Tag Archives: Chemical Brothers

On Originality

This extra-long (but you’re getting used to that) post was provoked into existence by the comment James Copeland left on the post featuring his amazing remix of the Hillbilly Moon Explosion’s My Love Forevermore.

Thanks for the kind words. They`re very welcome as some fans of the original song didnt quite appreciate my particular take on the track and i started feeling sad about it because i really did my best to be respectful to the original. This makes me feel a whole lot better.

There’s a certain attitude out there, largely in established artists, but also found in those who use “analogue*” equipment to craft their music, that remixing isn’t creativity. If provoked, these artists will go even further than simply suggesting a lack of artistic merit, calling for these remixers and mashup artists to create their own “original” music. This carries over to some music fans as well. It’s generally found in older fans, ones who are averse to electronic witchery in all its forms (including rap, which is a.] most electronic and b.] “not singing”), finding something distasteful about those who use machinery to shit all over their preferred genres.

*Guitar/bass/drums

Beyond the casual disdain, there’s a strain of complete ignorance driving these statements. I’ve run down several of the ridiculous objections to quote/unquote remix culture previously, specifically in regards to the complaints about mashup artists. It always boils down to one simple, but thoroughly ridiculous claim: that these derivative works are not truly creative works simply because they are not “original.” Since there’s nothing quite as moronic as a hive mind with a superiority complex, let’s go ahead and start demolishing these arguments starting with the big one: originality.

[Some demolishing music for your ears whilst your eyes do the heavy lifting. This is Heaven’s Gate by the mysterious Stalker, which believe it or not, is Lady Gaga’s Pokerface pitch-shifted and run backwards, with some additional tweakage applied for maximum holy/unholy otherwordliness. (The “holy/unholy” thing with the abused forward slash means that this track teeters on the precipice of good and evil, like the devoted hymnal of a church that dabbles in black majicks to increase its congregation’s tithing percentage.)]

Stalker – Heaven’s Gate.mp3

ORIGINALITY

Apparently, if you don’t craft your music from the ground up (with standard instruments like guitar/bass/drums or regional equivalents [mouth harp/accordion/bagpipes/throat singing]), it’s not “original” and as such is (again, apparently) not “creative.” I’m not sure which claim is more offensive: the fact that only certain instruments are capable of producing “original” music or the fact that only “original” works are creative.

First off, placing arbitrary limitations on your creative toolset is your problem. Don’t project your issues on the rest of the creative community simply because you feel machines and software have no place in creating music. This is legacy bullshit that has zero basis in reality. Electric guitars, so often deployed by “original” artists, were once as unwelcome as Ableton. Thousands of years of music creation has moved us to a point where nearly any non-electronic instrument can be reproduced electronically. Not only that, but the resulting tones can be looped, reversed, reverbed, distorted, layered, stretched, sped up or simply used as a capable replacement for the oft-impractical need to have an entire band in one place at one time in order to lay down a track.

Secondly, who the fuck do you think you are? Honestly. Have you forgotten the thousands of years of music history already? Are you and your band of honest musicians truly trafficking in only “original” works and bristling every time you see me place quotes around that word? Do you seriously think that your “original” music stands alone, free from outside influences and your own personal music history?

No one creates in a vacuum.

We are all the massive beneficiaries of millennia of accumulated human scientific knowledge and cultural output, and not one of us did anything do deserve a jot of it. We’re all just extremely lucky not to have been born cavemen. The greatest creative genius alive would be hard pressed to create a smiley faced smeared in dung on a tree trunk without that huge and completely undeserved inheritance.

– Julian Sanchez, Things that are Irrelevant to Copyright Policy

Oh. I see. That’s not the same thing. So… it’s one thing to have influences and produce music that shows this and yet another to simply remix it?

Once again, we’re back to arguing about the legitimacy of certain instruments and pieces of software. It has nothing to do with “ripping off” the artists. It’s just that you’ve decided what you do is “creative” and the producer morphing your quotidian rock into a dance floor monster is simply offering up a simplistic variation. (So simple you couldn’t reproduce it if you tried, but still…)

[Speaking of remixes… Here’s the original version of Spiritualized’s ode to love, drugs and druggy love, I Think I’m in Love. Beautiful in its own lethargic just-home-from-the-methadone-clinic way.

And here’s the Chemical Brothers doing some “mere” remixing, taking the warmest parts of the “junk running down my spine” feeling and adding their own electronica-via-rocknf’nroll touches, including an amazing section of drums/bass/spiraling noises that sound very much ChemBros without completely eradicating J. Spaceman’s spacey rock.]

Spiritualized – I Think I’m in Love (Chemical Brothers Remix).mp3

[And as an added bonus in the the-best-artists-steal department, here’s Spiritualized quoting Elvis Presley in a new context, but not new enough apparently, as Elvis’ estate forced this track’s removal from subsequent pressings.]

Spiritualized – Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating in Space (Deleted Version).mp3

These people you’re bashing? The remixers? The “derivative artists?” They craft their own originals as well. There are very few remixers out there who DON’T produce their own tracks. Even mashup artists, the ultimate derivative artists, have gone on to produce original albums, form bands and do production work for other original artists.

DJ Dangermouse went from The Grey Album (Jay-Z vs. the Beatles) to one-half of Gnarls Barkley along with several other projects. Belgian mashup duo 2ManyDJs went from infringing the hell out of nearly everyone to cranking out top quality dance music as Soulwax. Another pioneer of the mashup scene, Richard X., has gone on to produce hits for Annie, Kelis and the Sugababes.

Richard X./Sugababes – Freak Like Me.mp3

CONTROL

At some point, your music will be used to soundtrack something you don’t care for or condone, like furry porn or a pagan marriage ceremony. You CAN’T stop this from happening. The only thing you can do is choose how to react. Remember, just because they’ve got bizarre habits doesn’t mean they don’t venture out into the public to purchase music, attend concerts, etc., often without the colorful costumes and visible erections. Do you really want to cut off a potential source of income just so you can keep control of your “artistic legacy” or whatever you choose to justify hard-assian overreaction?

There’s only one way to control use of your artwork. Keep it unreleased and locked up. Not a great way to make income and an even worse way to express yourself creatively. This lack of control is understandably scary, but on the bright side, an internet’s worth of feedback is readily available. Most artists want their art to be seen, heard and experienced. But some want to control these interactions, and in this day and age, especially if your art can be converted to 1s and 0s, there’s no way to do this. So you have to decide how you’re going to react, keeping in mind that your reaction to “misuse” can often mean the difference between gaining fans and sales and being relegated to obscurity (or worse, infamy).

I’ve said before I think using other peoples’ recordings to make your own records is lame and lazy. It’s a cheap way into the game and it’s for suckers. That said, when I turn something loose into the world, the world will do with it what it pleases, despite my preferences. If a business gets involved, it has a footprint in a jurisdiction and I could raise a fuss if I wanted, but I don’t.

If you don’t want anybody riding your horses, keep them in the barn.

Steve Albini

Some artists treat this interaction with all the care of a cigarette-smoking driver piloting a leaking fuel truck across the only bridge in town. After their carelessness sets the bridge on fire, they find themselves with little more than an empty fuel truck and no road out of a town filled with enraged citizens.

EXPANSION

Here’s one thing remixers, samplers and mashup artists are willing to do that many “original” artists simply won’t: expose your music to new listeners. While these artists sit around, preaching to the converted and decrying various “ripoff” artists, these derivationists (BRAND NEW TODAY — THIS WORD!) are bringing (like James Copeland) swing to the dancefloor or (Hood Internet), the Black Keys’ garage rock to the hip hop crowd (and vice versa).

Hood Internet – Hard and Gone (Ace Hood vs. the Black Keys).mp3

The next time you’re wondering why your album sales have plateaued or ticket sales have slumped, perhaps you should consider the limits you’ve placed on yourself by limiting your creative output to the same static set of fans using the same static arrangements and instrumentation.

THE HELL IS WITH THE FANS?

It’s patronizing enough when artists decide their work is unfuckwithable, but it’s even more appalling when fans attempt to claim secondhand ownership of these creations. I’m already reeling in disbelief at the fact that some artists believe their work in completely unapproachable and guard it with the tenacity of a pit bull on Adderall, but I’m completely baffled by fans who decide (with or without a statement from the band in question) that they are somehow “protecting” the band’s “integrity” by piling a whole lot of hate on some remixer.

Even if the band has stated that they are unhappy with remix of song X, your “job” as a fan is not to simply repeat the company line. If you don’t care for the remix either, so be it. But to take a personal tack is to presume that remixer X crafted his or her version SOLELY to piss off the band and its fans. Remixes are usually done because the remixer digs the source material, not because he wanted to shit on someone’s creative output.

But most frustrating of all is the survivors of legacies who guard the former artist’s output with the same ferocious tenacity, swollen with secondhand entitlement and a staggering amount of presumptiveness. They proclaim themselves the mouthpieces of dead artists, an idea that would be laughable at a seance, much less a boardroom discussion with an artist seeking to use part of their work. Of all the people that I loudly wonder who in the FUCK they think they are, these would top the list.

One of James Joyce’s heirs spent several years bullying anyone who attempted to do anything with his work, including peope who were just trying to celebrate Joyce’s literary legacy by *gasp* READING HIS WORK ALOUD. He’d likely still be threatening Joyce’s fans if several of the copyrights hadn’t expired in 2012, 70 years after Joyce’s death. Apple Records has made using any of the Beatles’ songs in film or TV nearly impossible, demanding outrageous amounts and passing out several hundred no’s for every yes. Because the Beatles hated people enjoying their music, if the label’s lawyers and surviving members are to be believed.

So, your choices as an artist boil down to this:

1. Embrace the inevitable and realize that artists build on their predecessors’ work. Some just build in a more direct fashion.
2. Surround yourself with bristling lawyers and an openly hostile attitude towards other artists.

Which choice is more likely to gain you fans?

-CLT

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Filed under Commentary, Covers, Electronica, Hip Hop, Remixes

DJ Tool: (Former) DJ CLT’s Weapons of Choice V.1 – The Biggest Beats

Once upon a time (1997-2001, to be precise), I was a DJ. Before we all get swept away imagining my jet-setting lifestyle (or wedding/bar mitzvah-ing lifestyle), let me clarify.

I was a DJ at one of the top (and certainly the top, for a couple of those years) nightspots in a midwestern town of 50,000. And this wasn’t one of those influential midwestern hotspots with a small cadre of buzzworthy bands erupting from below the placid surface. This was a rather unremarkable western South Dakota town that lay directly at the intersection of “bucolic” and “touristy.”

Putting yourself into my (always) white hi-tops doesn’t seem nearly as “jetsetting” or even “interesting” as it did merely sentences ago. In fact, the whole medium-fish-in-a-draining-pond scenario makes you kind of want to nip around back and do yourself in. And if it doesn’t, let me drop a little more cultural science on you to further set the scene.

There is an Air Force base in town. What little variety in color and ethnicity there is stems from the import of races more prevalent elsewhere in the nation. The locals are heavily dependent on country music. At least, the older locals are. The younger ones are heavily dependent on hip hop, as are nearly all white kids estranged from urban areas. So, the college crowd, sprinkled with some fake ID’ed high schoolers would want to hear nothing but hip hop, occasionally mixing it up with something atrociously “rockish,” like Creed, Godsmack or Limp Bizkit.

The older crowd would say delightful things like “Play some Bee Gees” or “Do you have some AC/DC?” or even (this was more prevalent at the second, more rock-oriented bar I worked at briefly) “When are you going to stop playing this nigger music?” Whee. Good times. (Still thinking there’s a huge upside here that vastly outweighs nipping around back and offing yourself? There is, to a point, and I’ll be getting to it.)

So, I stepped into the DJ booth after a few months of fucking around with it during my nights off and immediately marvelled at the fact that no one wanted to hear anything from my favorite bands (Love & Rockets, the Pixies, Skinny Puppy) and were only interested in listening to an instant replay of their Top 40 radio. I adjusted rather quickly to this not-shocking-at-all fact and swiftly became “The DJ” at the club. The clubgoers liked the fact that I played a ton of requests and I liked the fact that I got free drinks and pretty decent hourly wage to play music.

But being a DJ means you’re also the sort of guy who will sink an entire $10 into the jukebox (and this is back where 25-50 cents a play was the norm) just to have some control over your drinking environment. And as I discovered new music, I quickly foisted it on the customers. They still wanted Top 40 hits, heavily laced with hip hop and the occasional growly rock track (when not insisting in an offensive manner that I completely flip the ratio) and I, being the sort of jukebox-jacker I was, snuck in some not-on-the-incredibly-outdated-radar tracks. And to my surprise (and completely ego-swelling pleasure), some of these tracks took off and became heavily-requested numbers of their own.

FURTHER FRAMING: Heyday of Big Beat. Supposed “techno takeover” of America imminent. Complete lack of “rave music” history with most of the local crowd.

STAY WITH ME. (I appreciate the fact that we are 600 words in and I haven’t even started with the music. Apologies all around.)

Here’s where the breakthrough began. On some sort of prepackaged Top 40 hits CD was the following hidden gem. Bouncy, Latin, fun and completely unlike everything else on it (like say, C’Mon ‘N Ride It, a track which those of us trapped at the club by employment swiftly grew to hate with an unhealthy passion). Whoever the fuck the Mighty Dub Katz were, they certainly threw one hell of a self-contained party, one which sounded completely unlike the Steppenwolf track of the same name.

Mighty Dub Katz – Magic Carpet Ride (Ulti-Mix).mp3

This took off. And why not? How could you argue with that groove or the good-natured electrofunk? Research was needed because if these Mighty Dub Katz had anything else out there, I wanted it.

The results came in: the Mighty Dub Katz were in fact one man, Brighton DJ and producer, Norman Cook. But what else had this Norman Cook recorded? Seemed to be somewhat of a dead-end (this was pre-everyone-has-an-internet-at-their-house — keep in mind this is South Dakota and in 1997 there were still quite a few rotary phones in use) until it was discovered that Cook had just released an album under the name Fatboy Slim. Better Living Through Chemistry was played to death by me, not that any particular tune became a minor “this club only” hit, but it was an enjoyable way to start amping up the night before giving way to the normal Top 40 fare.

On the other hand, some older rave tracks caught my ear, went into the decks and caught other ears. One, an early track by Moby (released under the name Voodoo Child) became a frequent request, thanks to its piano breakdowns and drug slang that no one on this side of the pond really understood. (It’s ‘X” over here for some reason, despite the fact there’s no “x” in “ecstasy” [unless you let suddenly cuddly rap stars spell it.])

Voodoo Child – Next Is the E

Only a half-decade past its release and it lives and breathes in South Dakota. There’s probably an extended riff in there that David Foster Wallace would handle with aplomb*. Another tool in my DJ kit also called ‘1992’ home, a speedy primal techno track that stood out from the pack of other speedy primal techno tracks with its inclusion of a ridiculously speedy looped metal riff.

*”Aplomb” meaning “shitloads of footnotes.”

Eskimos & Egypt – Welcome to the Future.mp3

Along the way, I discovered the Chemical Brothers, starting with Dig Your Own Hole and working my way backward to their debut, Exit Planet Dust. Block Rockin’ Beats was the obvious selection, but I found that Song to the Siren’s opening bursts of warped female vox was made for interjecting into whatever tune was already playing, priming the pump for the bizarre breakdown that led to some pumping 4-on-4 action.

Chemical Brothers – Song to the Siren.mp3

Between the ChemBro’s second album and Fatboy Slim’s blistering party-in-a-CD You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby, it certainly seemed possible that America would become a raver’s paradise, much like the British Empire, which had already racked up over a decade’s worth of experience by 1999. Fatboy Slim’s album in particular was the ultimate gateway drug, with attitude on loan from decadent rock stars and acidic touches on loan from Mr. Slim’s 10+ years in the dance music business.

The Rockafeller Skank was big. Praise You was bigger. But the secret weapon was Praise You’s b-side, a huge shit-eating-grin of a track, all wack loops and dirty vocal samples. Not quite as dirty as In Heaven, but you didn’t have to double up on any entendres once the looped vocal kicked in (which was immediately):

Pumpin and bumpin and thumpin and bumpin

Fatboy Slim – Sho Nuff.mp3

The man was also directly responsible for this under-the-nonexistent-Midwestern-radar localized-to-one-club-only hit, possibly the first time in South Dakota’s history that Indian music (by real Indians, rather than just misnamed ones) had been heard at club-music volume. While the original single was pleasant enough, Slim’s bigger beats and chopped-up lyrical loops kicked its pleasant ass all over the dancefloor. And then there’s the breakdown, a faux call-and-response that namedrops everyone from the titular Asha Bhosle to French rock star Jacques Dutronc to Trojan Records.

Cornershop – Brimful of Asha (Norman Cook Original Extended Remix).mp3

But it wasn’t just CLT’s house o’ big beats. Harder, faster stuff made an appearance as well. Like every other DJ on the proverbial block, trancier stuff got airtime, as well as a variety of oddball, never-should-have-made-it tracks that took off for whatever reason (most likely due to the Top 40ish caning they received from the resident DJ). We’ll get to that in some future posts, but until then, here’s a taste of one of the directions we’re headed, courtesy of Yves Deruyter (who himself made his way into my ears courtesy of a hellaciously great mix album by Danny “12-hour-set” Tenaglia.)

Yves Deruyter – Feel Free.mp3

/s/CLT

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Filed under Commentary, Electronica, Remixes, Rock