How Oscar-nominated ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ made a star of the most ear-popping song of the year

Wallpaper* meets ‘Anatomy of a Fall’ favourites Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, whose cover of 50 Cent's ‘P.I.M.P’ muscles its way into the Oscar-nominated courtroom drama

Anatomy of a Fall makes a star of a track by Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band, whose record sleeve artwork is pictured
The mysterious Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band
(Image credit: Courtesy, BACAO Rhythm & Steel Band)

Since the triumph of Oscar-nominated Anatomy of a Fall at 2023’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palme d’Or, the critical volume around director Justine Triet's French film has been deafening. Almost as deafening? The independent feature film's signature song.

A steel pan-based cover version of 50 Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P.’ plays a key role in the narrative. Early in the drama, it’s played loudly, provocatively, repeatedly by the husband of writer Sandra, played by Sandra Hüller (German star of another awards-season darling, The Zone of Interest), as she’s in the middle of an interview with a journalist.

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band’s version of 50 Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P.’ plays a key role

Poster image of man dead in snow with wife and son onlooking

This film still became the Anatomy of a Fall poster image

(Image credit: Courtesy, mk2 films)

This noise abuse foreshadows the difficulties at the heart of their marriage. After he’s found dead, later that day, in the snow outside their chalet, the song becomes a critical part of the court proceedings. As the prosecution puts it, this ‘deeply misogynistic’ 2003 song by the American hip-hop star is played ‘so aggressively’ by Sandra's husband, indicating something rotten in their relationship.

Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band 55 album

The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band's witty 2009 version of ‘P.I.M.P’ features on the album 55, available at Big Crown records

(Image credit: Courtesy, BACAO Rhythm & Steel Band)

Removed from the context of spousal oppression, the 2008 cover by German funk ensemble Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band is something else entirely: an avant-garde classic, and one totally in keeping with the Hamburg-based musicians’ iconoclastic approach to their repertoire.

Reinventing everything from Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘Love$ick’ by Mura Masa & A$AP Rocky to the theme to Stranger Things, they bring a playful, inventive wit to their covers. BRSB subverts our perception of the original songs and makes us hear them anew, no matter your feelings about 1980s-inspired, synth-heavy, sci-fi soundtracks.

Album cover Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band colour vinyl

BRSB, Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band's latest vinyl album offering is released on Big Crown records this month

(Image credit: Courtesy, BACAO Rythm & Steel Band)

This noise abuse foreshadows the difficulties at the heart of their marriage

Happy marriage scene in film Anatomy of a fall

Happy memories: husband and wife Samuel and Sandra played by Samuel Theis and Sandra Hüller in Anatomy of a Fall

(Image credit: Courtesy, mk2 Films)

Musing on their approach to song selection, the band’s leader Björn Wagner says, ‘“P.I.M.P.” was one of the first numbers we covered. That was a pretty obvious choice, because the original was a big hit. And there was a fake steel pan in it – a programmed thing that you play on a keyboard.

'So that for me was pretty clear: let's do this one with a real steel band. But whenever I do a cover, I have to take it somewhere – and not just by replacing the instrument with a steel pan. We do a lot of hip-hop covers, and I expand on them by taking the loop, playing it with the band and spinning it further. That's very important to me. Otherwise, it could be a kind of novelty thing if you just cover anything. The selection is important.'

Vinyl 7" single of PIMP by BR&SB Anatomy of a Fall

The band is rooted in vinyl and DJ culture

(Image credit: Courtesy, The Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band)

And so is the presentation. Both with their own releases, via New York’s Big Crown Records, and on the music he puts out on his own Mocambo label, Wagner is intent on celebrating – fetishising even – the seven-inch vinyl single and the accompanying sleeve design.

'We actually come from a funk ’45s background more than we are a cover band,’ says the musician ahead of the release this month of a fourth album, BRSB. 'We were brought up in that world. That's the foundation to what we do. And Big Crown are also rooted in that vinyl and DJ culture.'

And, thanks to their lucrative, profile-raising and, well, killer sync in Anatomy of a Fall, the band now have a bit more to play with, and to play for. A year ago, ‘P.I.M.P.’ was being played 10,000 times daily on Spotify, with ten million streams in total. Since the film’s release, that daily tally has jumped to 25,000 and the track is heading towards 14 million plays.

The filmmakers originally wanted to use ‘Jolene’, but Dolly Parton declined

Album Cover The Serpent's Mouth by BACAO

A typically enigmatic Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band Album cover

(Image credit: Courtesy, Bacao Rhythm & Steel band)

'It’s been interesting for me to watch a song that I did 15 years ago, and without any movie in mind, do this,' Wagner admits. 'I also thought, because they have to clear both 50 Cent's publishing and our recording [rights], they would not clear it that easily with him. But apparently they did!'

Certainly far easier than the song the filmmakers originally had in mind: ‘Jolene’. But Dolly Parton declined, and the rest is the most ear-popping soundtrack of the year.

BRSB is released this month. Bacao Rhythm & Steele Band play the Jazz Café, London, on 30 March 2024

London-based Scot, the writer Craig McLean is consultant editor at The Face and contributes to The Daily Telegraph, Esquire, The Observer Magazine and the London Evening Standard, among other titles. He was ghostwriter for Phil Collins' bestselling memoir Not Dead Yet.