Monday, April 26, 2010

Thesis. Antithesis. Synthesis.

If you spend anytime on The Hype Machine, you will notice that a significant percentage of their most popular songs are mashups.  Most of these tracks do not display the intricacy of tracks by, say, Steinski or Girl Talk, but are rather simple meldings of an a capella vocal track (usually hip-hop) and the instrumental from some more rock or pop oriented song.  The results are often arresting, at times even spectacular.  Indeed, entire albums have been subjected to this treatment.  Danger Mouse famously broke with his Grey Album, a melding of Jay-Z's Black Album with the Beatles eponymous 1968 release.  The title of this blog is taken from a song from Since I Left You, the great debut from The Avalanches which was constructed almost entirely from samples.  More recently, upstart producer Wait What has mashed the entirety of the debut record by The XX with vocal tracks from The Notorious B.I.G.  (a track from this record was included on an earlier post).  Wait What's The Notorious XX was tremendously popular throughout the music blog community, and one would think that this project had tremendous commercial potential.

One would think.  Unless, of course, one worked for the music industry, which in its infinite wisdom forced Wait What to pull the record from his site three weeks ago.  Such nonsense has stunted the growth of this particular form of music-making since is incipient days, or at least since Grand Upright Music, Limited v. Warner Brothers Records, which resulted in the requirement of pre-approval for sample usage.  Such pre-approval has proved unwieldy to no one's surprise.  Of course, such legal action has in no way stunted the production of new sample-based music; it has simply criminalized its production and, consequently, placed a false ceiling on its economic potential. 

On the surface it is hard to see how mashups and similar musical projects differ significantly from collage, photomontage, and assemblage, genres within the visual arts that thrived throughout the 20th century with little (although some) legal interference.  All of the above are similarly constructed from works by other artists or artisans, and all such preceding works, like the music of today, are eminently reproducible.  Indeed, the only clear difference between the situation in the visual arts and that in music is the economic model that the music industry has put in place to protect its artists.

This model has manifestly failed.  Meanwhile, despite the best efforts of large record companies, this music continues to be produced.  With production becoming easier and easier thanks to software programs such as Ableton Live and ACID Pro, it is hard to see who could benefit from the currently imposed restrictions.  In time, of course, the record industry will realize the widespread economic benefits of this music (it will likely be oblivious to its aesthetic benefits) and a more reasonable model will be implemented.  When, we can't say.  In the interim, we will have to enjoy whatever we can get our ears on even if we can only do so for a few days at a time.

Some of our favorite recent mashups below for your enjoyment:

Jay-Z/Outkast vs. A-Ha - Take On Me

Emancipator - Shook (Mobb Deep vs. Sigur Ros)

The White Stripes vs. Eurythmics - Sweet Dreams Are Made of Seven Nation Armies

Wait What - The Curious Incident of Big Poppa in the Nighttime (The XX vs. Notorious B.I.G.)

Jay-Z vs. Grizzly Bear - Get That Week State of Mind

EMF vs. The Young Punx - Unbelievable Juice & Gin


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