Best of British 2012: 3. Earthquake

The Best of British 2012 is our unofficial countdown of the top ten UK a cappella tracks of the past year. Over the next few weeks leading up to the Christmas period, we will be counting down, from ten to one, what we believe have been the best tracks on show this year, ranging from awesome arrangements, sensational solos, marvellous mash-ups, punny parodies and everything in between.

Eligible Tracks

In order to determine which tracks were to be considered for this accolade, we decided to restrict our selections to songs that fell under ONE or BOTH of the following categories:
a) A song that made its live debut in 2012
b) A song that was featured on a 2012 album

For example, although all of the tracks featured on The AccidentalsEP made their debuts at the 2011 Voice Festival, because the album was released in 2012, all of the tracks on the album were considered. Also, several tracks were considered that were not released on albums, for example songs by The Oxford Belles or The Sons of Pitches from their 2012 repertoire.

The Process

We made a list of all the eligible songs from all the eligible groups, and then picked the top three tracks from each group, where possible. We then narrowed this shortlist down to 25, before picking our 10 favourite tracks. Opinions were divided, scores were combined, and in the end there was only one winner. But who will it be?

The countdown continues here:

10. The Other Guys – St Andrews Girls
9. The Sons of Pitches – Club Medley 2
8. The Oxford Gargoyles – Fields of Gold
7. The Accidentals – Rolling in The Deep
6. The Oxford Gargoyles – Dancing in the Moonlight
5. The Oxford Belles – Jar of Hearts
4. Out of the Blue – Got To Get You Into My Life

3. The Techtonics – Earthquake

Awards:
‘Outstanding Performance’, Voice Festival UK 2012, London Regional
Featured on Sing 9 compilation album.

Shaking the foundations of our list at number three is the frankly phenomenal final track from the debut album by Imperial College’s The Techtonics, their cover of Labrinth’s Earthquake. The song, which made its debut at the London Regional, has since become only the second track from a British collegiate group to feature on CASA’a Sing compilation, featuring on the ninth edition, Supernovem. But the track started out in less esteemed surroundings. James Hayward, arranger of the track and last year’s MD, came up with the idea in the lead up to Christmas 2011. “I remember hearing the original tens if not hundreds of times in the lead up to Christmas that year, as it had just been released. After a while I began to realise I wasn’t getting sick of it. Obviously, at that time we were in need of tracks for our Voice Festival set, and the more I thought about it, the more the track seemed to fit so perfectly into the repertoire of the group: we had been experimenting with dubstep and more commercial sounds; such was the talent of the group at the time that we were able to use an obscene range; and the symmetry of a group called ‘The Techtonics’ covering a song called ‘Earthquake’ was too good to miss.”

The arrangement itself was one which in the first case was one which the group wanted to make as original as possible, but was partially based on a Radio 1 Live Lounge version of the song. “Actually, that version of the song involved the Swingle Singers doing the Ah-vocal at the start, which brings it nicely full circle to a cappella music!”

It was a quick turnover from idea to arrangement and from rehearsal to performance, though, but Hayward claims it was worth it. “Despite only learning it a month before VF-UK rolled into town, upon talking to the judges after the show, the song definitely made the right sort of impression.” He remains, however, reserved about that premiere performance. “Being a massive critic, I hate looking back at the video of it, because it improved so much from that point in time.” Despite its many forms and transformations, the song remained a favourite of the group throughout the rest of the year for that very reason. “With regards to the live performance, it has come a long way since the slightly rushed (both in preparation and tempo!) version we threw together at VF-UK. Adding microphones adds an extra element to it, while there is a lot of scope for improvisation within the track,” said Hayward, adding: “We’ll put that down as a deliberate creative tool rather than a lazy arrangement!” When asked about the album version of the track, Hayward continued: “It took many forms during recording too, before we eventually settled on the track that can be found on the album.”

When asked about the track’s selection for Sing 9, ‘surprised’ and ‘delighted’ were two words that were abundant as James spoke. “Even from when we sent the initial bare bones track to the States for mixing, the idea was to win things. But to be selected for something as prestigious as the ‘Sing’ compilation was a real honour and a privilege.” Hayward proceeded to thank several of his team, both singers and producers, for the hard work they put in: “To say all the hard work was worth it is a massive understatement.” Thanks go to Matt Chinery, Alex Koutzoukis, James Cannon and Dave Sperandio.

As for why the song has become such a hit outside of just the group, the young man came up with several suggestions. “It’s a real crowd favourite,” poses Hayward, while adding: “The energy of it builds perfectly. Thanks to Labrinth himself for that! It’s also perfect for closing sets, or indeed an album, as it’s kind of become our token song.” Hayward goes on: “The edits on the album track were nothing short of remarkable. As one of the only people who heard it from start to finish, I an honestly say I never imagined such a drastic change. And when I heard they were jamming along to it at SoJam, I was blown away – I think it’s partly down to the commercial nature of the song: the big hits, big bass and synth FX on the high vocals make it something a little more accessible to those outside of the a cappella community.”

Suitable for any occasion, especially parties an on loud speakers with a sub-woofer (trust me, I would know), Earthquake can be bought on the Imperial College Website as part of the Groundbreaker.

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3 thoughts on “Best of British 2012: 3. Earthquake

  1. Hi Mark,

    Thanks for the very nice write-up in this article and for your very flattering review of Groundbreaker a few weeks ago. I was involved in this album and it was an immensely rewarding, enjoyable and eye-opening process for me. I am so proud for James Hayward, Matt Chinery, Max Hunter and all the other individuals who really made this album their baby; all their hard work, creative ideas and musical gambles really paid off, as evidenced by the Sing! award and by the many positive responses we’ve had including the reviews on your site! I hope the track and album may win further critical success this year, including in the British a cappella compilation ‘The Voice Collection’ which will be announced soon?

    However, I would like to address a major inaccuracy in your article and invite you to research your ‘a-ca-facts’ (is that a word?) more carefully before publishing articles on your blog. Our appearance on Sing IX was not the first appearance by a British group on Sing!; both the Swingle Singers and the Boxettes appeared on Sing VIII in 2011 with ‘Libertango’ and ‘Free’ respectively. Casting the search a few years back, Oxford’s Out of the Blue were the real standard-setters back in the day with ‘Canned Heat’ on Sing IV in 2007. The information is freely available on the CASA website http://www.casa.org/node/5384 and the album is in fact on Spotify http://open.spotify.com/track/0zGROHR8AlypW9TWxAGeCl.

    I think the Techtonics are honoured to be the only British group, amateur or pro, to be on this year’s Sing! compilation, but credit is due where it’s due and OOTB, Swingles and the Boxettes’ previous Sing! appearances are testament to their extraordinary musical excellence over many years.

    In addition, I believe there are other factual inaccuracies and omissions in this article which current members of the Techtonics will probably be happy to correct. Perhaps the articles on the site should undergo further proofreading and checking before going public (I remember a few other articles have raised eyebrows in the past)? These do not detract from an otherwise glowing review; it’s a great service you’re providing and a fantastic way for everyone to keep in touch with a cappella developments in the UK university scene.

    Here’s to continuing and future British success in the global (American) a cappella sphere, and to the ever-growing readership of this excellent blog! I look forward to reading about the top two tracks in your Best of British countdown!

    Best wishes,
    Eugene Chang
    former member of the Techtonics (2008-12)

    • Hi Eugene,

      Thanks for the heads-up – I’d actually edited that particular comment about Sing 9 in the last few minutes, so it should be fixed now. I do strive to produce the most accurate information on all of my blog posts, but I am only human and can be wrong, especially concerning areas and time periods in which I haven’t been involved in a cappella. I also fixed the confusion regarding MD/President things – I’m away from my A-Ca-Stash (why not continue the trend?) at the moment which is all up at university, but wanted to get the countdown finished as soon as possible. That’s my bad in not getting all my facts right.

      Thanks for your continued readership of the blog, and I will aim to provide even more accurate information in the future. I hope the article is now mistake free and gives the track and the people behind it the credit it deserves.

      Thanks also for your comment – I always welcome feedback.

      Best,

      Mark

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