There is something inherently human about finding a beautiful thing in an antique shop or car boot sale. It might have intrinsic value – hey you might end up on Antiques Roadshow discovering that your 50p item is worth £5000. But - even if it’s not a Fabergé egg - a beautifully designed piece of ‘50s costume jewellery, a sketch from an unknown hand or a pearl inlaid wooden box transports us back to another era. It reminds us of the craftsmanship involved in the making of these items, the key design tropes of the time and the place of origin.
Music is the same. Crate digging is how music geeks, hip hop and dance producers found great bits of obscure music and made them into some of the best tracks of modern times. The huge Labi Siffre sample on Eminem’s 'My Name Is'. Daft Punk’s 'Robot Rock' samples Breakwater's 'Release the Beast'. Heard of it? No, but you HAVE heard it.
There is nothing like finding a track that you love – one that works for your film - that is not well known. It can be so utterly evocative of time and place even when we have no personal memory of the music in that era. It becomes yours in a way that a well-known track cannot.
Over the last 20 years or so record labels have sprung up - but instead of nurturing new talent and coaxing new music out of artists, they've started digging out those gems from musical history that have been lost to time.
What they dig out is down to where they are digging and what for and usually reflects very personal taste. Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records loves finding and releasing long forgotten TV and film scores, from British jazz cult classics to children’s TV shows. He has a love of music made by and for children (including a school band from Scotland featuring solo percussionist Evelyn Glennie as a teenager) and a taste for the kitsch. Heinz used his rediscovered gem 'I Like It' by Mike and Bernie Winters to great effect on their latest 150 Years of Heinz campaign. And tracks from The Clangers soundtrack have added their light, sweet but not saccharine flavour to McDonald's ads amongst others.
Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson and Sofia Coppola all know the value of the use of back catalogue music in their film projects, each using music in their own distinct way.
Tarantino is really the master of bringing unknown artists (or lesser known tracks by big artists) to huge prominence via his film scores. His eclecticism and skill in placing the songs to give exactly the right energy to the scene rivals the hop hip / dance producer community, who have found inspiration in Labi Siffre, The Chi-Lites or Breakwater to place long forgotten or never known tracks firmly into the public consciousness.
Where Wes Anderson sticks to a solid musical landscape in each film, Sofia Coppola inspires the approach taken by TV shows such as End of the Fucking World in using music NOT of the era her films are set in. The counterpoint of music and setting gives the quintessential dreamy, otherworldly cool she has claimed as her own filmmaking style.
I listened to our Vintage Gems playlists the other week before we sent it out (incidentally the fastest downloaded and most popular sampler we have ever sent out) and with each song I was transported – to another era with the excellent Soundies catalogue which specialises in great song lyrics, voices and vocal arrangements from the 40s and 50s: to another country with the peppy, '60s, joy of Le Double Six; with the beauty of Karin Krog’s jazz vocal in mega rare single 'A Quiet Place' I’m in a rainy street in an '60s film; back with a bump with the uber kitsch of (cheesy) swinging London via Neil Christian’s 'That’s Nice' to the treasure trove of' 50s rock n roll lyrical gems from the Golden Crest catalogue... these tracks give you the ultimate musical shorthand, ultimate credibility (even when it’s cheesy, because it’s UNDISCOVERED CHEESE) and are way more fun to work with. They have also passed the ultimate test of time – if we’re still listening now, if they have risen up through all the forgotten music in the world ever (there’s a lot) then they have to be good.
So next time you’re looking for music, dig deeper. The rewards are way more than the effort, and the dig is fun. The only problem is the amount of choices available. Of course we can help you there.