By Alex Distefano
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The crazy Norwegians in Datarock have concocted a nice "fuck you" to the system that's heralding the decline of the music industry and physical media in general. Rather than following the well-worn new path of minimalism—digital-only releases, free downloads, etc.—the dance-rock outfit, led by eccentric front man Fredrik Saroea, have decided to release the "most extravagant single in history."
"Catcher In the Rye," hitting the street on March 21, is not only a piece of physical media, but it's also a freakin' toy. Yes, a designer toy shaped like a diamond, created with help from San Francisco's Super7. Inside the diamond rests a 4-gigabyte USB stick loaded with the single. There are also 109 bonus tracks (rarities, B-sides, instrumentals and approximately 30 new songs), 20 music videos, 1,500 photos and a multicamera concert film.
There are only going to be 1,000 of these babies available through the band's website, toy stores, Urban Outfitters and other hipster outlets. As of now, there are no plans to release "Catcher In the Rye" through iTunes or any other online retailer.
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"We got tired of going to these music conferences and only talking about business and gloom and doom," Saroea says. "No one talks about music anymore at those things, so this was kind of our response to it all—just go in the total other direction."
Compiling a project of this nature was, as Saroea puts it, a "total pain in the ass." Between getting all the licensing rights for their older tracks and ensuring everything was somewhat cost-effective—the band do not plan to make any money off the release, which will have a retail price somewhere around $70—was a monumental task, but with the street date imminent, he beams with pride when talking about it.
"It was a lot of fun, and it's just a result of us being independent of any label and having the option to do whatever it is we want to do," he says. "I think this environment has given musicians the opportunity to come up with new creative ideas for getting their music out there."
The idea for the project was Saroea's. A longtime fan of designer toys—items often made of vinyl or plastic and issued in limited numbers—he'd amassed a collection of more than 100, often picking up new ones on his tour stops. When he contacted Brian Flynn of Super7, the man behind his favorite toys, he had no idea the admiration went both ways. After telling Flynn of his love for his products and his ideas, the San Francisco-based artist was more than excited to collaborate on a project with one of his favorite bands. Since that first encounter, the two have become friends.
"Brian is a great person and has been a real pleasure to work with," Saroea says. "The thing that initially got me into designer toys—besides how cool they are—is that they remind me of how independent labels used to be. It's just a group of friends putting out products with their own money and seeing what happens. It's like labels used to do with 7-inches."
The new tracks were recorded over the past year and feature Datarock founder Saroea and Ketil Mosnes joined by myriad other musicians. While the two are the only ones permanently associated with the band, Saroea is quick to point out the group aren't just a duo. With more than 50 musicians contributing live and in the studio over the years, he views Datarock more like one endless collaboration.
The band plan to tour heavily over the next year; Saroea hints that after the initial pressing of "Catcher In the Rye" has sold out, the included tracks could be made available digitally. Still, that part of the plan is not entirely set in stone.
"If, a year from now, the complete single is selling on eBay for an astronomical amount, I will feel like I have done my job."
This article appeared in print as "Datarock Overload: How the electro-rock band created the most extravagant single in history."