Archive for the 'Joy Division' Category

On Mashups

October 28, 2007

In the grand scheme of things, nerdbound was right in pointing out that writing full-blown Reviews with capital R’s is a bit intimidating after a while, especially after I blew my literary load all over that Feist concert review. Writing anything else that could live up to that onslaught of verbal masturbation became unthinkable, and so I’ve been spending the last few months wallowing in a sort of audiophilic paralysis, listening to awesome songs and doubting my ability to capture its majesty.

Well, fuck majesty. From here on in it’s going to be hack work all the way — you know, the kind you see on the typical music blog run by college students who like to fawn all over their favourite new artists with worn colloquialisms and stale verbal jisms of delight. (Incidentally, does ‘jism’ refer only to the substance or also to the act of discharge? I’m using it in the latter sense, but I’m not entirely sure if that’s valid.) Here’s the difference though, the one that will keep you coming back — here at elastic resonance, we take the hack to new levels of hackiness. It’s like irony, except instead of being sly and clever and ever so subtle, we’re just bad. Think of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah’s entire oeuvre — yeah, that bad. And yet we’ll conduct the entire enterprise smartly, with a sharpness and cheekiness that will become a recognizable brand of brilliance. That’s what we’re all about here (and really, anywhere that writes about music) — revelling in shittiness to the point of glory. How else could we live with ourselves?

And speaking of hack work cum brilliance (hackneyed transition drumroll please!), it’s time I displayed some of my love for mash-ups. Here’s the thing about mash-ups — they usually have no point. Seriously. There are times when the demands of musical fusion entail mixing two songs together, but mash-ups are not the children of those times. Mash-ups are the children of times when DJs sit around thinking to themselves, “Let’s see what I can do with my infinite skills! Oh my Gawd, look how clever I am! No one could have imagined mixing Journey with Ciara! The ironic juxtaposition is just too much for the ordinary mind to handle! When people hear it, their minds will be overloaded by the lack of sense the song makes, and they too will begin thinking in exclamations! Rawk!”

You think I’m just playing this up for yuks here, but mash-ups are seriously the musical expression of some sort of postmodern angst. Turntablism is about DJs using samples to create new aural textures, mixing in snippets and fragments from the most unlikely sources to generate a vast landscape of sound, with every sample and beat and learning video speech clip a natural, organic inhabitant. Mash-ups are about jamming songs into each other, hammering the square peg into the round hole, and calling that a work of art just because it doesn’t make sense but you did it anyway. The enjoyment you derive from a mash-up is ultimately a referential pleasure, not a pure one — when “Don’t Stop Believin'” is mixed with “Sexy Back”, you listen because damned if it isn’t an unexpected idea given our cultural context. How good it sounds is inconsequential to how good it is. And that’s because mash-ups, at least as the genre is primarily practiced today, are not music. They are cultural excrement. They are the third season of Arrested Development, all in-jokes and no real ones. They are surviving purely on the audience’s knowledge of the real music that has gone before, and their value is judged on where they fall on the cultural scales of relevance and unexpectedness, rather than any actual musical qualities. Just look at the components of a typical mash-up — the vocals from a rap track and the beats from some terribly white indie band. Rarely does anyone think about mashing up two indie songs or two rap songs, despite the interesting lyrical, melodic, and rhythmic possibilities there, and that’s because there’s no cultural shock value from mixing two white songs or two black songs — it’s the “oh WOW, won’t you look at that, Agnes!” reaction that most mash-up artists are shooting for.

And that’s not a bad thing, just as the third season of Arrested Development wasn’t really all that disappointing once you got used to the idea. Self-referentialism can be brilliant, and savouring the deliciousness of an idea can be just as good as drowning in an awesome song. But you have to recognize it for what it is, and what it is is hack work that occasionally results in flashes of brilliance. It’s in that spirit of hackneyed genius that I bring you the following tracks. (Also, I was getting tired of writing, and defending mash-ups on a general level seemed much less interesting than either attacking them or writing about specific tracks.)

ABX is a denizen of The Hood Internet, a regularly updated mash-up paradise, and “Collide You A Drank” transforms the annoying vocals of T-Pain’s “Buy You A Drank (Shawty Snappin'” and the emotional, strangled guitar of Cloud Cult’s “Chemicals Collide” into a pulsing, urgent beat that sweeps and soars all around, weaving all the melodic elements together.

A plus D is the DJ team of Adrian and the Mysterious D, and they are just plain genius. I’ve got three tracks here, but they’ve got a ton more on their website, and each track is great in its own way. “Indie Hyphy” is an incredibly infectious mix of the most danceable elements from both E-40 and Keak Da Sneak’s “Tell Me When To Go” and Cold War Kids’ “Hang Me Up To Dry.” Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven” provides a rollicking disco beat to Kanye West’s “Gold Digger.” And “Love Will Tear You Apart (She Wants Originality)”, the post-punk pièce de résistance mix of Joy Division, Bauhaus, and She Wants Revenge, relies on no dance-club gimmicks to create a wonderfully layered atmosphere. A plus D is one of the only truly versatile mash-up artists I’ve seen, drawing from beyond the latest mainstream hip hop tracks to produce some of the most creative ideas I’ve ever heard. Be sure to visit their site and check out their other stuff.

And finally, one of my favourite songs of all time: Arty Fufkin‘s mix of “Hollaback Girl” by Gwen Stefani and Pharrell and “Feel Good Inc.” by Gorillaz and De La Soul. “Hollaback Girl” is one of the most truly awful songs of our time, but surrounded by the bass and beats of Gorillaz, the chanty vocals and distorted croons take on a life of their own, eventually even adding back to the Gorillaz’ song. In fact, I can’t listen to either of the original songs now without feeling as if they are somehow empty. This mash-up is also unique in that it manages to trade off between the beats and vocals of each song, rather than merely laying down the vocals of one track onto the instrumentals of another; somehow, miraculously, De La Soul’s raps are supported by a refrain of “It’s my shit, it’s my shit” and it sounds good. The rest of Arty Fufkin’s tracks are sadly fairly hit-or-miss and mostly mediocre, but this one track remains my favourite mash-up of all time, embodying all that is wonderful about this genre.

Enjoy your bastard pop, kids.

MP3: ABX – Collide You A Drank (T-Pain vs. Cloud Cult)
MP3: A plus D – Beethoven’s Fifth Gold Digger (Kanye West vs. Beethoven vs. Walter Murphy)
MP3: A plus D – Indie Hyphy (E-40 vs. Cold War Kids)
MP3: A plus D – Love Will Tear You Apart / She Wants Originality (She Wants Revenge vs. Joy Division vs. Bauhaus)
MP3: Arty Fufkin – Hollaback Girls Feel Good (Gwen Stefani vs. Gorillaz)

P.S.
I have no idea why all these artists’ names begin with A.

posted by ninjajabberwocky