Moby was baffled by what he calls the ‘accidental’ success of his fifth record, Play.
It was supposed to be his last hurrah. His previous record, the largely punk rock inspired Animal Rights, was met with confusion in some quarters and derision in others. Disillusioned, he contemplated quitting music and re-enrolling in school.
When he released Play in 1999, Moby didn’t have great hopes.
A lot of people tell me it’s nice to have sex to.Moby — Rolling Stone, 2009
“First show that I did on the tour for Play was in the basement of the Virgin Megastore in Union Square,” he told Rolling Stone in 2009.
“Literally playing music while people were waiting in line buying CDs. Maybe 40 people came.”
The record’s heartbeat is the sweeping, melancholic ‘Porcelain’ which was almost left off the album.
“When I first recorded it, I thought it was average,” Moby told 12edit in 2017.
“I didn’t like the way I produced it, I thought it sounded mushy, I thought my vocals sounded really weak. I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to listen to it.”
He fears were confirmed on tour. He noted that when ‘Porcelain’ came up in the set, it was the time when people would opt to get a drink.
But then a funny thing happened. Filmmaker Danny Boyle used the song in his post Trainspotting flick The Beach. It was Leonardo Di Caprio’s first film following Titanic, so audiences were huge.
Moby admits it was a turning point for the album.
“He used the music so well in the movie. I think that’s when a lot of people became aware of the record.”
Not that this surprised his management team entirely. They had gotten word that ‘God Moving Over the Face of the Waters’ from Moby’s 1995 record Everything Is Wrong, had made an enormous impression on the film music community when it was used in Michael Mann’s Heat. They set out to court and network with all the big Hollywood music supervisors.
Radio wasn’t interested in playing his songs from Play, so Moby’s team turned to other avenues to get his music heard. But the extent to which his music connected with a variety of contexts, and products, in cinema, television and advertising campaigns far exceeded any hopes he might have had.
‘The Sky Is Broken’ was used in the seventh season of The X Files, but it was also used to sell mobile phones.
‘Everloving’ elevates the desire for chocolate whilst being used in Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday.
And ‘Run On’ has been used to market everything from the latest luxury car models to high end lingerie.
But there was one context where Moby couldn’t imagine his music, in particular the song ‘Porcelain’, being used.
“A lot of people tell me it’s nice to have sex to,” he told Rolling Stone. “I couldn’t imagine being naked while my voice was playing in the background. Too creepy.”
But did Moby’s music sell the product? Or did the product sell the music?
“Sometimes, the music is so strong that it walks all over the product,” John McGrath from Moby’s label Mute Records told The Guardian in 2000. “You'll think, ‘Jesus, that is amazing’ and then, ten minutes later, you wouldn't be able to remember what the song was advertising.”
It didn’t take strong visual cues for Sydneysider Jon George to be drawn into the songs he heard on this Moby record.
It combined the blues and folk rhythms that he grew up listening to in his parents record collection, but this was chopped, sampled and rearranged version of that with a more dance orientated bed.
The admiration is shared within his band Rufus Du Sol.
“The band and I are always referencing Moby, in particular the record Play,” George tells Double J. “We love that nostalgia that he always has with the string feel and we’ve tried to emulate that a fair bit.
“We ended up buying a mellotron, a sample based synthesizer, and we try and re-create that re-sampled string vibe with that. We tried to twist a bunch of our own gospel and blues a capellas with that.
We did that on [2016 album] Bloom and we trying to do that on our new material too on a few songs.
“But it was always his effortless sampling, re-arranging of ideas and melodies that we looked up to the most.
“That record opened up the world of dance music to us in many ways. Dance music was so foreign, clinical and repetitive to us before hearing this new wave of sample [based] music. It led us down the rabbit hole of discovering further worlds and genres of music. So yeah we’re big fans.”