There’s more to Wake Me Up than the sound of ban­jos and cash tills

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION - [email protected]­

The Forbes mag­a­zine list of the high­est paid DJs in the world over the past 12 months throws up many sig­nif­i­cant point­ers. First is that num­ber one on the rich list, Calvin Har­ris (earn­ings of $66 mil­lion in one year), now makes more than both Jay-Z and Cris­tiano Ron­aldo. Sec­ond, it’s clear that Las Ve­gas is the new Ibiza for pay­cheques and third, having one re­ally an­noy­ing song can help you make $28 mil­lion in just one year.

Avicii, at num­ber three in the Elec­tronic Cash Kings Forbes chart, climbed to his spot mainly on the back of the gar­gan­tuan suc­cess of his Wake Me Up song – a tune that owes more to the Dance To Tip­per­ary sound than any­thing else. It is now the most streamed song in the world ever and took up res­i­dency in the num­ber one po­si­tion of most charts in the world last year (in­clud­ing – how can we for­get – seven con­sec­u­tive weeks as the Ir­ish num­ber one). But there’s a lot more to this song than the sound of ban­jos and cash tills.

Skip­ping quickly over the Ir­ish lan­guage cover of the song (which still has a life of its own on YouTube), some breath­less com­men­ta­tors have Wake Me Up as “EDM’s very own Dy­lan/New­port mo­ment”. The back­ground to this com­par­i­son is Avicii’s own trou­bled con­cern when he first played the song at the Ul­tra Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in March 2013. “It’s not the type of mix­ture of gen­res peo­ple ex­pect from me,” he said. “I was mas­sively wor­ried about it. And at Ul­tra, the fans just didn’t get it. We had a banjo and a fid­dle on stage and I looked out at the crowd and peo­ple looked shocked – I knew they would be.”

Such was the re­ac­tion to this piece of “elec­tron­ica meets Mum­ford and Sons for a yee-haw hoe­down” that Avicii was go­ing to bin the song but the la­bel per­suaded him oth­er­wise and one of the big­gest hits of all time was born.

It’s the con­nec­tion with Elvis Pres­ley, though, that has given rise to a spooky co­in­ci­dence. Elvis’s song­writer, Mac Davis, (he wrote In the Ghetto and A Lit­tle Less Con­ver­sa­tion among oth­ers) and Avicii worked on an early ver­sion of Wake Me Up called Black and Blue (which was never re­leased). When Wake Me Up went on the be­come the most streamed song of all time, it got there by knock­ing a few Elvis Pres­ley songs off the top spot.

Oddly, on Wikipedia, Wake Me Up is cred­ited to four song­writ­ers: Avicii him­self; the vo­cal­ist on the track, Aloe Blacc; Mike Einziger of the hard-rockin’ In­cubus; and Aileen Quinn. The lat­ter is the ac­tress who played Annie in the film ver­sion of the mu­si­cal. Mis­chief mak­ing no doubt.

But you don’t get to have your song streamed more than 240 mil­lion times and pull in $28 mil­lion a year with­out a back­lash. Since The Forbes Elec­tronic Cash Kings list went up there has been an avalanche of “hate from the un­der­ground” with even Dead­mau5 ($16 mil­lion of earn­ings last year) and Skrillex ($16 mil­lion) up for grabs.

With the big room DJs – always to be seen in front of a cor­po­rate spon­sor’s logo – pulling in the sort of dosh that would make a Premier­ship foot­baller blush and makes the big rock acts look like pau­pers, some­thing had to give. You can’t have “the tec­tonic plates of main­stream mu­si­cal taste shift” (as Forbes has it) with­out some col­lat­eral dam­age.

Avi­ici: “mas­sively wor­ried”.

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