An S.O.S. from a Portishead fan


Hey, did you hear there’s a new Portishead track out? It’s for that new flick High Rise and is a cover of Abba’s classic “S.O.S.” I bet you want to hear that, right? I bet you’re curious as to what a Portishead cover of an Abba song is like, considering it’s one of the strangest, most unlikely cover choices since Sonic Youth gave the world their take on The Carpenters. I bet you can’t wait to give it a listen on YouTube or even shell out the 99 cents to $1.29 on your favorite digital music storefront to buy it. Maybe you might even go to a physical location and hand a real person actual money in exchange for a physical good with the song on it either digitally or analog.

Well, too bad. You can’t.

The song will not be made available commercially, says the band.  According to them, if you want to hear it, you’ll have to go to the theater and see High Rise.

So, of course people are stealing it.

Yesterday, a leaked version of the track made its way to Soundcloud, and countless music news sites, including NME, Spin and Rolling Stone, reported on it, embedding the leaked track in their news article. Go try and find those articles now and you’ll probably be met with dead links. Nearly all the sites removed the embed (and in some cases, the stories entirely) per request of Recorded Picture Company, the production company behind the film High Rise. RPC is really peeved about this it seems. They’re even directly tweeting to news sites covering the leak, demanding they remove the file. Because of course, once a news article covering a leaked song is deleted, the song itself is removed from the internet and everything goes back to how it was before, right?

I thought we were past media companies not understanding how the fuck the internet works. Anyways, this whole stupid clusterfuck begs the question: why the hell is this song impossible to get legally? FACT asked Portishead’s Geoff Barrow,  that very question. And he had this to say:

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“An old way of thinking of it” eh? How old is that? Considering commercially available soundtracks are about as old films with soundtracks worth purchasing. You could buy the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz in 1939. It was on four shellac 78s, but you could do it, so I’m not buying that they’re just being “old fashioned.” Maybe he elaborates?

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Ah, it’s not for the mainstream. Yeah, nothing screams “indie” like an Abba cover made for a high-profile movie that will no doubt get awards buzz later this year. I get that High Rise ain’t exactly The Avengers, but it has someone from The Avengers in it. Sure, it’s not a big budget blockbuster release but it’s not an Abel Ferrara flick either. I’m not sure that argument really holds water. Maybe they’re just doing it to be assholes?

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That’s not exactly…a nice way to put things.

Geoff has also been on Twitter, calling out individual news outlets for sharing the track, seemingly unaware of how the internet works.

And seemingly unaware of what clickbait actually is. Which is an annoyingly common problem, but a separate issue.

All this begs the question, why? Why not release the track? What’s so important from an artistic standpoint that this song absolutely positively has to be heard in the context of the film?

At first I suspected it was because they were actually lying about the reason. Movie soundtracks can be notoriously complicated from a legal standpoint, as many recruit artists from a variety of labels. It’s why so many soundtracks go out of print, and why individual songs from soundtracks can be hard to track down in the years that follow. But High Rise is being distributed by Studio+Canal, a subsidiary of Vivendi, who also own Island Records, the label that Portishead is currently signed to. So it’s doubtful that there are any issues there, unless the film’s multiple production companies are somehow snagging things up. And if legal snafus are to blame for the song not being released, why not just admit it? Is that not a rock and roll thing to say?


This is what Recorded Pictures Company did to the guy who leaked the track.

I’m sorry. I wish I could understand the impetus for this decision. It’s decidedly one of the most anti-consumer, and more importantly, anti-fan decisions I’ve seen in recent memory. Why fuck over your fans? Why make people who want to listen to your music criminals, who have to seek out an inferior copy of the song that you don’t get paid for? Any why brag about it in a way that makes you seem like an even bigger asshole?

I know that some people read this and think my views come off as entitled. Whatever. I’m not demanding that Portishead make more music. They’re notoriously fickle when it comes to recording and that’s their prerogative. If they want to go a decade or more between recording albums, that’s fine by me. But when they do manage to get together to record something, anything, then neither they nor the people working with them should showcase any outrage, shock or dismay at negative reactions from fans who are told they can’t buy it. And they should accept the fact that until they do make the song available for purchase, all they’re doing is forcing their fans to break the law in order to hear music they would gladly pay money for.

And that’s fucking stupid.

4 Responses to An S.O.S. from a Portishead fan

  • Tim says:

    The content distributors are psychologically stuck in distribution methods (and contracts) that were state of the art around 1985. The world’s changed a lot since then and it is time to adapt.

  • Tom says:

    Wait for RSD2017….

  • Anonymous says:

    ..Hey, it’s that anonymous person that didn’t like your review of The Witness. I’ll stop haranguing your website in a minute or two, but just my 2p worth on this, that anti fan decisions are to be expected from the creators of Third, which was utterly dreadful!

  • Tea Tiller says:

    The thing to do these days: Release the song for sale on iTunes (and every other music site, and streaming sites and everywhere else), be sure it’s labeled as being from the new movie High Rise, fans who buy or stream the song now know about this film in order to go see the film or order a copy to watch or rent.

    How is that concept lost on these movie people? Movies kill for press coverage, good or bad. That crappy comedy about North Korea a couple years ago was terrible, but the amount it press it received after Sony was hacked it probably made a lot of money.

    Even this blog post is an advert for the film High Rise, they should be paying you.

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