Following on from last week’s blog, here’s what I have to say for myself regarding the music choices in Dannsa, episode 2, which is on tonight at 10pm, BBC Alba.
This week, we concentrate on the Fusion dance group in Aberdeen, with a brief sojourn with Livingston’s b-boyz (and girl), the Heavy Smokers, kicking off with…
Somebody Told Me (Mylo Mix) by The Killers
To a certain extent, the Killers became Dannsa’s opening act. Because of licensing, you can’t use a track more than twice as a theme, but if we’d been allowed we’d have used the Armin van Buuren mix of Human every time. As a compromise, we found three more funky mixes of Killers tunes and, using each of them twice, used them to kick off eight of our shows. Something about the kind of song the Killers write, funkified by some painfully cool dude suited us. This week, Somebody Told Me.
Let’s Get it Started (Spike Mix)
Another mix of the Black Eyed Peas classic.
Northern Light of Old Aberdeen
Andy Stewart. This is to introduce Aberdeen, obviously, and originally mixed into Whip My Hair by Willow Smith (see next track). Takes me back to Sunday dinner when I was a kid. Roast beef, always roast beef, and Ken’s Ceilidh on Radio Clyde. My mum still makes roast beef on a Sunday, but Ken has gone to the big ceilidh in the sky.
Put a lot of compression on the track, and a dash of reverb, trying to suggest it’s coming from a distance, wafting across the salty sea air. All the better to contrast with…
‘Til the End of the World by Britney Spears
Like I say, this was originally Whip My Hair by Willow Smith, but that track proved a tough one to license, so we switched it for the Britney. Ironically, this song is far less annoying than Whip, but I was sorry to lose li’l Ms. Smith. Somehow, it fit perfectly (probably because the Fusion dancers were whipping their hair a lot in rehearsal). ‘Til the End of the World, though, has the same energy and works just fine.
Who’s That Chick? (feat. Rihanna)
A good song for introducing… well… a chick; not that I’d normally use so patronising a term to describe a woman. Anyway, the bird in question is Lynne Brown, Fusion’s choreographer. Everyone on the team who met Lynne was taken with her enegy and infectious enthusiasm, so I had a certain responsibility to make sure that translated to the telly screen. That can be trickier than you might think. It’s like folk who are really attractive in person but who don’t take a good photo—sometimes it just mysteriously doesn’t come across. I think I got it, and certainly everyone who saw the final cut remarked, unbidden, on how much they admired her, her skill and how much she obviously cared for the girls. Hope you agree.
So that’s who that chick is.
A flashback to last week’s episode, so it made sense to reprise the good lady’s anthem. Somewhere in the darkest subconscious of the audience, the connection will be made.
‘Til the End of the World
Another blast of the Brit, bookending this intro section before we delve into our characters proper. I enjoy ringfencing sections in this way: it’s not too obvious but gives a wee narrative handrail to the viewer. A musical, “And now for something completely different,” if you will.
What a song; a grower. Our use of it was dictated by Lynne, as she’d chosen it for the Fusion girls to devise their solo pieces to. We owe her a debt of gratitude. From Rice’s second album, this extraordinary ballad was perfect for Lynne’s purpose: inspiring the girls to explore deeply personal experiences to base their solos around. I have to say, I never got tired of any of the music we used in Dannsa (as can so easily be the case in an edit), but this one positively grew in stature the more I heard it. That haunting refrain, “Is that alright, yeah?” has seeped into me, seemingly never to leave.
All the girls’ pieces were marvellous, and will be properly showcased before the series is out, but Sarah’s story struck us as perhaps the most extraordinary. Sarah, if you remember, was the dancer whose natural talent made her a shoe-in at the audition, despite her relative lack of experience. Here she tells of her battle with a terrible illness, recovery and how it inspired her solo piece.
Promise This by Cheryl Cole
I needed something with the same poppy pizazz as the Britney without sounding too similar. A useful resource, I found, was the Radio 1 playlist; I’d just have a wee trawl if I was stuck and something usually suited. In this case, it was this.
Whole Lotta Love
A pun for Lottie (geddit?), it was great to get some Zep into proceedings. Musically, too, Jimmy Page’s zinging speaks here of Lottie’s fiery character, as described by her mum, by Lynne, and by the girl herself.
Opposite of Adults
This was a track that had been selected for the Heavy Smokers before I even joined the project so I can’t help but identify it with them. Here, it underscores meeting Heavy Smoker, Steven.
Dancing on My Own (Radio Edit) by Robyn
Catchier than a head cold, this song must be impossible to dislike, surely. In the episode, Lynne talks Kevin through how the show’s going to go. I loved that we could include this: great stories take care to explain what you should expect to happen, with success or failure judged on how much you stick to plan. (Think the briefing room before the Death Star assault in Star Wars, or Doc Brown’s ill-fated scale mock-up in Back to the Future.) The other groups do this to a certain extent, but because Fusion have to change location so often within the performance (and might have to improvise because of the weather), having this walk-through is invaluable. The flip side, though, is pure exposition can be pretty dry. Luke argues with that bloke about bullseye-ing wamp rats; Doc Brown’t model catches fire; I add a soupçon of Robyn.
The Man Comes Around
Each of the episodes that focuses on one particular group has a section where Andy Howitt—the man who’ll have to bring them all together for our finalé at Glasgow’s Tramway—appraises the group, analysing their peculiarities and predicting how he’ll incorporate them in the larger project. I decided to cut and include an intro to Andy that spelled out this rôle for those who may not have seen episode one, along with a recap of the five other groups.
As for the music, what can I say? It was getting late and this song leapt to mind immediately. I should point out that, when it gets late, I often have strange ideas that seem amusing at the time but turn out to be inappropriate in the cold light of day after a refreshing dose of sleep. I worried that this was one of them. Was I being too irreverent with Andy? In the absence of any better idea, though, I figured that I could change it easily enough if everyone else thought I had misjudged it.
To leave room for explanatory voice-over, I looped the opening guitar strums to keep it instrumental, only letting Mr. Cash pipe up on, “There’ll be a golden ladder coming down/ When the Man comes around.” He almost sang, “golden,” over shots of the GOLDEN group, which seemed like a good omen.
The next day, everyone seemed tickled by the song choice and no one thought it disrespectful, so it stayed. Along with the previous episode’s Mendelssohn, the precedent was set to have fun with Andy’s intros, and in the coming weeks, fun we did have.
As I reported last time, I felt it was a shame to use proper songs as music beds that the audience will barely hear, so I hoped to find and use some specially designed bed music—essentially a simple rhythm an riff that will fill out the aural landscape without distracting from the main chat with lyrics or complex composition. Production music libraries sell this stuff by the yard, but there’s always an excruciating process of auditioning tracks, swapping CD after CD looking for a track that doesn’t sound naff in context. Well, I hadn’t the time to do that, so I just sparked up GarageBand, threw down some loops, and there was our bed music. I used it for Andy’s chat with Anne as he discusses this week’s group, and, later, used it for Anne and Kevin’s links, too.
Time is Running Out by Muse
I was turned on to Muse by the same pal who alerted me to Slash’s solo album (see last post). His band in Korea were covering this song at the time he was raving about it. That was a few years previous, but I’ve liked the song ever since and thought it’d work as a build up to Fusion’s performance.
The Performance Medley
I wanted to use for this the same music Fusion themselves had used—it’d be too much of a liberty to take with their performance (which is the climax of our story, after all), to suggest they were dancing to music that they weren’t really.
The trick was to cut it down. In reality, their performance lasted fifteen minutes—half the length of our episode. They would let each song play out before they and the audience changed location. I had to make the songs blend together and sound like natural bedfellows as a medley, despite their greatly varying keys and tempos. You’ll have to watch the show to see if I managed it. Here they are in full, though.
Rock that Body
Sleeps with Butterflies by Tori Amos
Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m madly in love with Tori Amos. I mean it: madly in love. My wife and I have an agreement that I can run off with her if I can arrange it. (My wife’s allowed to run off with Patrick Stewart.) This is from her Beekeeper album and has her signature blend of melancholia, kookiness and sheer melodic majesty. You can’t hear it in the episode, but one of my all-time favourite moments in Ms. Amos’s career is the way she slightly slurs the line, “Are you having regrets about lasht night?”
I simply melt each time.
When I needed a song to close the episode that was both triumphant and poignant, my head filled with the opening strains of this. I invite you to bask in it.
So, farewell then, episode two. In many ways, this was the first true episode, the first being more of an overview, a teaser of the series rather than an example of it, where time demanded less than five minutes with each group, which isn’t enough to make any emotional connection with them. Here, though, I hope you found the group as talented and charming as we did.
Next week, Ballet West (with a dash of funky-cool contemporary from the SSCD).