The BBC made a huge mistake in trying to appropriate the electro-swing sound.
A wave of horrified dismay rippled through the UK electro-swing community this weekend, as the UK's entry for the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest was announced. The offering, "Still in Love with You" by Electro Velvet, is described by the BBC as an 'up-tempo electro-swing" track, though what gave them that impression I fail to understand. Watch this to see what I mean.
On behalf of the electro-swing community I want to take this opportunity to state that this song is in no way representative of the genre or of the scene as a whole. Commenting on Facebook when I first saw the video I described it as 'electro-swing with all the electro and all the swing removed'. 48 hours later, I stand by my initial reaction. It also seems to have had a joy-ectomy and a passion bypass.
Now, I am not a Eurovision sort of chap, and I couldn't give two figs whether the UK does well or not. What upsets me is the shameless plundering of the electro-swing sound, and the fact that so many excellent electro-swing groups have been overlooked. The selection process included submissions from aspiring artists, but the BBC also spoke to record companies, presumably in order to commission entries. The various submissions were then selected by a panel of 'experts'. My suspicion is that this entry was one of the commissioned ones.
Quite why they chose to ask an advertising jingle-writer to produce the entry is anyone's guess. David Mindel, the man responsible for this outrage, was previously most famous for having penned the theme tune to Jim'll Fix It (yes, really), and Challenge Anneka. Given this sparkling track record, it is maybe not surprising that the song has come out sounding rather a lot like the music from a Birdseye Potato Waffles ad from the 80s. Mindel's partner in crime is one Adrian Bax White, who has apparently shared a stage with Rolf Harris.
But wait, it gets better! You might be thinking that even if they have made a rather left-field choice in terms of songwriter, they will surely have chosen some talented performer to actually deliver the song.
In fact, they have gone with a Mick Jagger impersonator and a reject from The Voice. I don't know if they had to be coerced into doing the song, but neither of them is particularly convincing. If Elle and the Pocketbelles (to take an example at random) have the sexy razzmatazz of lacy red lingerie, then these two are the musical equivalent of huge, grey, y-fronts.
Alex Clarke, lead singer of The Rolling Clones, looks more like Tuppy Glossop than any kind of jazz-age lothario. His partner, Bianca Nicholas, is fractionally more convincing, but frankly neither of them appears to have bought into the song. In fairness to them, the lyrics don't help much - lines like “You’re bound to get sneezes or nasty diseases”, or “While I’m on vacation, you be a good patient, take your medication” don't give them much to work with. Emily Jupp, writing in the Independent (the song has been savaged by most of the majority of the newspapers) wonders whether
"Mindel had a rejected jingle for cold and flu medication lying around in a drawer somewhere and just thought “I’ll shove it in, pimp it up with some lines about love and scrub out that reference to Beechams – et voila! Eurovision 2015, here I come.”It certainly seems plausible.
I actually think that the song has as much chance as any of the UK's recent entries (not a high bar, mind), as electro-swing is very popular in Euro. As I say above, my interest in Eurovision is pretty slight, so why am I so cross about this?
It is simple, really. I have felt for some time that electro-swing / vintage remix has been approaching a point where it could break through into the mainstream. In many ways, this would vindicate my work with this blog, the purpose of which is to introduce more people to the sound, but it is a development about which I also have misgivings.
At risk of sounding like a music snob, there is always the potential that 'going mainstream' results in a watering down of the music. We saw this with the evolution of dubstep and electro, which morphed into soulless big room EDM, losing the subtleties that once existed and focusing on the lowest-common-denominator, crowd-pleasing, 'drops' and cake-hurling. If, by some ghastly chance, it turns out that people actually like this tripe, then there is a horrible chance that this is what all future electro-swing will use as a benchmark. It really doesn't bear thinking about.
This over-produced record undoubtedly contains all the tropes of electroswing - programmed beats: tick; vintage-sounding sample: tick; flappers in the video: tick; scatting: tick - but what it lacks is feeling. It is electro-swing by numbers. There is no emotion in the delivery, and I can't help but feel that Mr. Mindel is probably not a regular attendee at his local vintage remix nights. As Nick Hollywood pointed out on Facebook:
"This is likely to be both the beginning (and the end) of many people's understanding and experience of Electro Swing and the record a lot of people in the UK will end up judging the entire genre on."
That this is true is a crying shame. 'Still in Love with You' has already produced sentences like this in the national press:
"...electro swing [...] apparently means swing recreated with cheap digital instrumentation instead of a big band."Wouldn't it be terrible if that was really the case? Pat yourself on the back for knowing that this could not be further from the truth.
Something similar happened with the soundtrack to Baz Lurhman's Gatsby film. It could have been the chance for the music bods behind the film to go out and find some amazing undiscovered artists, but instead they went with big-name blandness. As a result the soundtrack was bland, and it took something away from the film. It could have opened up a whole new audience for electro-swing.
Like Gatsby, however, it does also give us a chance to win new fans. There will be a few people who like the song enough that they do decide to investigate a little further, so I thought that I would put some ideas down for artists who could have replaced Electro Velvet. Perhaps we can also convince some of the doubters too.
Who should have been chosen?
If I had been in charge of choosing the entry, I would have had no hesitation in choosing the aforementioned Elle and the Pocketbelles, along with their DJ / producer MistaTrick. The consummate performers, the girls would be perfect for Eurovision - sassy, beautiful, talented, hard-working... As it happens, their excellent first EP is out in a couple of days on Ragtime Records, so go out and buy the thing. In the meantime, here's their new promo video.
I also might have considered giving Kitten and the Hip a call - as former X-Factor hopefuls they are at least as well qualified as Ms. Nicholas, they have proven song-writing skills, Ash has a no.1 single and Scarlett seems to be rather a better performer. If the decision-makers at the BBC felt that an electroswing duo was what was needed, this is where they should have looked.
Another option might have been Little Violet. Again, she has loads of stage presence, a great voice and a fantastic band behind her. I saw her perform at Swingamajig last year, and even Mrs. The Cad, a confirmed electro-swing sceptic, was bopping away, so I am sure her style would appeal to a Eurovision crowd.
A more interesting option would have been to go with the full band stylings of a group like Jenova Collective. I saw them perform a couple of weeks back and was really impressed with the energy and panache they showed on stage. Their performance was tight and really got a very mixed crowd jumping.
So here is my message to the people who made the crass decision to appropriate the electro-swing sound.
Don't take the soul and the life from this scene - it is tight-knit, supportive and full of joy, but it also has a DIY ethos, a hint of grime and if it is clean, it is no fun - don't sanitise it for the mass market, because by doing so you betray the memory of the swing era, you betray dance music, and you betray our genre.