How Music Made London 2012 The Coolest Olympics Ever

Never mind the sporting highlights – London 2012 will be remembered as the most music-oriented Olympic Games ever. Music dominated proceedings to an unprecedented extent. And I don’t just mean at Danny Boyle’s acclaimed opening ceremony (featuring Fuck Buttons!), or the somewhat less impressive closing ceremony (somewhat pompously dubbed “Symphony Of British Music” and directed by Kim Gavin).

Fatboy Slim at the Olympics closing ceremony

Music soundtracked the events themselves, in a way that’s quite alien to British sport. Different events had their own signature songs. At some hockey matches, Pink’s ‘Trouble’ blared out whenever there was a penalty corner. In the handball, it was Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’. The beach volleyball was accompanied by regular bursts of Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Bonkers’.

This angered a few stuffy purists. In a recent interview, Olympics chief Lord Coe hinted he wasn’t entirely happy about the intrusive use of music (“I tend to be on the conservative side of these arguments”), but went along with it because he thought it made the Olympics more appealing to young people.


In truth, only a joyless cynic could deny that the ever-present pop soundtrack has made the Games more accessible and fun. But whose idea was it to make the Olympics so music-focused? And who was responsible for choosing the songs? I spoke to the man who had most to do with it – Marc Robinson, director of film, TV and licensing for Universal Music.

“LOCOG had quite a clear vision of how they wanted music to be incorporated into the London 2012 Olympic Games, due to the legacy and history of music around London and in the UK,” Robinson told me. “They wanted music to be a very key element to the games this year.”

Olympic officials recruited Universal to create a list of 2012 songs that could be aired during the Games. It was then up to the BBC to create their own list of songs to include in important parts of the broadcasts – for example, one of the climactic montages was soundtracked by Emile Sande’s cover of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. New music played a part, too – Jake Bugg’s ‘Lightning Bolt’ was aired just before the Men’s 100m Final.


Jonny Bramely, Executive Producer for the BBC during the Olympics, told me:

Our music was carefully selected to make sure that we include music that appeals to the masses, as well as showcasing acts that were new and established within the British setting. Using British artists was also important, as opposed to the generic music that is used.

London 2012 was also different when it came to the official Olympic song. Instead of the usual single, five different tracks were written and released, to reflect this year’s five themes: energy, primetime, extreme, heritage, and world stage. The five official bands that were selected to create these tracks were Muse, The Chemical Brothers, Elton John & Pnau, Dizzee Rascal & Pepper and Delphic.

Those five themes also governed the use of music throughout the Olympics. More refined sports, such as tennis, featured classical music, and fell under the heritage theme. Gymnastics and swimming were watched by families, and therefore featured mainstream (or ‘primetime’) acts. Fast-paced sports such as canoeing and BMX featured dance tracks (the ‘extreme’ strand), whereas urban music was selected for the ‘energy’ sports, such as basketball. The remaining tracks were used for the ‘world stage’ category, and featured in the track events.

The BBC, however, were not hidebound by these guidelines, and were able to follow their own instincts. “When we showed our sequence of Bradley Wiggins winning the cycling, we decided Paul Weller should play in the background, because Bradley loves his music and is a fan of the mod culture,” explained Bramley. He continued:

We want the music to be a reflection of not only how proud we are of our heritage, but also to show what Britain has done for the world.

Such was the music focus of London 2012, even the athletes themselves seemed to respond to it. Everyone knows that Bradley Wiggins loves his indie rock, but there are plenty of other music fans in Team GB. Cyclists Chris Hoy, Philip Hindes and Jason Kenny apparently listened to Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ to psych themselves up before competing in races.

I asked a few other athletes to tell me their favourite music.

Gold Medalists

Andy Murray, Tennis – Eminem
Mo Farah, Athletics, 10,000m – Tupac
Alex Gregory, Rowing – Mumford And Sons, Monsters Of Folk
Ed Clancy, Cycling – Dizzee Rascal, Foo Fighters, Prodigy
Victoria Pendleton, Cycling – Foo Fighters
Katherine Copeland, Rowing – Kings Of Leon, Coldplay, Beyoncé


Silver Medalists
Iain Percy, Sailing – Eminem
Rob Williams, Rowing – Biffy Clyro


Bronze Medalists
Max Whitlock, Gymnastics – Oasis, Kasabian, Noel Gallagher, Radiohead
Alex Partridge, Rowing – Naughty By Nature, The Beatles
Dan Purvis, Gymnastics – The Beatles, Eminem, Miley Cyrus
George Nash, Rowing – Dire Straits, Miike Snow, Foster The People

So it’s over to you, Rio. Can you put on an Olympics that’s as drenched in music-inspired positivity as London 2012? It won’t be easy.