Thursday, 25 September 2008

Feature: Branded

This week it’s been Levi’s ‘5 Night Revue’, showcasing the best in new and unsigned talent as deemed suitable for the Hoxton clique, by Levi’s (who obviously know exactly what they’re talking about, being jeans manufacturers…)

The line-ups for these nightly Shoreditch showcases have been fairly predictable, with those that made it down to the east end being treated to the raucous promise of recent school-finishers Bombay Bicycle Club, handsome electro duo Iglu and Hartley, and eclectic toy-pop illuminators Metronomy, to name but a few.

Levi’s have been putting on their ‘Ones To Watch’ for over four years now with some success – past winners have included The View (thank you, Levis), Kooks and The Fratellis. Oh, and The Natives. (The Natives who?!)

But it’s clear that not many in the LOTW alumni can lay claim to much more that flash-in-the-pan first album success, followed by a disproportionate trajectory into second album obscurity – so is it really worth their while?

When we asked the Bombay boys about their decision to get involved in the Levi’s sponsored event, their unanimous response was, “We get free jeans!”

The attractive Levi’s promoters, however, confessed that they’re already looking for new ideas of ways to get new music out to the kids, without the stigma of corporate sponsorship. “This has been done now,” one PR said, “we need to change the concept, find new ways to do the same thing.”

The Branding Stigma is a problem that Jack White’s also suffered from this week after his Bond-theme collaboration with Alicia Keys was pilfered by Coca Cola for prime time TV advertising. “Jack White was commissioned by Sony Pictures to write a theme song for the James Bond film 'Quantum Of Solace', not for Coca Cola,” his management proclaimed in a statement.

Begging the question, is it possible to gain and keep commercial success in the modern music industry without being tainted by the grubby-fingered, money-hungry lure of branding? Answers on a postcard…

All this talk of branding leads us nicely to the recent Converse ad campaign, in which lurid billboards flanking the main stages at major British music festivals and corporate-sponsored gigs proclaim: “Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive.”

Now, I understand that Converse have long been the footwear of choice for the subculturally preoccupied masses. From Kurt Cobain’s endorsement in the mid-nineties (and his posthumous Cobain Converse released earlier this year) to M.I.A and Karen O in the most recent ‘Connectivity’ ads, the colourful classics have carried a long-standing reputation for giving their owner a certain understated yet irrefutable veneer of ‘cool’. Even when they were uncool, Converse were cool. They’re the closest thing alterna-kids have to Chanel.

But just when did it become possible to convince the large majority of converse-sporting gig- and festival-goers that the star on their footwear means that they are, in fact, the unsuspecting vanguard of an impending cultural revolution?

Has everyone forgotten that Nike has owned Converse since they saved the brand from liquidation in 2003?

Comfy and colourful they might be, but nonconformist and original Converse certainly are not…

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