Celebrated French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard is famously quoted as saying “It’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take things to.”
It’s no secret that in this day and age, much of the music we know and love is more likely to have been produced on a laptop than in a multimillion-dollar recording studio. Because of this, the issue of music sampling has become an increasingly hot topic in the eyes of critics and fans alike, more often than not flanked by some sort of controversy. One of the most recent instances was that stirred up by the release of Swedish House Mafia member Steve Angello’s monster summer house anthem “Knas,” which prompted some in the dance music community to discredit the producer’s creativity and ability.
Back in early August, Beatportal.com posted a blog that offered a reverse engineering tutorial highlighting the fact that Knas’ killer hook was indeed a loop taken from a widely available piece of software. The loop itself is called the “Capone Melody” and it’s part of the Vengeance Future House, Vol. 2 sample pack created by renowned German producer Manuel Schleis, who has worked with Cascada, Tiësto, Moby and Axwell. For around $80, any bedroom producer or superstar DJ can get their hands on these sounds and use them, royalty-free, in any way they choose, fully within the law. However, since this story broke, there has been much debate over where the line between creativity and resourcefulness lies. Conversely, many would ask, if these are tools meant to ultimately fashion musical masterpieces, then why the public outcry?
MTV News recently caught up with Angello and asked for his take on the subject of sampling.
“When you use a sample library that people can get a hold of, they recognize sounds,” Angello explains, “and people will say, ‘Why did you use a sample?’ And I’m like, ‘But every single synth in the world is a sample.’ Everything is sample-based. If I sample a string and everyone in the world has that string, [they'll say] ‘Why did you use that string?’ Well, it’s a good string!”
Most dance artists actually use these types of production techniques, and some of the biggest names in the scene have come forward to defend sample use as well to reinforce Angello’s musical capacity. At the peak of the controversy, godfather of dance music Tiësto tweeted, “Knas went off last night! @SAngelloLIVE Without U no one would have known that loop and U added a lot to it! Don’t bother abt those nerds ;)”
“People love to hate,” added DJ/producer Sebastian Ingrosso, referring to social media platforms that give people a chance to criticize publicly, and sometimes anonymously.
“I had a big discussion about this, because I tweeted, ‘I’m such a big fan of Daft Punk. I hope they do something new. I’ve loved Daft Punk,’ and I got so much sh– from people like, ‘How can you like Daft Punk? It’s sample based music!’ ” Angello says he received around 500 responses following his tweet on the topic, most with their claws out ready to attack.
The constant debate around sampling has been stirring for decades, as it was first used by DJs in New York’s late 1970s hip-hop scene. Using samples and loops across genres became common practice until the original songwriters realized they were losing money from the artistically re-booted samples. In response, these original, copyrighted works are now protected by various international recording laws. In the many years since then, the rise of royalty-free music-production software such as Ableton, Logic and GarageBand has drastically changed the landscape and actually encouraged the use of a variety of pre-programmed and recorded samples for the purpose of reinventing sounds and creating new music.
“I just don’t understand, because nobody has ever said that about a hip-hop track, right? I can play you the latest Jay-Z album and I can point out nine samples,” Angello said. “It depends what you do with it, if you chop up a sound, or if you do something to a sound. If you just take a sound fresh, it’s a different story. I’ve used disco sounds before, that’s how I started, but nobody said anything back then because I only sold three records!”
Angello, Axwell and Ingrosso all share a chuckle at the fact that no one seemed to care until Angello broke through as a successful producer.
“It’s the same with Rihanna … the ‘Umbrella’ track. The beat in there, we used it before [they did]. It was in GarageBand, and we used it for [the 'One Eye Shut'] remix we did for StoneBridge and Robbie Rivera — which was like five or six years ago. We recognized it! They just pitched it down,” Ingrosso said. “It’s what you do with the samples, and how you create it and how you put it together — that’s the hard part!”
Does it bother you when artists sample music or do you think it broadens artists’ potential? Let us know in the comments below.