Sounds like Sigur Rós, looks like Sigur Rós, smells like Pot Noo­dle

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

IN ALL THE me­dia cov­er­age of who is play­ing at this year’s Elec­tric Pic­nic, one line in one re­port cer­tainly stuck out. An Ir­ish web­site told us that “Ice­landic ad-mu­sic spe­cial­ists Sigur Rós” were mak­ing their way to Strad­bally.

That’s quite a re­mark­able sen­tence if you know any­thing about Sigur Rós.

It is true to the ex­tent that you hear an aw­ful lot of Sigur Rós-sound­ing mu­sic in TV ad­ver­tise­ments, but that’s the whole point: Sigur Rós don’t li­cence their mu­sic for use as TV ads – never have and never will – and it’s be­cause of their very re­luc­tance that so many ad agen­cies get on the phone to ses­sion mu­si­cians and say: “Give us some­thing that sounds ex­actly like Sigur Rós but won’t get us into any le­gal dif­fi­cul­ties with their pub­lish­ing com­pany.”

The band have never re­vealed how much they’ve cu­mu­la­tively turned down over the years from ad agen­cies – one would think it’s a good few mil­lion euro at least – but they do talk about the amount of of­fers they get and what tends to hap­pen when they refuse.

You can see the at­trac­tion of the band’s mu­sic for peo­ple try­ing to sell life in­sur­ance/cars/pot Noo­dle/what­ever. It’s big and widescreen, con­tains a melodic emo­tional punch but is quite non-spe­cific, mean­ing it can be set over any­thing to great ef­fect. Pos­si­bly not Pot Noo­dle, though.

Not that the band are fun­da­men­tal­ists – they do al­low their mu­sic to be used in film/tv, and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­plied David At­ten­bor­ough with what­ever he wanted to sound­track his ex­cel­lent Planet Earth se­ries on the BBC. What they don’t do is al­low their mu­sic to be used to sell any­thing, hence the ban on ad­ver­tis­ing.

On their web­site,, there’s a sec­tion in the news ar­chive called “Homage or Fro­mage” in which they talk us through (even show­ing us some cor­re­spon­dence) what hap­pens when they turn down re­quests from ad­ver­tis­ers. Com­pany asks per­mis­sion for Sigur Rós song. Band says no. Com­pany makes ad any­way with Sigur Rós sounda­like mu­sic. Band can’t in­junct or sue be­cause the bare min­i­mum has been done to the sounda­like track to keep it le­gal. Net re­sult: ev­ery­one thinks Sigur Rós are whor­ing their mu­sic for use in ad­ver­tise­ments. Some of these sounda­likes are quite stun­ning in their au­dac­ity. They make an ass of mu­si­cal copy­right law. It’s not just the same notes (although slightly mod­i­fied) – it’s the whole mood and sonic dy­namic of the song that has been shame­lessly lifted by var­i­ous com­mer­cial or­gan­i­sa­tions.

There is now a mini-in­dus­try in Sigur Rós-sound­ing mu­sic be­ing used in ads. And from the amount and qual­ity of them, you re­ally do feel that there is now a sur­real com­pet­i­tive edge be­ing in­tro­duced as dif­fer­ent ad agen­cies try to get as close as legally pos­si­ble to the orig­i­nal Sigur Rós song with­out cross­ing that court­room di­vide.

But here’s where it gets a bit spooky. In what can only be a sar­donic swipe at Sigur Rós’s polic­ing of how their mu­sic is im­i­tated in ads, a cer­tain well-known fi­nan­cial com­pany has brought this to a whole new level. If you watch the com­pany’s ad, you’ll hear that the mu­sic used has ab­so­lutely noth­ing to do with Sigur Rós, but the sto­ry­board is sim­i­lar to that pre­vi­ously used in Sigur Rós’s own Hop­pipolla video. The final word that ap­pears on-screen in the looka­like video is the Por­tuguese word for in­sur­ance – “se­guros”. Which sounds like . . .

Like that story about how Elvis Pres­ley once en­tered an Elvis looka­like com­pe­ti­tion and only came third, the hor­ri­ble thing here is that – be­cause of all these in­fe­rior sim­u­lacra – we are now stuck with an er­satz Sigur Rós sound, a hideous trav­esty of the real thing.

They’ve been ’ad: Sigur Rós

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