Here’s the last instalment of my Olympic tale…
So, the final few weeks before the Opening Ceremony were pretty full on. Things started to get a bit more serious and intense but of course it was still enjoyable. The idea of any downtime went out the window though, which had been the case for Rick and Mike for a long time but now I was in the same boat. Got to the studio about 10.30am each day and was there til 3 or 4am every night. The two things I had to work on was making a running order for the Parade itself (working in the original tracks I’d made, the Underworld remixes and then a variety of third party tunes) and then making the CD album version of the Parade.
It was rightly felt that if both just consisted of ‘dance’ tunes from myself and Underworld it would be too much for the entirety of the Parade, so mixing in some well known tracks, past and present, seemed key. This was a process right up my street as it was somewhat like a DJ mix but also something like a soundtrack. The team were adamant that it not actually be just a full on DJ mix as that could get too overbearing and monotonous for the audience. Throwing in some curveballs would help break things up but we had to keep the momentum going. It was a real balancing act, complicated further by the quagmire of licensing issues that something like this entails. Most people were more than happy to help and get things fast tracked through but there were some problems of course along the way and things that needed last minute changes.
One of the problems we had to sort out was the music being used for when Team GB came out in the Parade. “Galvanise” by the Chemical Brothers and “Heroes” by Bowie were Danny Boyle’s choices but the former is a storming modern dance track whilst the latter is over 30 years old and has a far more ethereal quality. It was proving to be difficult seguing between them. So I switched it around so that “Heroes” came first and then led into the Chems and made an edit where the vocals do a little call and response which seemed to help it flow. I also thought it could be a great moment to then finally drop in some drum and bass and Danny himself was totally up for it, suggesting my track “The Stand” – but the issue was that the Arctic Monkeys were to play live at the end of Team GB and making them come on after a pumped up drum and bass track didn’t seem right as it’s very hard for any other music to match the impact and speed of drum and bass, whereas coming out of the much slower “Galvanise” would be perfect. But we came so close to getting some DnB in there!
Anyway, the thing about the Athlete’s Parade is that it’s pretty much impossible to get a timing for it in advance. We looked at the ones from previous Olympics and they all came in at different times as different size teams from each competing country appeared each year and each Olympiad organises things slightly differently. So I had to provide more music than could be needed just so they were covered in case it went much longer than it should. During the show the music cues would be triggered by a guy who was a seasoned pro at these kind of events. It’s an incredibly high pressured job for him, so I had to work the mix out in advance with all the timings of where tracks should come in and give him all the data so he could load it into his Pyramix system (and backup systems) and be able to just follow the path I laid out. The key was that whilst I had to arrange things into a flowing mix that made sense in itself, things had to be malleable enough so that he could cut to another piece of music at any point for any reason such as things were getting too monotonous or the athlete’s needed a boost to push them along etc. Thankfully on the night, that issue never came up but I had to make sure we were covered.
In the final week we had some serious deadlines to meet but thankfully all of them were met. That’s the thing about working on something like the Oylmpics – it’s so huge and totally unmoveable that there basically is NO choice other than to get things done in time. In dance music there always seems to be some degree of flexibility with deadlines (Hospital Records suddenly inhales sharply) but with a one off event you simply have to make it happen in time. And I was consistenly amazed by what was achieved. So many people pitched in and went far beyond the norm to make sure the Opening Ceremony not only happened but was truly astounding. The volunteers especially deserve so much credit.
With the final running order of tracks loaded into the system and the CD album mixed and mastered, my work was almost done – apart from the opening 60 second countdown to the whole show. A piece of music was needed that would fit the wonderful numerical imagery they had put together and set the right tone but they still hadn’t found exactly what they were looking for. Thankfully it just so happened that I had been working on a 120bpm remix of one on my tracks, “The Road Goes On Forever”, which when I lined it up with the video matched it perfectly. With a few tweaks here and there it slotted in as if it had been there from the start. It was then such an honour for Rick and Danny to want to use one of my tracks for the very start of the show. I think because it incorporates elements from a classic tune by The Who but with contemporary production and synths, it created a cool hybrid which sounds very British and hence apt for the occasion.
I had seen bits and pieces of the Ceremony along the way but going to the final dress rehearsal was really the first time I saw the thing as a whole and it really blew me away. I actually teared up at a few points and felt so proud to be part of it all. Danny’s vision was so strong and so perfect, showing a potted history of our nation and managing somehow to get across the essence of a country which is very eclectic and hard to pin down these days. This was on the Wednesday night and afterwards I went straight over to Old Street to play a gig in XOYO, a special history of Hospital Records night along with the legendary Photek. From being so immersed in the the world of the Olympics it was quite a shock to go back to the drum and bass clubzone. I was super tired and pre-occupied but as soon as I stepped in the venue, I was given a massive boost by the energy and enthusiasm of the crowd. It was a fantastic gig and really gave me a lift.
Then on the Thursday, all the last details were finally wrapped up from my end so that on the day of the event I was actually pretty relaxed and was able to just take it all in. I got to the stadium early in the day so I could check out the final rehearsals and also get a kick from wandering around and seeing such a huge production come together backstage. But then I started to feel a shooting pain in my left leg, that had happened a few times over the last couple of months but went away immeditaely. This time it got stronger and caused so much pain that I couldnt stand up. I was fine sitting though so didnt want to go to the hospital and miss the actual show. The medics put me in a wheelchair and I got a good view! But it was quite bizarre to be at the Olympics after all this work and have to be in a wheelchair. They couldn’t figure out what was wrong with my leg but I think it stemmed from stress and may be related to my back, as sitting intently at a computer for the last few months cant have been good for my posture.
But at least I got to enjoy the whole Ceremony and found it to be a truly amazing experience. The opening 60sec countdown music got a great instant reaction in the stadium which was fantastic to witness firsthand. And then the Parade itself was so cool to be in the stadium watching as the athletes and the audience rocked out to my tunes – seeing Usain Bolt emerge dancing away to one of my tracks was a real highlight. The Parade went better than anyone could have expected, the approach taken by Danny and Underworld and myself really worked – infact it worked too well, it was the shortest Athlete’s Parade ever Im told but that meant not all of the tunes I had written or mixed got used in the end. (This is what has resulted in there being tracks on the album version that weren’t actually played in the stadium).
Everything having worked out so well on the night was a real buzz and was so great to see after all the hard work of the Underworld team. We went back to the tour bus for a late night little party, only slightly inhibited by my wheelchair. Thankfully, the pain eased off over the coming days and I’m fine now and can just reflect on what has been one of the best experiences of my life for which I am so thankful to have been part of. Watching the games then unfold and how the whole country seems to have been galvanised by it as well as the great success of Team GB, is one of the few truly hopeful things as a nation that I can think in recent years. However, there is always a strange empty feeling after having been involved in a huge project of ‘um, what do I do now?’ but that’s a great challenge to have.