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News October 27, 2015

Feature: Itch on scratching the surface and reinventing himself

Former Editor
Feature: Itch on scratching the surface and reinventing himself

From underground Brit-punk nonconformist to Australian radio mainstay, Itch’s reincarnation was always going to turn heads. But his metamorphosis into one of the most-played acts on Australian radio in the last quarter isn’t even the most interesting part; it’s how his label Red Bull Records broke him in Australia before any other territory with a doo-wop, ska-fusion track.

Dubbed ‘a band that changed people’s lives’ by Glasgow-based music site Team Rock, Itch’s former band The King Blues had a feverish following in the UK punk scene. And when the London-native quit the band to mix ‘60s ska with rap, most of that fanbase were appositely unimpressed. Needless to say, the majority of listeners of Australian commercial radio haven’t heard of The King Blues or are even aware of Itch’s former life – a worldRed Bull Records exec Joe Calitri can relate to as the former General Manager ofUS indie label Fueled by Ramen (Paramore, Fun., Panic At The Disco!).

Calitri had just taken the role of Head of Global Artist and Label Development in April last year when he set up a meeting with Red Bull’s Australian radio plugger Russell Thomas (KAOS Management) during LA’s music and media conference Musexpo. Thomas brought along National Today Network Music Director,Mathew‘Eggo’ Eggleston, who won Music Director of the Year at the 2012 ACRAs and was at Musexpo as part of his prize.

“They played us a few songs and then they played Another Man, and I just flipped. I thought it was amazing and so did Eggo,” says Thomas of Itch’s first single.

“They both just looked at me and said, ‘mate, that’s a hit’,” adds Calitri.

As Calitri and Thomas tell TMN, both had the objective of keeping the other warm; Thomas wanted to make sure Australia heard it first and Calitri wanted to make sure Thomas’ excitement over the track didn’t wane.

“Over the course of the next year, I kept saying ‘when are you going to give it to me,” remembers Thomas. “[…] It was really about me saying I don’t need overseas support, we can get this song going on our own.”

“For a whole year I would call him and be like ‘we’re still good right? You’re still into it?’” says Calitri.

Calitri had Red Bull’s tried and tested stratagem to adhere to; if the label didn’t see any notable buzz for an artist in a territory, it would wait until the stars aligned. But shortly after Thomas’ second visit to LA in April – where he promptly convinced them Australia was ready – analytics on Shazam, Spotify and YouTube showed Itch’s traction in Australia was growing.

“You start reading the tea leaves,” says Calitri. “And we could see that something was going on in Australia without really doing much in the way of traditional marketing, like sending songs to radio and pushing videos on video channels.”

Interestingly, Red Bull Records released the video for Another Man a few days before the single, something that’s not unusual for Red Bull, who shape many of their marketing strategies on digital trends. Thomas and Calitri worked closely together on an Australian release schedule; the pair decided to ship copies of Another Man on July 17 to give them three months before the release of debut LP The Deep End on October 17 and to time it perfectly with the Australian Commercial Radio Awards (ACRAs) with the hopes Itch could perform on the night. He did.

As promised, Eggo saved a spot for Another Man on 2DayFM Sydney, Thomas took the track to his radio meetings, and one after another, commercial radio nationwide set all ducks in a row.

“When we went to air, I pretty well knew it was getting set up,” says Thomas. “When you’re a plugger you’re basically a lobbyist; ‘if I get that station playing it here I can look at you playing it’ – you’re trading people off.”

The track was added to Southern Cross Austereo’s now defunct Bump show, then across the board on Days rotation on SCA, then the entire Nova network, then KIIS, Mix Melbourne, 90.5… the list goes on. In what is a reflection of its wildfire spread, it’s common for most radio stations to review a song’s ARIA chart placing before adding it; Another Man circumvented that process.

“There’s nothing like it on the radio,” says Thomas. “It had organic growth, it became a point of difference and that’s what got it on the air […] There’s been no major marketing campaign. There’s been no big dollar spend or any of that stuff.”

Another Man went to #8 on the Shazam chart, #12 on the ARIA chart where it sat for two weeks, held onto the ARIA Top 30 for eleven weeks, is still sitting inside the ARIA Top 50 and is well on its way to achieving double Platinum certification. In New Zealand it’s been added to full rotation on the country’s most popular national network The Edge.

For Itch, debuting his solo project in Australia was as much about strategy as it was about ego. Australia is known worldwide for breaking new acts and the genre boundaries that can align themselves with the official charts; but at the same time, Itch needed to repudiate himself of his history with The King Blues in the UK.

“Australia is actually becoming the place where new artists are being found. It’s so open to breaking people,” says Itch. “England is so stuck in its ways.

“[…] I felt I had hit a glass ceiling. We became the biggest band in the punk scene in Britain for years and we took it as far as it could go.”

Following the campaign surrounding Itch’s follow-up single Laugh this month, Calitri will set his sights on Europe, the US and the UK in January. But in what could be Itch’s most polished statement yet, the UK may be the very last territory where Red Bull Records service Another Man to radio.

“[…] It’s such an important territory that there’s always so much competition,” says Calitri. “You’d have to have a label like Red Bull Records that’s like, ‘Let’s do a big promo tour and see everyone’.”

“It’s a nice story,” Itch muses. “I wanna be able to go back and be like ‘Fuck you’,” he laughs jokingly.

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