If there’s any takeaway from the slow, brutal decline of big business record labels and the rise of contemporary music’s internet-centric hype machine, it’s the fact that the lines between the underground and the mainstream are now extremely blurred. “Mainstream.” “Sell-out.” “The Man.” These once demonizing labels are becoming increasingly irrelevant. As a result, many popular “indie” artists are now regularly courted for licensing opportunities and sponsorship deals by some of the world’s most recognized brands. Other big name companies, like Scion and Mountain Dew, are taking this a step further, establishing record labels that boast healthy rosters of hungry, up and coming artists while providing them with more financial support and infrastructure than a standard boutique indie label in addition to complete creative control over their work.
Converse’s contribution to this new marketing/endorsement paradigm (and occasional rabbit hole of artistic integrity) is their Three Artists, One Song series that began in 2008. After making everyone’s head spin with the Gorillaz/Andre 3000/James Murphy collab “Do Ya Thing,” this week they announced the series’ latest installment with the song “Warrior,” a collaboration between New Zealand native and Gotye-affiliated chantreuse Kimbra, Mark Foster of Foster the People, and in-demand Canadian producer A-Trak to be released April 5th. With that sure fire jam fast approaching, we decided to take a look back at some seriously cool songs released exclusively (and surprisingly) under the banner of corporate sponsorship.
1. Neon Indian, “Sleep Paralysis” (Mountain Dew)
Chillwave pioneer Neon Indian, a.k.a. Alan Palomo, followed up his critically acclaimed 2009 debut album Psychic Chasms by teaming up with Mountain Dew’s Green Label Sound (which can also count Holy Ghost!, Matt and Kim, Chromeo, and Wavves on their roster) to release the single and accompanying video for his glitchy, bedroom disco track “Sleep Paralysis” in early 2010. Perfect for soundtracking your next Dew sip-session.
2. Sonic Youth, “Slow Revolution” (Starbucks)
Sonic Youth never put out a proper greatest hits album in their 20-plus year career until Hits are for Squares was released through Starbucks Music in 2008. The tracklist only had songs recommended by famous fans of the alternative rock legends (like Diablo Cody who chose “Superstar,” or Gus Van Sant who picked “Tom Violence”) but also featured the new track “Slow Revolution”: a languid, guitar driven, six-minute jolt that has Thurston Moore singing barely comprehensible lyrics under thick washes of reverb.
3. LCD Soundsystem, “45:33” (Nike)
In 2006, Nike tapped disco-punk stalwarts LCD Soundsystem for their +Original Run series, which also featured work from A-Trak and Aesop Rock. The result was 45:33, written and arranged by lead singer/bandleader James Murphy to be a continuous, sonic “arc designed for running,” complete with funky, synth-driven build-ups (punctuated by quick bursts of Murphy singing lyrics like “shame on you,” and “you can’t hide … your love away from me. Hey!”) and two jazzy “cool down” sections. 45:33 garnered fantastic reviews, and proved that the Nike marketing team knew how to not ruin one of the most revered bands of the ’00s. Sadly, there was no Air Murphy to coincide with the release.
4. Kid Cudi, Rostam Batmanglij, and Bethany Constantino, “All Summer” (Converse)
For the 2010 installment of the Three Voices, One Song series, Converse brought together Kid Cudi, Bethany Constantino of Best Coast and Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend to collaborate on the criminally catchy track “All Summer.” Every contributor gets their due thanks to Batmanglij’s vibrant but cavernous production that showcases Constantino’s gold plated vocals on the towering chorus, and Cudi’s chilled out, harmonic rap verses. The trio even killed the track live when Converse hosted a packed concert for the song series at the Music Hall of Williamsburg.
5. Danny Brown, “Grown Up” ( Scion A/V)
Scion’s AudioVisual project, dedicated to “providing a platform for passionate artists to focus on developing their art and exploring the endless possibilities,” is a little bit of everything: art forum, film series, lifestyle magazine, but the most intriguing component remains its record label. Releasing music from eclectic artists like Big Freedia, the Dirtbombs, and the Melvins, Scion A/V recently set its sights on zeitgeisty rapper Danny Brown who, admittedly, isn’t the first name we’d think of for corporate endorsement. The summer on the block/De La Soul-like single “Grown Up,” produced by Party Supplies, just shot across the blogosphere last week to rave reviews, and stacks up damn well against any hip-hop track dropped this year. Thanks, Scion!