KEN ISHII with ADAM MARSHALL vs. Lotus at Soul on Spadina (247 Spadina, second floor), Friday (April 6). $15. 416-597-8988.
DJ RECLOOSE with ZUZANA and FELIX & GANI at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Friday (April 6). $10. 416-703-4862.
whatever became of that "elec-tronica" craze that was supposed to sweep the country? Well, apart from a few isolated pop-chart assaults, most of electronic music's mainstream infiltration hasn't come through hit songs but, instead, in the space between them -- the commercials.
Soft drinks, luxury sports cars, computer games or dog food -- it doesn't matter. The advertising industry believes everything sells better with a whooshing buzz and a bleep.
The commercial hookup with electronic music is nothing new. Even before inventor Raymond Scott figured out how to make his room-sized mechanical sound generator squelch on demand in the late 40s, he'd already considered the money-making applications. Soon after, the unearthly sounds could be heard in radio ads for IBM and Chrysler, who wanted their products to have a futuristic ring.
It's still a desirable impression today, and the hipper advertising firms are moving beyond the typical jingle houses to solicit the skills of top club producers to give them an edge on the competition.
"If you're dealing with hip brands like, say, Nike and Levi's, the target group is going to be younger," says Lori Germain, vice-president at Encore Encore Strategic Marketing, the brains behind the Molson Canadian Rocks and I Am Canadian campaigns.
"They're a much more media-savvy group, so to reach them you need to use sound and images that are relevant. Techno music is the hot trend at the moment. Using a known song or music by a familiar artist in advertising can break through the clutter and engage the younger audience."
Time was, artists balked at the suggestion that something they created could be used for purely commercial purposes, but no longer. The concept of what's cool has been almost completely co-opted by multinational corporations. An association with Nike isn't perceived as selling out by the millions of swoosh-branded kiddos. On the contrary, it's dope.
And anyway, the hotshot celebrity producers know that if they decline an ad spot, some hack with a sampler can easily be hired to toss off a sound-alike track, and many of the hip but lesser-known producers could use the cash.
Once respected innovators like Roni Size and Aphex Twin began rolling with Levi's and Pirelli Tires respectively, other producers got in line for their slice of the so-called "cheese" -- fitting terminology if there ever was.
Mysterious Detroit mixmaster Matt Chicoine, who produces under the apt handle Recloose, knows the score. The jazz-schooled turntablist may have the hot hand on Carl Craig's Planet e label, but a deft dubwise remix of Les Gammas isn't going to cover his long-distance calls to France.
"If people like my music, that's great," offers Chicoine from his Detroit digs, "but I also want to support myself while developing as a musician, producer and DJ. If you want to make music and pay the bills, you do commercials. That's where the cheese is, man. The whole thing is doing it without compromising. But having said that, I just got a call from an agency to do something for White Castle hamburgers. I'm doing it."
Being on the cover of Newsweek and on 30-metre Nike billboards in Shibuya while designing music to sell cars and running shoes hasn't prevented Japanese techno superstar Ken Ishii from releasing adventurous albums and compiling eclectic mix-discs under his own name. Whether breaking down and rebuilding Boredoms' screech for the ReBore remix album project or scoring an action film like the Japanese box-office smash Whiteout, it's all good to Ishii. He's convinced that his ad work has a trickle-down benefit for his artistic pursuits.
"Doing commercial work can help familiarize people with the electronic sound. It doesn't necessarily have to be me that's doing it -- my name doesn't appear in the ads -- but giving regular people the chance to experience underground music associated with nice images is good, and it expands the audience for electronic music."
Toronto DJ/producer Adam Marshall, who releases his techno and deep house jams through his indie Killer label, has been approached by ad firms and gaming companies but has declined their offers.
"Advertising cheapens the experience of art," says
Marshall, "but I also understand being an independent artist in a country where the government doesn't properly fund the arts. I wouldn't slag anyone for making money.
"Still, if I were an artist of Ken Ishii's stature, I'd be more inclined to do tracks for Greenpeace or anti-world-trade organizations that could really benefit from my work. I really can't understand why he'd be working with a company like Nike."
Ishii may be down for whatever when it comes to side projects, but he understands the importance of maintaining an experimental edge. His latest album, Flatspin (Sony), finds Ishii evolving past the sonic collage of 99's Sleeping Madness -- which flirted with hiphop, drum 'n' bass and dub ambience -- to delve deeper into ethno-techno fusions, where Brazilian batucada pounding can synch with Japanese taiko drum battery.
"When I started DJing, my parents didn't understand what I was doing. They'd say, "How can you make a living playing other people's music?' But since I produced the theme music for the Olympic Games in Nagano, they have a better idea. My mother told me, "Your new album sounds too underground.' She wants me to be more popular. But I had to tell her, "It's not my job to be commercial. It's more important that I make the music I want to make.'"