Today we’re going to take a look at the world of electronic music remixes. The pros and cons, the problems and advantages, the benefits and shortfalls.
Remixing has a rich and interesting history within the sands of musical time, tracing back to at least the 1960s. The roots of what we now understand to be a remix was reportedly first popularised in Jamaica, with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and others stripping and mixing reggae and ska tunes into newer, fresher, dance-ready sounds. It was then adopted within the disco era, particularly with the advent of Tom Moulton, who some consider the official inventor of the remix. Moulton was known for taking all sorts of popular tunes, adapting them into ready-made hits for turning up at the club. People like Grandmaster Flash were integral in bringing the form to the then-new genre of hip hop, while Madonna was notable for popularising endless dance remixes of her chart-topping pop songs.
Now more than ever, remixes are popping up as often as original tunes. Some of them are great – others are godawful. Let’s break it down.
When is a remix a good thing?
In short, pretty often. They’re a great way for a producer to show off their flair for re-imagining tracks. They’re creative and interesting, and can teach us a lot about the artist and their sound.
One excellent advantage of remixes is that it allows upcoming producers to play around with pre-existing tracks, learn about how beats and rhythms are put together without having to start from scratch. When you start to play guitar, you learn to play Californication and Stairway To Heaven and Smoke on the Water before you even think about composing your own music. That would be ridiculous.
Remixes also allow for artists to develop their ‘signature sound‘ – by imprinting their own flair onto an already known track, we can learn about their sound and techniques. It’s a great way to show off the style you want to be known for, especially if you’re particularly recognisable or unique.
While it’s impressive to take an average song and remix it into something strong, there’s even more merit in taking a GREAT song and making it both different and equally good – it’s more challenging for the artist and more, it’s more exciting for listeners.
One of the most enjoyable types of remix to listen to, is when an artist remixes a song from an entirely different genre – another big challenge, and one that pays off so well.
I also think it can be pretty cool when artists remix themselves – it kind of gives you a little ‘choose your own adventure’ insight into a parallel universe, where a song might sound totally different to what you’re so familiar with. Chemical Brothers are a pretty notable example – here’s the remix of their own new single, Go ft. Q-Tip
In saying that, sometimes this fails in every way possible.
Remixes are also really good for building relationships within the community. Artists exchange their stems and have a bit of fun working on each others’ tracks. Friendships flourish, big love all around, and we get some bangin’ tunes in the process.
When is a remix a bad thing?
What happens when an artist becomes more known for their remixes than originals? What happens if their remixes all follow an identical path and they end up sounding the same as each other? What happens if the remixes are really bad? Or even worse, what if their remixes are far better than their original tunes and everyone knows it?
First up, let’s look at the remix which exists simply for the sake of existing. You know the ones I’m talking about – the remixes that don’t give you anything new or innovative. Maybe a trend has emerged to remix a particular artist or song. Maybe you’re obliged to release something through a label on a particular date. Maybe you’re only doing it to help your relationship with someone specific. Or who knows, maybe you’re just not that great at remixing. Often you’ll hear a new one and it’ll fall under the category, “it sounds exactly the same” or conversely, “it’s completely unrecognisable.”
It IS hard to create a perfect remix, there’s a lot to think about. It has to be similar enough to recognise the track, without sounding identical. It has to be unique without sounding like a completely new song. It has to infuse enough of your own style into the remix that the whole exercise is worthwhile. It has to give the listener something new and different, something we didn’t hear or imagine about the original. And of course, it has to sound good enough that people will actually listen to it.
Sometimes artists release more remixes than originals. Like, way more. (At this point let’s remember that the advantages we discussed above still undoubtedly stand.) Simply, there seems to be intrinsically less merit when an artist releases loads of remixes and not many originals, especially when there’s long, long spaces of time between original releases. If an artist consistently drops their own tunes in and around their remixes, that’s different. The balance is there. But if they only release remixes? No matter how great they are, constantly churning out remixes with nothing original in between, grows old very fast.
What do you think?