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Ratatat: Commercial Venture

story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: March 18, 2009

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w/ Despot, Think About Life
Wednesday, March 25, 9 p.m.
The Slowdown
729 14th St.

You may be familiar with Ratatat's music, but not because you heard it on the radio.

Look them up in Wikipedia and you'll find a section titled "In Popular Culture." There, you'll see an extensive list not of their five full-length albums (three released on XL Records) or nine singles, or six remixes by such artists as Shout Out Louds, Animal Collective and Björk. Instead you'll find a list of where the Brooklyn duo's music has been used in movies, on television, in commercials and on the runways.

That's Ratatat's "Tropicana" playing during the gestation sequence in "Knocked Up." J.J. Abrams used "Seventeen Years" in last year's monster epic "Cloverfield," and the same song was also used in a Hummer ad. "Dura" played in the background during a season 9 episode of "CSI." And "Lex," which was used to sell Zunes, was remixed by house music pioneers Daft Punk to serenade models during the Louis Vuitton spring/summer 2008 fashion show.




In an age when artists -- especially those who create only instrumentals -- can't rely on radio to play their music, Ratatat has discovered other options in the world of music licensing. "For us it's a way to get our music heard," said Ratatat's Evan Mast, one half of the band along with co-founder Mike Stroud.

Mast said that from a licensing standpoint, Ratatat's music is available both as part of a pool of music that can be used in certain instances without their approval -- such as background music on MTV -- and more directly with their approval in movies and television commercials.

"We always ask to see a clip of the ad before making a decision," Mast said. "I don't watch TV these days, but growing up as a kid I remember seeing certain TV ads that would have a cool song, and it was cool to have them come on. I also remember ads that were irritating that you wanted to turn off. To me, it's an aesthetic thing that influences our decisions most. It comes down to whether it's something that we want to be associated with. There's loads of stuff that we turned down that didn't suit us or was too cheesy."

In addition to broadening their music's awareness, Mast said licensing can be lucrative, but it "doesn't always make sense. It's a really strange world, but for us it's been one of the areas where we can make money. I don't think we'd be able to survive as well as we do without it."

It's easy to see why movie makers and Madison Avenue have gravitated toward Ratatat's infectious music. Since their 2004 self-titled debut, the duo has garnered a following for their brand of electronic dance rock that fuses house beats with post-punk power chords to create the perfect soundtrack to a night of strobe-induced clubbing. LP3, their latest released on XL Records, is no exception. Mast said the album marks a return to a looser style that the duo enjoyed in their early days.

"When we first started, we didn't have any expectations at all. It was just for fun, and our initial first few songs were jokes" he said. "It quickly evolved into something more serious, and by the second record, the fun became more labor intensive. We've come back to that initial approach of making stuff by not thinking about it too much. Getting wrapped up in every detail can be counterproductive. The details can be better if you don't worry about them too much and just let things happen."

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Published in The Omaha Reader March 18, 2009. Copyright © 2009 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
















Ratatat LP3

"It comes down to whether it's something that we want to be associated with. There's loads of stuff that we turned down that didn't suit us or was too cheesy"