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What does it all mean?
November 9, 2008 8:26 AM   Subscribe

What does it all mean? In many ways, today's remix culture kicked off in earnest one weekend in 1983 when two ad men (one a recording engineer) spent a weekend in a studio crafting the first pop record made up entirely of samples in the hopes of winning a $100 remix contest.

Although the record became a club hit, there was no way for it to be released commercially as there was no way to clear the 60+ samples within. Nonetheless, two followup records, Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix) and Lesson 3 (History of Hip Hop) were created. Both survived as bootlegs, with Lesson 3 never going out of print despite never being officially released.

Until now. Emboldened by Girl Talk's success (and lack of litigation), Illegal Art has released a 2-CD retrospective of Steinski's work. It's amazing how fresh the early stuff sounds today.


Bonus material:

DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist & Steinski recreating The Lessons live: Part 1, Part 2
Steinski talks about the origins of The Lessons
Download all three of The Lessons at waxy's blog
Steinski on NPR's Sound Check
Tangential bonus bonus material: Z-Trip's excellent Party for Change mix, which owes an obvious debt to Steinski's It's Up to You
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas (20 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh yeah: that remix contest? They totally won, yes.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 8:30 AM on November 9, 2008 [3 favorites]


Somewhat related - there was a really interesting discussion of remix culture and how old it might be in this thread, the Re Generation. STill has me thinking.
posted by Miko at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2008


I like the video editing in the brain freeze video. The video is cut up like the music.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2008


when i was first learning how to dj, i listened to these constantly. the funny thing is that, of course, my 16 year old brain just thought that they just spun this stuff live, which seemed impossible. so i practiced getting in and out of songs super fast in order to emulate the style. years later, i learned the magic of reel to reel and multitracking, but i really have to credit them for making me the hyperactive dj i became.

hell, i won a few contests because of that approach (stack of 40 records off to the side and 15 minutes to get through em all, club-style).

they're musical gods in my book.
posted by mrballistic at 9:38 AM on November 9, 2008 [4 favorites]


In many ways, today's remix culture kicked off in earnest one weekend in 1983

That's kind of an arbitrary point. People like Tom Moulton were remixing disco records back in the mid 70's -- taking the original record, but doing things like extending the breaks, adding percussion, dropping out vocals, etc., but doing it with tape and razor blades.

And pretty much the whole of hip hop was based upon remixing and appropriation of other records -- initially, they did it manually, as DJ's would extend breaks and dropping in basslines. Look at how one of the very earliest records, Rapper's Delight, 'samples' the bassline from Chic's Good Times.

The birth of digital samplers might have speeded up the process and made it easier, thereby allowing greater use of sampling and remixing, but sampling and remixing was a already a longstanding part of of pop music by this point.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:45 AM on November 9, 2008


I'd like a follow-up post about mashups, and particularly the process by which we've become able to mash anything up. E.g., I'm not cheating on my wife--it's a relationship mashup!
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:48 AM on November 9, 2008


Wonderful post. Thank you, whiskey.
posted by flatluigi at 9:49 AM on November 9, 2008


Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America: I'd like a follow-up post about mashups

Here you go.
posted by flatluigi at 9:51 AM on November 9, 2008


Skilled and far sighted they may have been but I think the shear un-obtainability of these records added massively their reputation. I mean in the early 80s if you wanted a set of songs segued together in such a way that you could dance to them and released in such a way as to placate the record companies you could always have Stars on 45 Beatles Medley.
posted by rongorongo at 9:54 AM on November 9, 2008


That's kind of an arbitrary point. People like Tom Moulton were remixing disco records back in the mid 70's -- taking the original record, but doing things like extending the breaks, adding percussion, dropping out vocals, etc., but doing it with tape and razor blades.

Tape and razor blades is how Steinski and Double Dee created the Lessons, yeah. It is kind of an arbitrary point, though, you're right. To be a little more precise, this is sort of where today's throw-everything-from-every-genre-together-and-come-out-with-a-new-piece aesthetic can be traced.
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 10:29 AM on November 9, 2008


> In many ways, today's remix culture kicked off in earnest one weekend in 1983

That's kind of an arbitrary point.


Indeed, 1956's Buchanan & Goodman might be a little miffed.
posted by WCityMike at 11:17 AM on November 9, 2008


The first record made up entirely of samples I ever heard was the Residents' "Beyond the Valley of a Day in the Life" (1977) made up entirely of Beatles related audio. You can't dance to it, but it is indeed made up entirely of samples.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 12:06 PM on November 9, 2008 [5 favorites]


I think "today's remix culture kicked off in earnest" is exactly the right phrase to describe what happened after the Steinski records started to drop. Steinski has always cited Buchanan and Goodman as an influence, and he was certainly aware of the pioneering work of early hip-hop producers.

But what Steinski really crystallized was the notion of the remixologist as the ultimate fanboy, a crate-digging recontextualizer of beats and pop-cultural moments from all corners of the media. You listen to Steinski's mixes and they're not just about the beats and other elements -- they're about who Steinski is, what events and jingles got stuck in his head during childhood and beyond. (In the outstanding "It's Up to You", you also get a pretty crystal sense of his politics.) He was a direct influence on DJ Shadow and Coldcut, and I don't think anyone would deny that the work they did has been hugely influential on contemporary "remix culture." And, well, Steinski was there before them.

Seems pretty clear to me that there's a real "before Steinski" and "after Steinski" divide. I never tire of listening to this stuff!

Ohyeahonemorething: back in the summer of 2007, Steinski actually returned to the air on WFMU, where he was a DJ years ago. The RealAudio archives of those one-hour shows are available here.
posted by Joey Bagels at 1:22 PM on November 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Fantastic stuff...thanks for the girl talk videos.
posted by schyler523 at 4:40 PM on November 9, 2008


Excellent post, thanks for the context! Turns out I'd heard a bit of Steinski without knowing it in sample form in DJ Food's Raiding the 20th Century, which if anyone enjoys this sort of thing and hasn't given a listen yet I heartily recommend.
posted by kaspen at 5:36 PM on November 9, 2008


Yeah, The Residents were doing this way earlier than 1983. Third Reich n' Roll came out in 1976.
posted by DecemberBoy at 6:19 PM on November 9, 2008


By the way, the "What does it all mean?" sample comes from newsreel footage of Fiorello LaGuardia reading the Dick Tracy comic strip over the radio during a 1945 newspaper strike in New York City. The sample comes in the YouTube clip at about 1:26-1:29 minutes in.
posted by jonp72 at 7:04 PM on November 9, 2008


today's remix culture kicked off in earnest one weekend in 1983

Whatev. C'mon, that's not only patently absurd, it's incorrect!
posted by humannaire at 7:08 PM on November 9, 2008


Just so I don't come off as an ignoramus, I'm spottily familiar with the history of music that appropriates recorded sound going back to musique concrète (although there are huge gaps in my knowledge). I am also a longtime Residents fan.

I certainly don't want anyone to think that I'm saying that no one had touched the form before Steinski came along. Hell, John Oswald did "Power" (sorry, can't find a link) in 1975. But I think that Bagel Boy pretty well nails what I meant when I said that today's remix culture "kicked off in earnest" with these recordings. Today's remix pop culture. Today's "predominant" remix culture?
posted by 2or3whiskeysodas at 6:25 AM on November 10, 2008


I wonder if I'll get a C&D from Illegal Art now.
posted by waxpancake at 1:20 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]


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