a gaggle of Marxists and Various shades of socialist. Art, in all of its forms has a distinctly individualistic streak which requires freedom, autonomy, innovation- and quite frankly- selfishness. This of course doesn’t include phenomena such as Social Realsim, the didactic poetry of the 60s American counterculture and the stringent leftism of musicians such as Rage Against the Machine and Public Enemy. Neither does it mean that art cannot or should not be political, this is a debate for theorists which will likely rage on for as long as humans continue to create.

Despite humanity’s long history of protest-art there are numerous examples of how the conflict between the individual and the collective within th artistic community has seen many artist favour the former. One only has to think of the Italian Futurists who embraced a kind of dynamic right wing political undercurrent to their innovations, the notable fascist Ezra ‘make it new’ Pound, the CIA’s covert sponsorship of Abstract Expression and Cool Jazz, Jack Kerouac’s hatred of Communism, the fierce individualism of Punk/post-Punk bands such as the Sex Pistols and Joy Division (although the former would never admit to sharing common ground with the right), Iggy Pop’s Reaganism, Gilbert and Geroge’s adoration of Margaret Thatcher, Vincent Gallo’s ‘Conservatie radicalism’ and Tracy Emin’s heaping of praise upon David Cameron and Boris Johnson.

One of the few artistic movements which has effectively managed to keep a foot in the capitalist individualist camp whilst also maintaining a sense of duty to the wider community is Hip Hop. You might argue that Hip Hop in its current form is probably the least Left Wing genre around (bar Country & Western and Skinhead Nazi Punk).  The emphasis on acquiring money, expensive champagne, luxury cars and designer clothing remains prevalent to this day and parties only seem worth attending if one has the freedom to throw copious amounts of their income at strippers. Consumerism is alive and well in Hip Hop as the top commercial tier of artists lend their names to various brands in the form of endorsements and rappers continue to personify the raison d’être of brand-based advertising (whether they’re being paid for it or not!).

That being said, Hip Hop has never lost its social consciousness. This isn’t an analysis of your standard lefty outliers like the militant socialist Immortal Technique or Dead Prez or your Afro- hippy cliques such as Arrested Development, De La Soul and early-A Tribe Called Quest or social justice campaigners such as Common, Talib Kweli and The Roots.  The focus of this piece is how mainstream artists within Hip Hop, many of whom may be considered to be betraying the genres ‘conscious’ roots, demonstrate an ideological framework that should be at the core of the the Labour Party’s centre-left politics. It is worth mentioning some of the negative aspects of mainstream (and often underground) Hip Hop that any party of government would rightly denounce such as the sexism, violence and homophobia. These issues are topical battlegrounds for Hip Hop commentators and despite significant progressive strides being made, there are clearly cultural changes that need to happen however for the sake of this argument I’m going to set these aside.

Artists like Jay Z, Kanye West, Nas, Young Jeezy and the late-greats Tupac and Biggie all laced their heavily materialistic lyrics with social commentary when and where they can/could. Take Jay Z, Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall’s favourite rapper, aka ‘ Che Guevara with bling on’ who raps ‘ how can I help the poor if I’m one of them?/I got rich and gave back that’s the win win’ on the Eminem-produced Black Album cut ‘Moment of Clarity.’ Jay Z embodies the bootstrap rags-to-riches story that defines the conservative narrative and often emphasises his ascent from the Bed Stuy projects to the upper echelons of wealth and status. In an interview with Zadie Smith, Jay expressed a mixture of sympathy and skepticism on the subject of the Occupy Wall Street movement speaking against both the practices of the rapacious business elite or ‘1 percent’ and the enterprenure-bashing of the far left stating ‘ this is free enterprise. This is what America was built on.’ If that doesn’t sound like it’s come straight out of the Labour centre’s (or right spending on how you measure it) playbook then I don’t know what does. Despite the smears of his GOP opponents Barack Obama is no socialist, at least not compared to the domestic policies of FDR (or even Nixon for that matter) or his counterparts on the mainstream European Left however it is worth considering that Jay Z would have a lot more to gain tax-wise from a Republican administration. Nevertheless Jay and Beyoncé continue to rub shoulders with the Obamas as well as speaking out on social issues and quietly paying bail for anti-police brutality demonstrators.

Kanye West is another example of a Hip Hop artist that reaches out on social issues whilst continuing to embody excessive materialism through his fashion endeavours, corporate deals and flashy lifestyle. Mr West has spoken on a range of social issues throughout his career such as the Bush Administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Reagan-era CIA corruption, violence and deprivation in his native Chicago, theconflictedness of wealthy African Americans and classism. Lecturing at places as diverse as the Oxford University Natural History Museum, inner-city schools in Chicago, Technical Colleges and at student unions for Black and Ethnic Minority undergraduates, Kanye is all about ‘Education, education, education.’ Kanye is known to be a conflicted character on record, frequently flirting between considering buying ’50 gold chains’ to rubbing shoulders with the head of the CIA to calling out racial profiling at airports- it has become something of a USP for him and it is something that the Labour Party can learn from. There are downsides to being all things to all men but being tiring mono-focussed is the greater risk.

Another character to consider would be Nas whose subject matter is often caught between ‘the hoes and the ice, 4-4s or Black Christ.’ You might see him walikng down the Road to Zion with Damien Marley  confessing being ‘guilty of materialism’ or you might see him next to Diddy with a gold chain as cars explode behind him. One minute he’s discussing the Prison Industrial Complex with Civil Rights veteran Angela Davies next he’s joining grassroots movements such as the African American Anti-Defamation group ‘Color of Change’  all whilst holding it down as an entrepreneur backing various start ups and investing in Mass Appeal magazine.

Regardless of how wealthy rappers become there remains a sense of duty to their respective communities that sits beside their own individual advancement. Whether it’s Young Jeezy’s critiquing both the actions of the police in Ferguson and the ineffectiveness of rioting whilst simultaneously being the ‘Snowman’ poster boy for the illicit capitalism of the drug market or Tupac’s Versace-clad proclamations that ‘everyone needs a little help on their way to be self reliant‘ (equality of opportunity anyone?)Hip Hop artists always seem to veer to the centre-left once they reach a certain level of financial comfort. As Labour now looks to redefine its brand the word ‘aspiration’ is being thrown around by almost all of the Leadership contenders, this seems like a sensible idea to consider as the the individualist ideas of the 80s do seem to persist within the national consciousness. There is still room for a sense of societal belonging as Miliband’s ‘Mansion Tax’ policy and his highlighting of inequality seemed to resonate with the general public, however the British voters proved to still be largely concerned with self-interest, something that New Labour-for all it’s faults-seemed to understand. Despite the tendency towards ostentatiously flaunting wealth and status, Hip Hop has never seemed to lose its sense of responsibility to the community- this kind of balance should be at the centre of The Labour Party’s rebranding regardless of who is elected leader this autumn.