After an incredible few months and an even more amazing night last Friday, here’s the story of my involvement with the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

At the end of April this year I received a phone call from Rick Smith of Underworld. We had worked together on tracks for the latest Underworld album as well as my own and in doing so had built not just a wonderfully creative working relationship but had become real friends too. During the writing of my album The Agony & The Ecstasy, I had many long phone calls with Rick and Karl, the other half of Underworld, that had been massively inspirational to me and really fed into my creative process. So I was very keen to work with them again. And it just so happened they were cooking up the biggest show on Earth.

They had been appointed as musical directors of the 2012 London Olympics by the director of that show, Danny Boyle, their long time collaborator. Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ was a huge film for me as a teenager and was one of my first exposures to dance music and the clubbing world. So being asked to get involved with the Olympics was a huge honour in itself but for me getting to work with Underworld and Danny was the bigger draw – any project those guys have lined up, I will do anything to be a part of.

The Clock Mill at 3 Mills Studios, which became my music studio for many weeks.

At the initial meeting I met Mike Gillespie, Underworld’s manager who was Musical Supervisor for the Opening Ceremony, and Rick, at 3 Mills Studios in Bromley by Bow, a film studio that was acting as the main space for Opening Ceremony planning and rehearsal and just a 15 minute walk from the stadium itself. Before anything else, my manager and label boss Chris Goss and I had to sign NDA’s as the show had to be kept in complete secret. The guys then warned me that it would a lot of hard work, long hours and quite a challenging brief, working in ways I wasn’t used to. But nothing could put me off, they had me at hello.

Underworld had already written the music for the main part of the show and most of that had been recorded. Rick was now having to deal with a lot more logistical/organisational stuff that was getting more and more time consuming but there was still music needed for the non-theatrical part of the show – the Athlete’s Parade. And that’s where I came in. They wanted me to take on that part of the night and bring my uplifting, melodic sound to it. After years of people telling me they listened to my music whilst running or in the gym, it seemed to make perfect sense! But the Athlete’s Parade has been notorious for being traditionally the more dull part of the Opening Ceremony, with so many countries to get through it can become a slog for the audience. Sometimes it has run over 2.5 hours. Rick and Danny were very keen that it run a lot faster and the aim was to make it the best parade yet.

That would involve a real balancing act. The main point was to keep the athletes moving and to keep a positive vibe in the air but without getting too repetitive. So the music needed to be driving but not relentless. Uplifting but not overwhelming. Consistent but not the same throughout. We couldn’t punish the listeners with non stop beats but couldn’t have massive breakdowns as the momentum would be lost. And it had to work not just for the athletes but the 80,000 people in the stadium watching and the billions at home. Hmm.

Just like at home - I like to keep my setup as simple as possible.

This also meant that drum and bass was not on the cards. The plan was to keep the music around the 120bpm mark as that felt like it would keep everyone at a pretty pacey walking speed. The fear was that something as fast as drum and bass would make the athletes run around or rave on the spot or worse just stop completely. I had to agree, dnb doesnt feel like something you can just walk to, it demands a more extreme reaction from the body.

A start had already been made in that the entire Underworld back catalogue had been gone through and the most appropriate tracks for the parade had been picked out already. Darren Price, their long time engineer and a big part of their live show (as well as a dj in his own right) had begun work on getting the stems for these tunes out of the archive and ready for manipulation. A lot of their music was around the 140bpm mark so they had to be time stretched or re exported at a slower tempo. I was to have access to all these files and could pick out the ones that jumped out at me and begin trying to rework for them for the parade.

Time was of the essence so thankfully the job I had just been working on, a controversial play in Cardiff called Pornography (which ironically was about London during the announcement of the winning Olympic bid in 2005), had just finished and I was able to just pack up my computer and monitors and move up to London to begin work. My equipment was set up at 3 Mills and I just jumped straight in. It was so cool to have access to whatever tracks I liked from Underworld’s fantastic back catalogue. I also had a few demo tracks that I’d made basic versions of during the writing of The Agony & The Ecstasy as well as a couple of 120bpm versions of dnb tracks from that album that all seemed to have the right vibe for this project.

 

The view from my studio room at 3 Mills.

So at this point the enormity of what I was doing still hadn’t really dawned on me, I was just working on tunes on my iMac as I normally do, in my own little world. It would only be much later when I visited the stadium that it really all hit me.

Part 2 of this story will follow very soon…

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30 Responses to “High Contrast’s Olympic Story: Part 1”

  1. ang3l says:

    Awesome story m8!! Opening Ceremony was amazing, especially in 3D (next best thing to being there in person)!

  2. That’s absolutely awesome Link! Can’t wait to hear what you guys came up with

  3. andy arrowsmith says:

    fantastic reading! i aspire to be a music producer, but its easier with the spare time! i congratulate you on all that you have achieved in the last WEEK! the ceremony was something that will live long with all who experienced it! i hope to hear more of you in the future. i do follow you as much as i can, but a stage such as the Olympics makes everyone aware of how much you have succeeded, and how talented you really are! i am glad you was a part of it! good luck with future events, and i hope this is just the beginning of your success story! very well done mate!
    Andy Arrowsmith

  4. HIGGZY says:

    Was an epic show, what made it better was that yourself and Underworld were involved! The Mrs and I loving the tune selection. Keep up the amazing work!

  5. Ike Walker says:

    Will your tracks from the opening ceremony soundtrack be released anywhere other than the compilation album? I really want your tracks but do not want to have to buy the full album and get all of the tracks! Anyway, congratulations on the work, it was truly incredible stuff, it’s great to see how successful you have become!

  6. Sergey Ivanov says:

    Undoubtedly! It’s a great job m8! Best artist for best event!
    Waiting for the second part of this story!
    From Russia with love)
    Serge.

  7. Swanvest says:

    Fantastic story & couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

    I have loved your music for years & regardless of the lower bpm , the music is inspirational & europhic.

    I have seen the tracklisting for isles of wonder & listened to the previews. This will definitely be a CD purchase for me. The long way home has got to be my fav

    Congratulations Lincoln & keep up the sublime work. I’ll see you soon on a dance floor in the uk.

    Regards
    Swanvest

  8. Swanvest – thanks mate, Long Way Home is my fave too, parade went super fast in the end so didnt get aired on tv but at least is on the album.

  9. Ike – cheers, yes hoepfully we will get a release out there of just my tunes very soon.

  10. Conor B R&V Protege says:

    Great read man!

    Looking forward to the next part.

    Conor Beggs
    Rhythm & Vines

  11. different conor says:

    Amazing story, nice work. Token question but did you do anything with Born Slippy (Nuxx)?

  12. Conor – I did indeed get something going with Born Slippy but as it was used elsewhere in the show it fell behind in the priorities. However a version might well appear at some point…

  13. different conor says:

    Brilliant, would love to hear it!

  14. Ben says:

    Wow, what an incredible achievement, to say that you produced the music for the opening ceremony at a home Olympic games is just incredible, one to remember I should think!

    I didn’t realise you were working on the music until I actually watched the ceremony and heard the tunes of some of my favourites from The Agony & The Ecstasy, thought there was some kind of bizarre plagiarism job going on but then I found out it was you yourself!

    You did a brilliant job and must be so proud

    Keep up the good work
    Ben
    ps, I also listen to your music while running, Tough Guys Don’t Dance is my favourite to run to.

  15. Trigoney says:

    Amazing story, amazing show and incredible music, what a priveledge for you and what a good job you did. Congratulations and good work!!!! I think the whole event is giving britain back some well needed pride….

    Trigoney

  16. Andrew James says:

    Great stuff mate, you really did a great job!

    Andrew

  17. Cameron says:

    I was there! Had no idea you had done the music but you did a great job!

  18. Will says:

    I was curious as to where the opening ceremony score came from. What a opportunity you were given, and a great end result.

  19. Skerce says:

    Great bit of reading. I couldn’t think of a better man for the job. The music worked very well with the parade and with the 1000 drummers (I bet there arms are still aching). A epic show, hopefully you will get more projects like this for future events on TV.

    Big ups man.

    Keep up the great work.

    Skerce

  20. Friendly greetings High Contrast, thank you for sharing your story. Your soaring melodicism is inspiring and absolutely needed in a time where people are afraid to be catchy.

    Your remix of “Rez” made me cry tears of joy (piano lines and chord progressions used to such great effect), reminded of why I got into electronic music in the first place! The original was a seminal classic I had on cassette tape, and many years later… full circle. Wow. WoW. WOW!!!!

  21. High Contrast man what a gig, that night I was locked onto the soundtrack, I knew Underworld were behind it, and yet that was half the story, as you so explain so well here. I will remember when my ears peeled back (like TORLEY mentioned) during a totally different mix of Rez came that I never heard before.
    Then I knew this more than just underworld, my DJ ears weren’t wrong as I had a good guess since your Album dropped this had to be none other than High Contrast. Must of been something working on those old sequences from Underworld, knowing the audience level. Think the selection was pitched well, I get why there was no Drum and Bass, yet I would of smiled so much if you got one in. Is the sound track out by the way, in terms of the remixes.?

  22. Alf Fly says:

    What Torley said. The remix of Rez is just beautiful. Great work, congrats on your part in the opening ceremony and the next time you see the guys from Underworld, give them and yourself an enormous pat on the back.

  23. Brian Adams says:

    Just a quick message to you, the music was fantastic, we really like the instrumental music AFTER the Bee Gees “Staying Alive”, but we cannot find it anywhere? What is it please? It’s so Infectious! We would like to play it again & again & again..SUPERB and well done to you!

  24. Brian – Thanks, that track is called Strutter, it should be on the Isles of Wonder album already but Hospital will also be making it available as a download on it’s own very soon.

  25. Brian Adams says:

    Thanks Lincoln, it’s not on the album, just checked, I’m really looking forward to the download though very soon, it’s a class track…keep up the great work you are doing! Kind regards!

  26. Al_Doom says:

    They asked Danny Boyle to do the Olympics, without thinking about the music. Danny thinks “shit, I’m going to need a fucking cool soundtrack, and thinks about Trainspotting (a film about drugs!!)opening sequence – Underworld, Dark and Long, ;) That worked?
    He calls Rick, – Rick I am in the shit mate, need some tunes for the Olympics, wtf! Rick thinks – “Shit my mate Danny is in he shit, lol, Olympics? Piece of piss..” , – He is like Danny man, not a problem, I’m thinking a bit of trance, some Arctic monkeys, Bowie, some Pistols, and some remixes, including Dark and Long. Choose Life LOL.

  27. Jerome says:

    Your track “Strutter” really made me crazy when I first heard it during the opening ceremony as I have looked for it everywhere on the internet since that day. I have finally found its name and hope it will soon be released.
    Good job and keep up with it, best regards from France.

  28. Ely says:

    Great reading Lincoln, really looking forward to the next installment. I can’t imagine having access to the Underworld back catalogue, wow!

  29. [...] Contrast’s fascinating insider background to the production of the score for the ceremony is here. Like this:Like4 bloggers like this. In Leadership & Inspiration, Retirement Britishness, [...]

  30. wencish says:

    Hi Lincoln, We are looking forward to September …. Your people from Prague! :-))))

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