What tune does it use?
A figure from the Symphony no.7 by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, known as the Leningrad Symphony. This massive piece lasts well over an hour but Plan B, who obviously knows it well, takes a brief bit of music from the last of its four movements.
This is an opportunistic sample, the kind the best hip hop and rap artists are very clever at utilising, and Plan B (aka Ben Drew) makes a whole song from it. This is despite using a very small musical figure – only nine notes, with a slightly longer bit of the sample added at the end of each fourth repetition.
There are very few pieces of Shostakovich that have had this treatment so far, partly because the composer died relatively recently (in 1975) and so his music is still well in copyright. That Plan B managed to get permission to use this sample is an impressive achievement in itself – that he went on to build such a fractious song on it is another.
How does it work?
Plan B takes the figure from the Shostakovich symphony in this clip, some five minutes in to the last of four movements:
You can hear that the sound is processed, the softer orchestral sound now much harsher, as though it has been processed to sound rougher and tougher. Plan B uses the nine-note motif to go round and round in circles, adding the extra bit at the end of each musical phrase before adding a big rhythm and bass line at 0’28”:
Then he takes a bigger bit of the Shostakovich, starting at 5’05” in the original:
Then the chorus kicks in. Now the Shostakovich sample is dwarfed by a serrated bass line, the music tense and angry:
Then, at 2’52”, where he says “I’ve had it with you politicians”, the sample is refracted so that you can hardly hear it – but when the chorus kicks in again at 3’16” the raw aggression is back!
This song surely provides the proof – if it were ever needed – that classical music is not comfy and cosy! Plan B uses this for an upfront song that bristles with attitude, and the result is electric.
What else is new?
The Leningrad Symphony is one of Shostakovich’s very biggest orchestral works, it is set in four massive movements (sections) that tell of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, but which also end up as a defiant statement in the face of those horrors.
Take the composer’s depiction of the approaching invasion, about seven minutes in to the symphony, where Shostakovich uses a snare drum in an obsessive and almost unbearable repetition as the orchestra plays a march tune:
Around seven and a half minutes later, the full horror of the army is upon us:
The whole piece can also be heard on Spotify here: