Mix Mastery

I'd say this would go over quite well at a Grand Royal magazine party. The Beasties & Co. would get off on the camp of Peggy Lee and the groove of the Meters that the B-Boys tried to emulate on Check Your Head.

The Document fills me with dread.

I've long made fun of musicianship for musicianship's sake and can recall chiding a friend for owning a Kitaro tape only because "the pitches are perfect." Now that I am a musician of sorts (I DJ to supplement my near non-existent writing income), I find myself perhaps for the first time ever admiring a record on technical grounds and getting cloudy-headed whenever I try to assess its musical merit. And I fear I'm crossing over to the jargon-soaked, emotionless realm my friends always

assumed I occupied while listening hard to music when all along I've really

just been searching for the ultimate in a shameless beauty that will push

teardrops behind my eyeballs.

But I cannot tell a lie. What excites me most about Portishead DJ Andy Smith's The Document, the zaniest mix-CD ever released through major-league (and probably even minor-league) distribution, is how seamlessly Smith mixes

from Marvin Gaye's "T Plays It Cool" into Tom Jones "Looking Out My Window" or from "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel" into Peggy Lee's version of "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay." This is the kind of DJ I

always thought I'd be when I first started learning how to mix. Sick of

hearing the same-old at this Club X, I would use my ridiculously eclectic

tastes in music to spin the craziest, most all-over-the-map sets ever.

Ha, fat chance! Once you learn how difficult it is to mix two records from

even the same genre together, you start to understand why you rarely hear

unbridled eclecticism in the clubs. Electronic dance music dominates the

dance floor because it's, well, electronic. Or, to get technically precise for

a moment here, electronic music is quantized. That is, all notes played fall

on the nearest specified beat and maintain an exact rhythmic position

throughout the entire song. This makes it easier (key word) to mix two beats

together since they never waver off-rhythm. Songs played by silly little

humans, on the other hand, are by nature going to be off the beat a little (or

a lot, depending on the skill of the musician) making it incredibly difficult

to match the beats of two such records.

Incredibly difficult but not impossible. Andy Smith does it here. And I greatly admire the skill with which he mixes Jeru the Damaja into the Meters into the James Gang. Here you should hope that ATN records the mixes for you to hear rather than the raw material songs themselves. You know (or should

know) what "Cissy Strut" sounds like but you've never heard it in and out of "Funk #49" and "Come Clean" and that's where all the drama of The Document lies for me. And, needless to say, I admire just the fact that Smith even

knows about such records and took the time to figure out whether or not they'd work together. DJs can be a mighty myopic bunch and it's refreshing to

hear one with such a gluttonous passion for music.

But as a pomo pop-music critic first and foremost, I like the idea of mixing

Jeru the Damaja into the Meters into the James Gang. In a perfect,

multifarious musical universe, that should seem like a natural occurrence. But

here's where I find it difficult to assess the musical worth of such an undertaking. A mix is only as good as its raw material. I find that once the thrill of the mix is over, I get bored with many of these tracks.

And there's one crucial element I've neglected to mention so far, an ingredient that a DJ does a lot of existential wrestling with -- an audience.

I'm still not sure how well The Document dances. There are some abrupt shifts,

like the one from "Funk #49" into Barry White/Love Unlimited's "Can't Seem To

Find Him," that might make a dance floor scatter. Even a flawless mix from S.L.

Troopers' "Movement" to the Spencer Davis Group's "I'm A Man" isn't so seamless simply because the styles are so opposed. For the record, I'd get

lynched if I played it in Milwaukee. My floor has a very circumscribed type of

music they want to hear. Can even Smith himself find an audience for this?

This isn't to suggest that one doesn't exist. If pressed, I'd say this would

go over quite well at a Grand Royal magazine party. The Beasties & Co. would

get off on the camp of Peggy Lee and the groove of the Meters that the B-Boys tried to

emulate on Check Your Head. The raps are a shoo-in and the pimpier tunes fit

their mock-sexist craziness. But the fact that Jeru's "I snatch fake gangsta

MCs and make them faggot flambé" has survived Smith's scratch and mix

unscathed suggests The Document's eclecticism isn't as utopian as it at first seems.