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Dannsa Episode 1, the music

A new show TV started last Monday, 10pm on BBC Alba. It’s called Dannsa{{1}} [[1]]Gaelic for Dancing[[1]] and you’ll all be able to get it, because BBC Alba has just become available to anyone with Freeview. That’s you{{2}}[[2]]If you’re in the UK, that is.[[2]]. I recommend the show to you, because it’s rather good. I know this because I worked on it, along with a string of extraordinarily talented people.{{3}} [[3]]Everyone’s talented at mneTV.[[3]] And frankly, we all worked damned hard. I don’t want to give too much away, but one aspect of the post-production that I feel I can discuss in some detail is the choice of music. Obviously, the dancers featured dance to something, so music choice was a primary concern.

The show follows six dance groups from all over Scotland with wildly varying ages and dance styles, from classical ballet to contemporary, an over-60s group to a breakdance crew. There’s something for everyone, and it was a joy spending time with them all, particularly when they start coming together later in the series. Episode One introduces us to them all, whereas subsequent editions focus on one group at a time. So this introduction to them all is, itself, a kind of compilation album, a mix tape, a playlist. So the music better be good.

I had, I admit, fallen out of the way of what the kids were listening to. The Top 40 had become a dangerous country, one where I didn’t fit in and those who did would recognise my alien arse a mile off.

Once upon a time I’d stroll idly through the Radio 1 Chart Show of a Sunday evening, comforted by the familiar Michael Jacksons, the Madonnas, the Rick Astleys, admiring the odd new REMs that’d sprout up, all the time hoping the MC Hammers wouldn’t take root.

That was decades ago. Now I’d retreated into a musical isolation, where new Princes, Springsteens and Kate Bushes (rare indeed) were the only fresh inductees. If I really craved fresh meat, I’d go to a place like Pitchfork, which has a pleasingly snobbish attitude and is indie-centric from an American perspective. In short, I was outta touch.

My salvation was Fearne Cotton. I didn’t seek her out, but she was the one on the radio whenever I seemed to be able to sneak a listen. {{4}}[[4]]I have to say, I like her a lot more on the radio than on TV, which sounds far more insulting than I mean it to be. I just mean I like her on the wireless.[[4]] What she taught me was: the youth of today still have taste. For example, I have the Mumford & Sons record, and think it’s alright, but I never would have dreamed it would fit for a hip show like Dannsa unless Ms. Cotton confirmed its coolness{{5}}[[5]]I use a track of theirs in episode 7.[[5]]. Cool, the radio still tells you what’s cool! It’s like the gym, though, you’ve got to keep it up.

So, thoroughly flexed, I tunified Episode One as follows{{6}}[[6]]Play along with the BBC iPlayer[[6]]:

1. Human by the Killers (Armin van Buuren club Remix)

The director’s choice. The refrain of “Are we human or are we dancers?” is obviously appropriate, and it’s a truly awesome song. This particular mix was unanimously hailed as the most suitable. Sorry, Ferry Corsten, we tried yours and it just didn’t go.

2. Dannsa Theme

Quee McArthur of Shooglenifty composed the original music for the show. A tall order to incorporate so many styles, but he did it in fine fashion. The two longer pieces he composed for the series’ Grand Finalé are awesome, but this and the closing credits music are appetising wee teasers for ya.

3. Let’s Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas

My turn to be obvious. This is used during the “Coming up on the show…” montage and does just what it says. Showing my disconnection with pop, it was one of those songs that, thanks to its enormous success, I couldn’t help but be aware of, but I didn’t actually know what it was or who it was by. Some searching led me to the Black Eyed Peas and their Elephunk album. However, it was when encountering the cover art of The End — an image so ubiquitous that it had settled, context-less, into my sense memory like a genetic echo — that I felt a palpable shame at having no knowledge of this gargantuan album. Black Eyed Peas and me would get better acquainted before Episode One was out.{{7}}[[7]]Very late in the edit, this and number 22 were swapped. There may have been a reason, but I honestly can’t remember what it was. They’re counterparts, anyway, so they’re quite interchangable.[[7]]

4. Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn

The introduction to Andy Howitt, Dannsa’s resident choreographer, as he strides down the corridors of Glasgow’s RSAMD. It had always been the plan to introduce Andy via his work with the Project-Y youth dance company (though they aren’t one of the six groups we follow), but back when the episode structure was still in a state of flux, we’d envisioned seeing them through a full process of first rehearsal to final performance. Andy was choreographing them to Fingal’s Cave by Mendelssohn so we foreshadowed the performance by introducing him with one of its flourishes. In the end we saved the whole rehearsal-to-performance bit for a later episode, but the almost overly-dramatic fanfare still worked for his entrance, so it stayed. In fact, it portended a conceit where we’d have fun with Andy’s entrance music in subsequent episodes. Different every time (principally because of music licensing agreements), it proved a reliable source of fun and mischief in the following weeks.

5. Numba 1 (Tide is High) by Kardinal Offishall Ft. Keri Hilson

It’s hard to find specific stuff for montages that don’t have, shall we say, a philosophy. Dance rehearsals are interesting enough to look at, but no one writes songs about them. The initial vibe of this track struck me as suitable for this Y-Dance rehearsal showing Andy at work, but when Hilson’s vocal’s kicked in I was immediately transported back to the Blondie version and happier childhood days. Decision made.

6. Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J

One of my earliest musical misfires was the rehearsal music for GOLDEN, an over-60s dance group based in Edinburgh. I had originally used a piece of 1980s super-cheese called Gravity by Michael Sembello. In my mind, it was a reference to the Ron Howard movie, Cocoon, where octonigarians Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, Don Ameche et al discover youthful vigour thanks to some visiting aliens. It was probably the song made the director politely ask if we could stick to more recent works, generally.

On reflection, it was a good shout: who remembers that movie, really?

Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J attracted me with its title: the image conjured of a sassy matriarch advocating violence spoke sufficiently of elderly empowerment for me to give it a listen. The first line, “Don’t call it a comeback — I’ve been here for years,” sealed it. (This is perhaps the first example of my willingness to twist the lyrics of songs to make them a sort of Greek chorus. I couldn’t care less if LL Cool J wants to admit that his “acting career” was a dud or not: in my hands he’s rapping the praises of twenty-odd over-60s who just wanna dance, dammit.)

7. Hungry by Kosheen

Suggested a hunger for life that the GOLDEN group have in spades.

8. Dynamite by Taio Cruz

Such a huge song, I don’t know why I used it as a burbling bed under a presenter link, but I did. I put it to better effect in a future episode. You just wait…

9. Paradise City by Slash, feat. Cypress Hill & Fergie

One of those choices that remind me of a particular moment. As I was cutting a version of the first episode, I friend from Korea was busy extolling the virtues of Slash, the eponymous solo album by the erstwhile Guns ’n’ Roses and Velvet Revolver guitarist. So it was rattling round my head when faced with introducing the mighty Heavy Smokers, a b-boy crew from Livingston. I had a lot of footage of them breakdancing around their hometown in unlikely locations such as deserted buildings and swing parks. The combination of their breaking and the specific location suggested this version of Paradise City. The vocals are shared between Cypress Hill and Fergie, which seemed more in keeping with the crew’s ethos than the 80s original. The friend that had turned me on to the album doesn’t actually like this version, being a GnR purist. You might agree, but for the Heavy Smokers, in my humble opinion, it’s perfect.

10. Bringing it Back by Black Eyed Peas

The Heavy Smokers discuss life in Livingston, and it turned into a montage for which I literally searched “b-boy” in iTunes. The 30 second iTunes preview of this track contained references to both b-boys and b-girls (the Heavy Smokers have a full-time female member which, unfair as it may seem, is unusual). Also, being the second appearance of the Black Eyed Peas, this was to be a portent of how much I’d look to them. Them and a certain Ms. Keys, as I’ll explain in a bit.

11. Weisses Fleisch by Rammstein

Director’s choice. From the start he’d talked about Rammstein scoring the Ballet West students, counterpointing their grace with the badassss German metal lords. Plus, Rammstein are funny. I think all metal’s funny, really; the heavier, the funnier. Rammstein just seem aware of it, and I find that refreshing. And funny. Worked as well as the director had imagined.

12. Halo by Beyoncé

I’d liked this song for a while, attracted principally by its dreamy, ethereal video. It’s co-written by Ryan Tedder, who co-wrote Leona Lewis’s Bleeding Love, which was more successful but is, in my opinion, a far weaker song. Here, Halo introduces the serenity of Taynuilt, near Oban where Ballet West is situated. The students can work in near-isolation in these idyllic surroundings, and I needed a sharp change of pace after the Rammstein.

13. Ridin’ Solo by Jason DeRulo

Accompanying young ballet dancer Duncan’s account of his being bullied at school for his love of ballet, this defiant hymn of self-sufficiency set against his sublime dancing illustrated his right to the last laugh beautifully.

14. Jump by Girls Aloud

Okay, it’s a sequence where co-presenter, Kevin Walker, is taught to jump, ballet-style. Jump. That’s it. For the record, though, I do like this version.

15. 4ever by The Veronicas

More bed music, meaning it’s almost lost under the presenter links. From the next episode onwards I stopped using proper songs for this purpose, but you’ll have to tune in next week for my elegant alternative.

16. The Fame by Lady GaGa

Lyrically and musically perfect for a dance audition, this underscores the Fusion contemporary dance company looking for new blood in Aberdeen. Doin’ it for The Fame.

17. Club Can’t Handle Me by Flo Rida

Still with the Fusion auditions, I just wanted a change of pace when the judges notice young Sarah. Unlike many of the auditioned girls, Sarah hadn’t much dance experience to bring to bear. Most of the others had been dancing since they could walk, but little Sarah was a newb. Nevertheless, she showed extraordinary natural talent and was one of the judges’ no-brainers. It was this twist that made her the stand-out story of the auditions. I didn’t know it at the time, because I hadn’t seen the footage shot for the Fusion episode (next week), but it was serendipitous for us to focus on Sarah for reasons that will become apparent.

18. Stars Come Out by Calvin Harris

The building that is home to the Scottish School of Contemporary Dance in Dundee is called the Space. Space. Stars. Worked perfectly well as we met the students during their intense four-year course.

19. I’m In Love by Alex Gaudino

A theme for Indra, a dancer at the school who, incredibly, is registered blind. She nonetheless participates fully with the course, with neither complaint nor expectation of special treatment. I wanted a song that was just shamelessly joyful.

20. Try Sleeping With a Broken Heart by Alicia Keys

In Maryhill, Glasgow, choreographer Natasha Gilmour uses dance to help asylum seekers and refugees integrate with their new home. We meet her and organiser Remzije “Rema” Sherifi as they explain their roles and, in Rema’s case, her own story of fleeing her homeland. This song introduces us to the group.

On a personal note{{8}}[[8]]Excuse the pun, would you?[[8]], this song blew me away the moment I heard it. I still can’t quite get over it. (Perhaps even a Desert Island Disc.) I bought the album, Element of Freedom, on the back of this song and wasn’t disappointed. It was a record that I’d return to throughout the show whenever I was stuck; I always knew Alicia Keys would rescue me, and I was always right. Along with the Black Eyed Peas, Ms. Keys is the Dannsa favourite. She’ll be back.

21. Apache by The Incredible Bongo Band

This was just the song that Natasha was using to choreograph the group in the rehearsal featured in this montage. I sometimes use the same music as the source because you can drop in actual audio from the footage without the background music conflicting. There was no actuality here, but it was just a terrific piece of music, and obviously the timing would be right, so here it is. Not Top 40, but good enough to break the rule. (Finding music good enough to break the rule became a useful challenge.)

22. Get the Party Started by P!nk

P!nk, mirroring the Black Eyed Peas song near the top, this time looking ahead to the series as a whole. Bit on-the-nose, maybe, but it works, so leave me alone.

And that’s it for episode one.

Next week we’ll learn how I continued Radio 1 boot camp and embraced the quirkier side, making every song (well, most songs) do double and even triple duty. For some, their importance cannot be overstated, and the moments when they clicked into place were my favourite part of the edit.

So see you next week for the Fusion girls in Aberdeen. Bring a handkerchief.

By Kenny Park

Kenny Park, pro video editor in Avid and Final Cut for over a decade.

2 replies on “Dannsa Episode 1, the music”

i will look out for it big man. i get bbc alba on virgin now. i dont know any gaelic except for this….Mahorsh Mahorsh a dotaman vit….but i like listening to it.

Thanks, Andy. It’s certainly worth a watch, even if I do say so myself.

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