Monday, May 12, 2008

5/12/08 - Mashups, Delights

The first time I heard a mashup was the Freelance Hellraiser "A Stroke of Genie-us" - I highly doubt this was the first one, but it certainly seemed to be the first to penetrate mass cultural consciousness.

Now I would consider this innovation one of my favorite in modern pop music; both for the sublime immediate pleasures of hearing a new song created from familiar elements, and also for its signifying of the collapse of the importance of genre.

Like so many things, credit for this should go to the Internet, and specifically the brief flowering of Napster and the spate of P2P file sharing. For the first time, cross-genre exploration was possible with no cost/repercussion. While terrible for the music industry as a whole, ironically this development has been fantastic for the collapsing of artificial genre fences. Chuck Klosterman has a hilarious account of these fences in "Fargo Rock City", as he expertly delineates the bands that were "acceptable" to the North Dakota metal fans that he hung out with. I spent a lot of high school listening to a lot of California punk bands, where the "Sellout" designation got a lot of play; what this meant musically was that every single band sounded like the Ramones with better production values. I can't even count the amount of times someone was asked what kind of music they liked in middle school and responded "everything but rap and country", as though entire genres could be written off.

So, when it comes to the mashup, of of the thrilling things that it does is to decouple the actual music from the dogma of classification (classification perpetrated in these cases by the bands themselves making choices about their styles which often fit within prescribed modes). So, in a mashup of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" with "Bootylicious", a whole set of normally segregated musical energies are gloriously combined (segregated being a loaded term, but apropos, in terms of the grunge/R&B demographic split in terms of artist and to a lesser extent audience)

To wit, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"'s musical ambitions - tension/release, alienation expressed through ear-splitting volume, attack, pained aggression married to inviting melody.

"Bootylicious"'s musical ambitions - tension/tightness (in the James Brown sense), sex, ecstatic release of the dancefloor, metronomic rise and fall of energy.

The brilliance in the mashup is located the shared part of the Venn diagram (tension/release, tightness of performance) and then grafting the aspects onto each song that they are simply not concerned with in their original incarnations. "Teen Spirit" is unconcerned with sex, or the dance floor. "Bootylicious" is not concerned with aggression or attack. The brilliance of the matchup is that it grafts these elements together, making the shared track richer for it. The combination produces a dance floor stomper with all the whiplash dynamics of the Nirvana original, amping up the drive and kick. Similarly, it gives the shiver of sex appeal to a dour, sexless grunge song; just add glamour and a song as titanic as "Teen Spirit"gets slinkier, more complex, more fun.

I probably listened to Girl Talk's "Night Ripper" album more than any other last year, and it's an album that's stayed with me in a visceral way - namely, I continue to hear hits sampled on that album every time I'm near a radio. The thing that I find most impressive about "Night Ripper" is that, unlike other sample-based artists, Greg Gillis ignores the obscure entirely. The entire mix is built solely off of hits, megahits, hits that are even now floating along in the pop-cultural cloud. Sure, I can respect the Dust Brothers and the Avalanches for their impeccable ears and deep crate-digging and locating of the most perfect obscure sample for the moment, but there's something incredibly and almost dangerously intoxicating about "Night Ripper's" compression of top 40 into one long Frankenstein dance party. Where, I ask, can I get more of this, and the answer is that rocket has lifted off - the explosion is all there is.

For more mashup goodness:

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