Dear bands soon to feature on JJJ's Like A Version...
'Cause his hell fun to hate on shit on the internet.
For me it started in 2011 when Eskimo Joe decided to cover Gotye’s mega-ultra multi-platinum America-beating super smash hit Somebody That I Used To Know. Something about it just reeked of a band trying to remain in touch with their audience by cashing in on an incredibly popular song with a ho-hum cover. Perhaps there were earlier ones – 67 Special (who? Exactly) took on Missy Higgins’ Scar in 2006 – but the problem has become endemic ever since EJ decided to give Gotye's spin a lazy once-over.
Eskimo Joe (bless ‘em) have even provided me with the perfect reference point for a case study. The first time they took part in Like A Version they covered Hey by The Pixies – a classic, no doubt – and not a track that kids were only just getting to know in the past six months. And is that not the point of a cover? To re-invigorate an old song, put your own touch on it, whilst simultaneously honouring the original? Back in 2007 Eskimo Joe were in a better place. They’d broken fully into the big time with Black Fingernails, Red Wine the year before, so they could actually take a risk on a cover and didn’t need it to try and further their career. Fast forward to 2011, having spent the years since failing to recapture those glory days, and they opted for the easy option, one that turned out completely unmemorable.
It sounds like I’m picking on Eskies a bit, which I am, but I’m just using them as a case study for the before and after of how and why Triple J’s Like A Version has lost its meaning to the point where the Triple J machine has almost begun to eat itself. And in recent weeks it’s reaching critical mass to the point where something has to be said to someone. Instead I’m just gonna write this ranty opinion piece which a few people (unlucky if that includes you right now) will hopefully read.
Recent Example 1: Asta having a crack at Flume’s Holdin On (above). I feel as though I can’t be too hard on Asta, fuck she only won triple j’s Unearthed High competition last year, and rightfully so – she’s got a killer voice and her singles so far have been great, if not a little bland. But Holdin On? Seriously? First, she’s not really covering Holdin On by Flume, she’s really just covering a sample of Anthony White’s I Can’t Turn You Loose, while her bandmates awkwardly play a live version of an electronically produced hip hop beat from the feted Sydney producer. You can’t cover an electronic dance music (EDM, ha!) song which relies solely on a sample hook. And just repeating it over and over again. It’s not her fault – Flume is the ducks fucking nuts right now, and she hasn’t released a single in a while so what better way to get back into peoples’ ear lobes than covering one of their favourite songs. Unfortunately for her it failed, almost embarrassingly so.
Recent Example 2: The straw that finally broke this (internet-whinging) camel’s back though – enough to inspire him to stop looking at porn and actually type something for once – was Birds Of Tokyo’s decision to have a crack at Kendrick Lamar’s Swimming Pools (Drank) last week. Quick disclaimer before I start: I actively despise BOT, so please take the next paragraph with a grain of salt – I just can’t take Ian Kenny's money-making side project seriously. But that’s an argument for another day…
Five years ago they took on Marvin Gaye’s Heard It Through The Grapevine. Again see my previous Eskies early/later comparison. An interesting – you might even say inspired – choice for that time of their career. An older classic, given a BOT spin.
So for round two they choose fucking Swimming Pools? Who the fuck are they kidding? And not only that it’s barely them covering it! They ring in WA hip hop lord Mathas to do all the actual rapping for them. If nothing else I hope this gets his name out there a little more, because he deserves it. His repetition of his own name leads me to hope that he recognises how stupid this cover is, but hopefully people will still remember the dude who killed the verses. Because it’s pretty much a Mathas cover really, featuring awful vocals in the chorus from Kenny.
To do a cover you actually need to believe in a song to some degree. Take MS MR’s cover of LCD Soundsystem’s Dance Yrself Clean – a track in my top five songs of all fucking time (so apply that to whatever music credentials you think I do or do not have). But you know what? The love and adoration they have for LCD is there for everyone to see, they don’t try to butcher the song, they pay it a loving homage and it fucking WORKS. It's also not some massive hit they decided to cover to get a few more cheap fans (actually a pleasant, running theme for most international artists who do Like A Version). I can’t imagine Kenny and co. give a soaring ballad who Kendrick Lamar is (neither do I for the record, but that’s neither here not there), and it shows. You know where it shows best? In the faces of the people in the crowd – general bemusement/befuddlement doesn’t even come close. Some are trying seriously hard not to laugh, and for good reason. If I was sitting in a room watching Ian Kenny kinda clicking his fingers along (in what I can only assume is his attempt at ‘feeling‘ the moment) as someone else rapped a cover of a song for his band I’d probably start crying, down a bottle of purple drank and pass out.
There’s a reason you don’t hear Asta’s cover of Holdin On on the j’s much since she did it, and it’s the same reason you won’t be hearing Birds Of Tokyo’s version of Swimming Pools either.
So let this be a call-out to any band fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play a stripped back version of one of their songs, followed by a cover of another on our national youth radio network early on a Friday morning: Don’t go for the easy option, put some effort in, treat other people’s music with respect, and don’t just use it as a platform to cash in on someone else being awesome around the same time as you. Have some fucking balls and do it properly.