Sounds like Sigur Rós, looks like Sigur Rós, smells like Pot Noodle
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, sigur-ros.co.uk, 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