Bands and brands are syonymous these days, and as traditional PR methods get less effective, musicians must increasingly rely on stunts, pranks, and other attention-getting ploys. Sometimes, those attempts backfire: Just ask Roger Waters, whose street team defaced L.A.’s so-called Elliott Smith mural back in 2010.
Arcade Fire are the latest group to face criticism, after they employed graffiti artists and poster hangers to amp up their Major League Baseball-endorsed “9/9 at 9 p.m.” publicity campaign for the just-released single “Reflektor.” Writing for Slate, Texas resident Ian Dille discusses how one day, the Austin framing shop where his wife works suddenly had a “Reflektor” stencil spray-painted on its side. No big deal, but this past Monday, they discovered that a bunch of posters advertising the single’s release were now covering almost the entire wall of the shop, obscuring both the original stencil, an anonymous artist’s beloved painting of a stork dropping bombs, and a “No Parking” sign. This had crossed the line from “art” to “ad campaign,” and Dille, a longtime Arcade Fire fan, was none too pleased.
“Unlike a lot of people, who thought the graffiti campaign was ingenious, when I found out the logo was nothing but a commercial promotion I felt … used,” he writes. “Even — and maybe this is too harsh? — a little betrayed. I’m not just saying that because my wife’s boss spent hours cleaning the posters and paste off the wall.”
Dille concedes that he can tolerate smaller artists, activists, and even gang members using graffiti, but not an entity of Arcade Fire’s stature: “If you’re an internationally renowned band that’s defacing public and private property for promotional purposes, maybe go back to the drawing board, and think some more about how you want to let people know about your music.”
To play devil’s advocate, the Arcade Fire themselves probably didn’t plan to antagonize the common man this way. Frontman Win Butler has said he loved the idea, calling it a “weird art project” and comparing the results to a movie trailer in an interview with BBC 1 Radio. “I remember being a kid and watching something like the ‘Thriller’ video on TV, or just something that everyone sees at the same time,” he said. “You know, like creating a time, like throwing a party.” Too bad somebody else had to clean up.
And, for his part, Butler has issued a personal apology to Dille by way of a handwritten note published on Slate. Here’s what the Suburbs gent had to say for himself:
I’m really sorry that you and your wife had to put up with that. The logos were supposed to be put up with water soluble paint or chalk so they would come off in the rain. Somewhere down the line someone must have gotten confused and used paint. The chalk campaign was supposed to echo Haitian veve drawings that are done in chalk or in the dirt. It is sometimes hard to control all these tiny details when you are doing something on such a large scale. Hope to meet you at a show when we are in Austin.
All the best,