Into the Mix

Rock as dance music. Dance music as rock.

Far more perverted is Tranquility Bass's "'91 Party Dance Mix" of Low's most addicting song, "Over the Ocean," from their last full-length album, When the Curtain Hits the Cast. If you've ever wondered what Low would sound like as a Suzanne Vega remix, this is your tune, complete with tacky horn bleats and snake rattles. Still, even this hilariously bubbly track remains fascinating with repeated exposure. It provides the classic remix template: Place an undeniable melody in a danceable and (gasp) radio-friendly context and throw in enough sonic quirks to sate head-bobbers.

When I mention the cut to Sparhawk, he laughs. The original song, he says, was meant to evoke the feeling of floating above things. Yet politically tinged lyrics like "And if I am wrong, the mighty and strong will be rejected" cut against any ethereal ambiguity to suggest a detached cynicism. "Tranquility Bass definitely caught on to that floating feeling," he says, "but gave it an ecstasy feel. Like flying, but in more of a Peter Pan way."

Despite the band's misgivings about the project, Sparhawk seems amenable to the results. "It makes you think differently about music," Sparhawk says of owL. "Not that we're going to change to a techno band, but when you hear someone else pick apart your stuff and do different things with it, it makes you question your approach. We're getting ready to record a new album, and this thing opened up my perspective.

"You know, being remixed is kind of like the extreme end of being misquoted out of context," he laughs. "We recorded a cover of Joy Division's 'Transmission,' and the version we do is a lot more sober and less frantic than the original. So I guess we've been guilty of remixing. The only difference is that mixers are taking the actual sound you made, the actual noises coming out of your mouth."

Instant Replay

Surprisingly, the remix and the turntable might keep the world safe for guitar rock

by Jon Dolan

Rockers, think hard. Think hard about the first time you heard Run-D.M.C.'s remix of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way." It was the latter part of the second half of the 20th century, and you were probably a lot like me: an acid-washed, mullet-cut, Schlitz-guzzlin' axecentric goon preparing to enlist for our nation's next aircraft-carrier cruise to Grenada.

But, assuming we weren't dyed-in-the-wool, funk-retardant racists, Jam Master Jay's drum break and that sweet little slice of Joe Perry guitar wankery suckered us into kinda digging rap. That is until the Beasties put a jammie upside our collective cookie puss, shook our ruuuumpa and forced us to truly dig rap. And we know what happened next: First it was Superfly, then Sly, then "That's the Joint," and on and on until we were all ganja-goofed interns in Dr. Lee Perry's beat pharmacy. And that's what a remix should do: recontextualize not just sounds or artists but entire musical (hell, social) histories.

By now rock-crossover remixes are as ingrained in the culture, as, say, Christina Ricci--almost there. The computer programs needed to download sounds and reshape a track are relatively inexpensive. And in an era when artistes are increasingly mindful of the gap between the record-making and record-buying public, DJ Blah Blah's "Such 'n' Such" remix of Post Rock Band X's "Song You've Never Heard" might be the only way for band or jock to feel any sense of community at all. That said, dozens of indie 'n' alt bands--Cornershop, Everything But the Girl, Air, Modest Mouse, Komeda, et al.--have called in DJs and moonlighting friends from the indie-rock pool to cut up their tracks for use as single fodder. This year has seen a spate of full-length, indie-rock remix albums. And just when you thought those alt-rock axes were beginning to collect rust.

The Chicago collage-rock band Tortoise has gained quite a little rep for appropriating selections from The Greatest Hits of 20th-Century Classical Music, and squeezing out ingenious indie-rock revisions. Their post-hip fandom is, more often than not, none the wiser: A recent Minneapolis show saw the horn-rimmed set stand in awe as four mallet-wielding Torties worked out a direct rip-off of sampling pioneer Steve Reich's "Six Marimbas."

That cribbing comes back to haunt them on Tortoise:Remixed via U.N.K.L.E.'s "Bruise Blood Mix" of the group's 1996 track "Djed." In 1966 Reich took a sound sample of a young man who had been battered, but skillfully left unbloodied, by some of New York's finest. "I had to, like open the bruise and let some of the bruise blood come out to sho' dem," he said after emerging from lockup, his wound compelling the police to release him to onlookers. Reich took this quote on tape, cut it up, and manually looped it in staggered snippets for 12:48, effectively inventing the repetition theory that now informs all techno.

U.N.K.L.E. (actually Mo' Wax Records owner James LaVelle) loops the phrase and crosscuts it with menacing cellos and a military hip-hop beat that could send DJ Shadow into fits of thumb sucking. That sample sits at the front of U.N.K.L.E.'s remix of la Tortuga's marimba-heavy track. If you don't know Reich's original, "bruise blood" will probably be misheard as "blues blood" and "open up the bruise" as "open up the grooves"--remixer manifestos for sure.

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