"Smells Like Booty." "A Stroke of Genie-us." "I Just Can't Get Enough
Pills." The song titles say it all.
Music's latest craze is certainly a twisted one. Some are even calling it
bastard pop. How else do you explain Destiny's Child singing "Bootylicious"
over Nirvana's sacred "Smells Like Teen Spirit"?
The new genre-crossing format, however, has an obvious father in Napster,
Gnutella and their controversial file-sharing siblings, who have fed the
frenzy by making a capella and instrumental tracks available to any wannabe
producer with a decent hard drive.
Give an armchair DJ some simple remixing software, like Acid, and within no
time you'll be hearing the next "Get Ur Faith On" or "My Name Is Funk Soul
The art of bootleg remixes, mash-ups or sound clashes (take your pick)
emerged as an Internet phenomenon two years ago but is now scratching its
way into the commercial music market, especially overseas.
In Europe the pioneers of the movement, such as Kurtis Rush, Soulwax,
Osymyso and Freelance Hellraiser, have become household names, headlining
popular clubs and spinning their creations on radio shows. One mash-up
artist, Richard X, even recently topped the UK singles chart with "Freak
Like Me," which layers vocals from the Sugababes and Adina Howard over
new-wave hero Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric."
Bootleg remixes would likely be all over the charts, except they happen to
be illegal unless, of course, the remixers can score permission from
the artists they use. And that's not easy, considering they are generally
going for the oddest combinations possible. When Dave Grohl heard about
"Smells Like Booty," for instance, his response was, "It sounds like a
Clearing samples is also painfully time consuming. 2 Many DJs (Soulwax's
David and Stephen Dewaele), spent more than six months getting permission
for the 114 (they wanted 187) tracks used on their debut, As Heard on
Radio Soulwax Pt. 2. That's probably why nobody bothered for The Best
Bootlegs in the World Ever, an unauthorized compilation that independent
record store owners worldwide have had a hard time keeping on their shelves.
Perhaps, though, the biggest sign that mash-ups are going nowhere but up is
the support they have garnered from artists who are being "mashed-up."
"We encourage kids out there doing that," Papa Roach singer Jacoby Shaddix
said. "Be creative, man. That's what the music's there for. Technology is
crazy these days. You could morph a chicken and a hip-hop song. ... I don't
know, it'll be something. Mix us and a Lionel Richie song!"
The hip-hop and electronic music communities are especially supportive,
recognizing that parts of their genres are based on the same credo of taking
something old and making it new. That musical approach can be traced back
even further, into the '70s, when Jamaican DJs would mix a capella reggae
tracks with dub instrumentals. The term "mash-up" comes from the Jamaican
phrase "Mash up the place."
Still, it was hip-hop that made borrowing other recordings artistically
acceptable, and the bootleg remix trend is reminding artists of rap's early
"Around 1990 in New York, all the hip-hop acts put out 12-inch singles of
their songs with a capella versions on the back," recalled former Soul
Coughing singer Mike Doughty. "I would go to all these clubs and hear Mary
J. Blige's 'Real Love' over a hundred different hip-hop instrumentals. Some
of them were just genius. It was a wonderful, free, creative time. Doing it
on ProTools rather than a couple of turntables is just a new spin on it."
Jermaine Dupri, a pioneering producer in his own right, is keeping a
watchful eye on the mash-up artists.
"We as musicians, we should just catch up to what the kids are doing and
just start collaborating and making records," he explained. "They're showing
us a sound that obviously they like, and we should possibly try to explore
that sound and go see what will happen if you put this person with this
person and this person and that person. If they do one of my records, I'm
definitely gonna pay attention to it and take heed to it and go call the
person that did it and make a record."
Moby, who launched his career remixing singles for Michael Jackson and other
pop stars, believes bootleg remixes are another way for more creative minds
to get into the game. "Everyone is becoming a musician," he said. "Anyone
with a computer has the ability to make good-sounding records, and I think
it's really exciting."
Moby is flattered that a few of his songs have been remixed, and he's not
"It's a compliment, like having Weird Al cover one of your songs," said
former Faith No More singer Mike Patton, who at last count was in six bands,
including Tomahawk and Fantômas.
Electronic music luminary BT, who also produced 'NSYNC's "Pop," was so
impressed with a mash-up of his "Mercury and Solace," he tracked down the
remixer and released it.
"I love having people do unsolicited remixes of my stuff. In fact, I'm
thinking about posting vocals of the whole next album on my Web site when
it's done," BT said. "I believe that everyone uses sounds in a case-specific
and different manner than other people who use the same sounds."
BT is especially fond of mash-ups that pair drastically different songs.
"I'm an avid believer in crossing boundary lines and idiom subdivisions in
the music-making process, and if we need to mix Willie Nelson with John Cage
to push the envelope in the right direction, then bring it," he said. "That
actually might be pretty dope. I may try that."
Julian Casablancas, singer of the Strokes, is a supporter of bootleg
remixes, but he was disappointed when he first heard Freelance Hellraiser's
"A Stroke of Genie-us," which pairs their "Hard to Explain" with Christina
Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle."
"I think it's a nice try, but I thought her vocals actually fit through the
whole song, which would have been a funny coincidence, and I would have
probably enjoyed it, but they sort of edited it so the guitar plays five
different chords in the verse," Casablancas said. "It's like they just
looped the first chord. They could have just done it with anything. It was a
little unimpressive. If it had worked, I would have probably promoted it. It
was a funny idea, but it seemed like a little bit of a cop-out. The funny
thing is, Christina Aguilera's on our label."
Despite Casablancas' opinion, "A Stroke of Genie-us" is one of the most
popular mash-ups, even sneaking onto radio shows in America. But whether it
or other bootleg remixes like the dozens using Missy Elliott's "Get
Ur Freak On" or Eminem's "My Name Is" will ever be legitimate
Stateside hits remains to be seen.
"I've been played on college radio [in the U.S.], but I think the big radio
stations are too genre-based," Freelance Hellraiser said. "Mash-ups by their
very nature exist to combine and ultimately destroy musical genres, which
makes them difficult to pigeonhole."
Added Patton, "I could see one of these crossing over, but they are usually
a little too twisted for the simple mind to get a grip on."
Mix Master Mike, who DJs for the Beastie Boys and makes his own sound
collage albums, thinks there is at least one U.S. native who can truly break
the genre in America. "DJ Z-Trip mixes Christina Aguilera with AC/DC and
stuff like that, and it's creative," Mike said. "And it's funny."
Steve Mannion, co-editor of the popular mash-ups Web site
HREF="http://www.boomselection.net" TARGET="_blank">Boom Selection
HREF="http://www.boomselection.net" TARGET="_blank">Boom Selection,
pointed out that the style is still growing. "It's really down to the
technology," he said. "As that develops, so will the methods people can use
to be creative. Eventually, technology may be so advanced that making any
two songs sound good together is possible."
Hellraiser, who said his DJing bookings and offers for legitimate remix work
have increased since the mash-up boom, believes the genre can survive
because of the infinite number of crazy mash-ups that have yet to be done.
"I'd do a bootleg of the Lord's Prayer if I could find the a cappella," said
the DJ, whose favorite mash-up mixed the Doors with Nas.
On the other hand, there are artists in electronic music a genre
where the hot styles changes monthly who see the popularity of sound
clashes fading away.
"It's cynical music by cynical tired people with no ideas," said Scottish
techno producer Slam. "In the U.K. charts there was a particularly dreadful
one with Supertramp vocals speeded up as if they needed to be
on a trance track. Awful, yet somehow popular."
New York DJ Liquid Todd has nothing against mash-ups, but he said he would
like to see computer-savvy kids write their own songs. "That's when we are
going to hear some really amazing sampler-based music," he said.