The most underrated element of a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Swimsuit shoot? It is a glossy black box about the size of a car battery. It holds no bikinis, no brushes, no little cartons of coconut water. It cannot be opened. But snap an iPod onto the dock at its top and it will release hip-hop. Or indie pop. Or Rihanna's Rude Boy. Whatever a model needs to hear to get her body bumping.
It is not convenient to lug the sucker around. At the May shoot in Panama, the box was lifted off the stern of a blue 142-foot boat, the Proteus, by helicopter, and carried to one of the uninhabited islands in the San Blas Archipelago off the northern coast of the country, where it sat in a patch of diamond sand and thumped Brazilian baile funk for Izabel Goulart. In Zambia five months later it was cradled by a crew member inside a tiny aluminum dingy as it puttered down the Zambezi River in the heart of southern Africa, to the roaring edge of the Victoria Falls.
Music is vital to the production of this issue, its selection on location no less complex than the choice of swimsuits. No two models have the same taste. The box was ferried across the aquamarine waters of the Seychelles to Desroches Island so that Alyssa Miller could shimmy to Cults and Foster the People. To get herself into the right mind-set, Crystal Renn boomed Trina's B R Right over and over ... and over and over in Australia. An iPod playlist is a window into the listener's personality. So it seemed logical—no, essential—that we redefine the relationship between the Swimsuit issue and music. This year, for the first time, we recruited 18 bands and artists to participate in a digital music festival of sorts. Each offered up tracks that provide the sound track for the 18 model "intimates" that you can access on all of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's digital platforms, from SI.com to the five tablets on which the issue appears. And 10 of the performers played at a two-day festival in Las Vegas in conjunction with the release of the issue. We sought out artists who evoke the spirit of an endless summer, the smell of salt water and barbecue, the rush of a wave, the pulse of some neon-lit cantina. Not everyone can jet off to Zambia, but a song can take you there.
Can any of us live without music? We came perilously close to finding out in Sydney. The box was lazing too close to the surf. The incoming tide began lapping against its sides, as Jessica Gomes was wiggling to the stuttering beat of Beyoncé's Diva. A photo assistant snatched the box from the cold grip of the waves and lovingly toweled it off.
We did, however, at least have a killer backup on hand: one of the greatest deejays in the world, Alain (A-Trak) Macklovitch. A-Trak is a master at the art of scratching, but he was not there to rock turntables. He was there to produce the first-ever Swimsuit music video—and help pick out swimsuits.
Macklovitch was born in Montreal in 1982, four years after his brother, David, whose clique he grew up hanging with. David, who these days fronts the Hall & Oates--worshipping band Chromeo, was the first in the family to pick up the guitar. The older sibling began asking buddies to lend him classic-rock cassettes, which he'd then pass along to Alain. Hendrix and Zeppelin, stuff like that. That is, until 1992, when Alain laid his hands on the Beastie Boys' So What'cha Want.
The single was an epiphany for Alain and David. It was a gateway into hip-hop. Here were other white, Jewish kids, and they were rapping. The Beasties were redefining cool, helping create a world in which nerdy suburban kids could spray graffiti, hunt for obscure old jazz records in dusty bins, grab two turntables and scratch. The young Macklovitch next discovered and devoured Cypress Hill, DJ Premier, The Pharcyde and Pete Rock & CL Smooth. It was always the sound of the scratching that lured him. He began doodling a graffiti tag on his notebooks—"A-Trak"—but never summoned the cojones to paint it on the side of a building or a train. One day he sneaked into the basement to fiddle with his father's belt-drive turntable. He dragged an old record back and forth under the needle—something that kind of record player was not built to do. But Macklovitch was able to grab a drum fill, scratch it, release it and let it spin onward. "I had a personal connection to it," he recalls, still with a trace of wonder. "It sounded like my thing."
Looking to spare his parents' equipment, Macklovitch used his bar mitzvah money to buy a used Technics 1200, the same turntable he saw deejays using in music videos on TV. For two years Macklovitch would race home from school, lock himself up in the basement and work to decode and emulate the alien sounds he heard in, say, Sabotage, or Smif-N-Wessun's Timz N Hood Chek. He was too young to see a live deejay in a club, so he sussed out how to pull off quirky moves such as the Flare, the Transformer and the Crab just through close examination of videos and photographs in album liner notes and magazines. In 1997 he entered a local deejay competition, an annual event started in '86 by the British radio show and mix-tape compilers Disco Mix Club. A-Trak won the Montreal event, then took the national trophy, then flew to the finals in Italy to become the first Canadian and youngest competitor to win the top prize. He was 15.
The hard, unfiltered Australian sunlight bleaches Bondi Beach from dead above. A steady trickle of bronzed joggers streams into the famous crescent of sand from the trails on the high southern ridge of the bay. Surfers bob on the waves. A-Trak squints behind black shades, peering into a trunk full of swimsuits. He is admittedly not a beach person, but he is an avid fashionisto. Despite its being late spring and approaching 90°, he is sporting black jeans, white designer sneakers and a black Givenchy T-shirt with silver skulls ringing the collar. He rummages through the tangle of bikinis and fishes out a stringy red thing. He holds it up as one would a dead mouse and hands it to Jessica Gomes. The model hops into the changing tube and slips into the outfit, then curls against a signpost that warns swimmers of riptides and nails her photo shoot in under five minutes.
Afterward A-Trak and Gomes stroll along the Bondi Beach promenade and talk about music. She fondly recalls her first concert, Destiny's Child, one of the first R&B groups she can remember making the long trek to her hometown of Perth, 2,000 miles to the west. A-Trak gushes about the exceptionally enthusiastic concertgoers he sees from Australian stages. "Oh, yeah. Australians love to get loose," Gomes says. Behind the two, a naked toddler in a sun hat lies on a skateboard and rolls along the pavement, nudged along by her mother's foot.