What should I be doing instead of this?

Mash Pit

By Dave Davis · December 13th, 2006 · Distribution Revolution
Oliver Meinerding

As promised, we're returning to the seas of data for another pod fishin' expedition. This time we're digging a little deeper into the emerging world of "mash-ups." While not exactly podcasts, they tend to live in MP3 players and computers, and share the same distribution channels (the Web, RSS feeds). And since they are mentioned so often, it's about time we explain them.

By definition, a mash-up is a new song created from elements of two or more finished songs edited or mixed together. Also called "Bastard Pop," the genre's contribution is not in process (re-appropriation was well-explored by the Musique Concrete movement of the 1940s and '50s, groups like Negativland in the '80s and '90s, and more familiarly in Hip Hop), but in it's presentation and delivery. Mash-ups powerfully reject the fundamentals of intellectual property advanced by major media corporations in the late-20th century. They fight the power at its core, asking a simple question: Who owns a riff? Put another way: Is it criminal to re-animate our old music in new settings, or find new ways to enjoy and use that which we license?

The best mash-ups transcend their sources. Many point to Danger Mouse's Grey Album, which mashes The Beatles' "White Album" with Jay-Z's Black Album as an example of this. To me, Rx's political mashes are more interesting, not to mention more fun. Check out thepartyparty.com or look up "rx2008" on youtube.com.

You've probably seen/heard his "Sunday Bloody Sunday" remix, but his "Imagine" is a work of genius: aside from the irony of George W. Bush rapping Lennon's famous song in perfect time and tune, the chorus of "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" comes in as if it were written for the President-Artiste! There are also visuals, lending an air of truthiness we all feel. Brilliant! Sadly, I can no longer find Rx's "straight" music on his Web site, a side project he calls Me. His original "21st Century Protest Song" is even better than his mash-up work, revealing him as being as original with lyrics as he is with melody.

Just as Rx has moved from straight mash-ups to original works, there's a new wave of bootleg videos forming around high-definition video games. People are using video captures of their gaming exploits as source material for animating music videos (check out DJBeast's tracks on YouTube). As with mash-ups, these videos are commercially useless: the authors cannot sell them without infringing on the game-creator's patent and copyrights. But, these scenes and characters have become part of the fabric of their lives. So the artists do what artists do, creating the art and images that are in their minds with materials at hand. It's a compulsion, not really a choice.

Many, if not most, popular mash-up artists are DJs by trade or hobby. The tasks are similar, and DJs are good at introducing us to new songs by way of old familiar standards. This helps us reconsider our tastes in light of new relationships. DJ BC's mash-ups work like this. I've never been a big Wu-Tang fan, and I run hot/cold to many New Orleans standards, but BC's Wu Orleans mash-album made me appreciate both. Go to djbc.net/mashes, click on the Wu Orleans cover and check out Dirty Brass to see how ODB and the Dirty Brass Band make great musical bedfellows. Scroll a little further down to Phil Collins vs. NWA and "In The House Tonight." NWA stiffens Phil Collins up considerably!

Mash-ups can be slick and smooth or dissonant and off the hook. Asnivor's stuff falls into both categories (found here: asnivor.com/remixes.php). In particular, his "Superman" mash of "Eminem vs. Prodigy" is almost like a legitimate remix, while "The Streets vs. Ed Rush & Optical" is equally creative, but more than a little insane and hard to follow. Sadly, many of my favorites are gone (his "Public Enemy vs. AC/DC" was great!). That's the nature of the beast though: it's all technically illegal, so songs, sites and artists blink on, then out all the time.

Given that nature, I should pay homage to a favorite I found on an apparently now-defunct site, bastardpop.co.uk (which now displays a simple "hello" with no music). Created by Go Home Production's Mark Vidler, Ray of Gob and Submusic, both pit Madonna against The Sex Pistols to great effect. If you can find either of these gems, by all means do so: While I love the Pistols, and at least appreciate Madonna, these tracks take both artists to new places. Simply amazing stuff, yours for the Googling.

This movement is pretty much unstoppable. It hearkens a return to music's past, where everyone was both creator and audience. Before recorded music, publishing and sheet music were the gate-keepers of intellectual property. Most families had some musical instrument, and some family member to play the latest songs, as heard in concerts and purchased on paper. Today music and sounds hit us from all over, and everyone has the tools to capture and remix them. With the appearance of YouTube and the ability to freely and invisibly deliver podcasts with music, text and video, corporate owners can prevent commerce, but not creation. Anything we can see or hear we can record and remix. And so we do.

DAVE DAVIS makes records and designs new media at Sound Images.


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