Into the Mix

Rock as dance music. Dance music as rock.

This is easily the funkiest thing the consummate post-rock band has ever been a part of, and the track is addictive. As is the rest of Tortoise:Remixed: See Spring Heel Jack's "Galapagos [Version One]" or the Krautoppin' take on the song "Tjed," sculpted by none other than Tortoise's own drummer, John McEntire. Say what? Say incest, I guess. McEntire's name has been on tons of these remix albums (and, really, as incestuous as the above seems, incest isn't really incest if you're merely playing with yourself).

The only remixer who appears on other people's projects more often than McEntire is everybody's favorite claptrapper, DJ Spooky. Rumor has it he's currently working on a remix of a famous "post-structuralist" text. Yet on Strictly East Coast Sneaky Flute Music, a remix record of songs by the forgotten Boston indie band the Swirlies, he offers something X1998 times less pretentious than that, and (probably) 50 times smarter.

Like U.N.K.L.E., Spooky begins his "Sea Welt Edit...Sneaky Flute Orchestra" with an aside to initiates--a snippet of Swirlie shoe-gazer blare that epitomizes the outmoded sound of alt-rock circa 1991. It's looped ad infinitum until the drum-bass-guitar clamor implodes, eventually reappearing seconds later recombobulated as drum 'n' bass. Echo effects make it feel like you're in an airplane hangar with the Swirlies playing at one end, Spooky mixing them on the other--and the last 10 years of hipster noise reflecting off the walls between them. Ten years of alt-rock history flying by in six minutes: not a bad little primer.

Conversely, more of a remix epic is Kevin Shields's astonishing, 16-minute "My Bloody Valentine Remix" of "Mogwai Fear Satan" at the end of the two-disc Kicking a Dead Pig, a set of remixes of songs by the Scottish guitar band Mogwai. Beginning with a torrent of rolling tom toms and undulating MBV-esque guitars, Shields lets the sounds bore into themselves until we're left with five minutes of mushrooming white noise. This is how the world ends: not with a whimper, but with a big-ass explosion.

Wading through the rest of Kicking is like marinating in the North Sea in mid-December. Sure, it's a tad chilly, but the catharsis is worth the discomfort. Safely nestled in the highlands, miles from the arteries of currency and good taste, Mogwai are like a cross between the U2 they grew up with and the American indie rock (Slint, Squirrel Bait) they heard three years ago. And this works because the DJs assembled--including Alec Empire, u-Ziq, and Mog's mope-rock countrymen Arab Strap--don't try to turn the Mogwai into a funky chicken, à la Spooky's Swirlies.

One of the first (and best) remix albums was last year's Hyper Civilizado, on which some of the best avant-hop DJs in New York (SPIT, We, Sub Dub, Spooky) remixed songs from ultra-egghead Arto Lindsay's excellent bossa-pop album, Mundo Civilizado. Lindsay's mewl of male inefficacy was easily cut into angel dust and sprinkled over some deep, tough dub-hop. The resulting record could have been used by Brazilian sports psychologists on their losing football team in a retaliatory psy-ops experiment; it perfected the form, starting with two disparate sources and creating an entirely new landscape.

Other attempts at similar meta-exotica have failed miserably; avoid strenuously the Pizzicato Five remix project Happy End of You, on which Japanese lounge pop and chic techno-hip hop blend together on a record with all the universal appeal of an intraoffice e-mail.

A good DJ should always try to incite as much head-bobbin' as possible, just as a good guitar band shouldn't try to invent the wheel every time they plug in. Will the wheels of steel help reinvent the guitar band? Hell, Joe Perry's still collecting royalties.


As If Electronica Never Happened

by Jane Dark

That crazy music all the kids are listening to these days may be great and all but it is really fucking up the whole idea of the remix. The album version of the song is presented to the electronica remixer like, say, the rhyme words for a sonnet. The task is to make the most interesting object possible given those rather minimal formal constraints.

But what if I don't think music should be interesting? It can be, and that's swell. But as it happens, interestingness is a quality less suited for art that engages your body. I want architecture to be interesting exactly because I can't dance to it.

Electronica, as it happens, bears a bodyrockin' history--in fact, it marks the first successful storming of the culture castle by dance music. Oh well. Meet the new boss, etc.

Theory corrupts, and absolute theory corrupts absolutely: The vast majority of electronic music these days is rapturously idea-happy. It's also no damn fun, and it takes a whole lot of epinephrine to get me dancing to it. But despite what lifestyle-spinners like MTV and Spin intimate, the vast majority of people who get their boogie on to contemporary music are swooping and bumping to Janet Jackson and Ace of Base. So what's the new age of remixing making of the pop charts?

Garbage is the worst-case scenario. "Push It" is one fine song on their latest Version 2.0. It's a fast car with super-tinted windows: beautifully machined with darkly reflective surfaces blurring past. Sadly, the lone remix on the CD single, by some crew known as Boom Boom Satellites, renders everything stupid about electronica remixture without providing any fun whatsoever (as if we didn't already have a whole Bush remix project for that very purpose).

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