No. 11: The Year Of The Remix

Michaelangelo Matos | December 30, 2008 - 12:00 pm

Remixes have been a constant since the late ’70s. Artists have been holding remix contests since at least 1983, when Tommy Boy advertised for a prize to the chancer(s) who best recast G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid’s “Play That Beat, Mr. DJ” and inadvertently birthed unto the world Double Dee & Steinski, the latter of whose What Does It All Mean? overview was released this year to great (and deserved) acclaim. R&B and hip-hop and disco and indie rock and house and techno and dub and mainstream pop with its different mixes for different formats and even country (what’s Up!, Shania Twain): all not only utilize the remix, each genre has its own set of rules for it. And between NIN and Radiohead’s fan-made deconstructions grabbing headlines and cut-up disco ruling clubland, not to mention the usual fusillade of hip-hop mixtape posse cuts, dance producers trading tweaks as normal, and—fuck it—Girl Talk, 2008 is a Year of the Remix if any has been.

The remixes I liked most tended to be the ones that did the most overhauling of their sources. (I discussed DJ Koze’s mix of Matias Aguayo’s “Minimal” earlier in the countdown.) Supermayer’s remix of Hot Chip’s “One Pure Thought” is one that’s stayed with me harder than I expected it to: it’s stripped to the knuckle, as taut as the snare that continually snaps you to attention, and utilizes only one vocal line (“There is nothing greater”) on its way to making a groove that stands on its own—and as one of the best DFA records not made by the DFA.

I’m sure I’ll get called a pseud and worse, especially by Brits, for saying I like Mark Ronson’s remix work, but I’m fine with that. His live-band funk turnovers of Robin Thicke’s “Magic” and Maroon 5’s “Wake Up Call” are the usual: crisp mod-soul with punchy horns, the whole thing a shameless appeal to nostalgia, and so well done it hardly matters.

Rock bands beyond NIN and Radiohead got in on the act, too. My favorite was Spoon, whose “Don’t You Evah” underwent a handful of overhauls, the most wickedly effective being that by Ted Leo. The Pharmacist prescribed herb: Leo’s “I Want It Hotter Remix” makes the song into a slithering, Pablo-meets-Tubby-indebted dub, an approach that worked perfectly. Similarly, Sharon Jones’ “How Long Do I Have to Wait for You” was given a re-rub by Ticklah, on 7-inch by Daptone.

The Brits are starting to refer to “bass music,” not as a general construct but to describe the bastard children of hip-hop, IDM, rave, and dancehall. Flying Lotus is the bellwether here, and his colorfully abstracted fuel the excellent Los Angeles as well as an imaginatively hollowed-out reworking of Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” and a sweet little pairing of “A Milli” with Lotus’s own “Robo Tussin.” Grime is a big part of bass music, but I never loved Burial until I came across “Boy 8-Bit’s Simple Remix” of “Archangel,” which turns it into a straighter house track that retains its rhythm tricks, a basic tweaking that breathes new life into the song. And funky/bassline house’s richest moment came via Crazy Cousinz retooling Paleface & Kyla’s “Do You Mind” into a devastatingly sexy skipping groove.

Finally, three remixes I particularly like fall under the general umbrella of recent nostalgia. Frankie Knuckles’ remix of Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind” smooths out the original’s bumpier elements. In a way, it’s stunt casting—get the old-school house guy to bring his old-school house flavor—but given the material, it’s one of the canniest moves yet from an act for which canniness is all. (And Antony sounds even more like a disco diva over a backdrop that has far more of the luster of the vintage stuff than H&LA’s original “Blind” has.) Similarly, Alphabeat turning over “Boyfriend” to Stock-Aitken-Waterman mainstay Pete Hammond to turn into the plastic ’80s the band craves has the effect of making the whole thing sound weirdly soulful.

The most ’80s remixer of them all, of course, is Fred Falke. They all sound essentially alike: idealized Jan Hammer keyboards from Miami Vice, played for sunshine rather than pastel shading, and they’re as shiny-sleazy a signature as you could hope for. When he applies them to the Whitest Boy Alive’s “Golden Cage,” though, they take the song’s soft-sung lament and amplify them the way Zeppelin did the blues. It’s one of the records that helped me get through the year: I turned to it when I wanted to wallow in missing my girlfriend a country or world away, the echoed “Over and over” and the layers of Greatest American Hero incidental-music keyboard lines buoying it to the heavens all cushioning me back into reality. I hope to hear similarly transformative work in the year to come.

Maroon 5 – Wake Up Call (Mark Ronson Remix) [YouTube]
Sharon Jones – How Long Do I Have to Wait for You (Reggae Version) [YouTube]
Lil Wayne – A Milli (Flying Lotus’s Robo Tussin Remix) [YouTube]
Kanye West – Love Lockdown (Flying Lotus Remix) [YouTube]
Burial – Archangel (Boy 8-Bit’s Simple Remix) [YouTube]
Paleface & Kyla – Do You Mind (Crazy Cousinz Remix) [YouTube]
Hercules and Love Affair – Blind (Frankie Knuckles Remix) [YouTube]
Alphabeat – Boyfriend (Pete Hammond Remix) [YouTube]
Whitest Boy Alive – Golden Cage (Fred Falke Remix) [YouTube]
80 ’08 (and heartbreak)