January 9, 2005 9:22 PM   Subscribe

Meet the mashups.
posted by semmi (37 comments total)
This reminds me of Jimmy Fallon's bit about the ability of any 80s song to be sung over "Can't Touch This" (or "Superfreak," if you will).

Perhaps it's cool of the New Yorker to be covering this, but I'm nagged by the suspiscion that when mainstream media starts covering a fad, the best or most creative part of it is over. As a DC native, I trust that when the Washington Post has an article on "the latest cool thing" that really means that it isn't cool anymore.

Also, our fearless leader had some cool things to say about this a month ago. Maybe Sasha Frere-Jones reads his blog or something.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:43 PM on January 9, 2005

Surely, if the New Yorker has found out about mashups, they must be dead.
posted by interrobang at 9:44 PM on January 9, 2005

regardless of whether or not they are cool, I still think that mashup artists, just like good dj's, can be very creative. Just grab any of Soulwax's Too Many DJ's and you'll hear what I mean. I checked out the that was mentioned in the article and it has some nice ones. I'm currently listening to this mp3 right now. Sweet.
posted by daHIFI at 9:58 PM on January 9, 2005

I've been all over mashups lately. They are interesting and fun.

The best mashup I've heard is Nelly's lyrics to Country Grammar over the top of the music to Sweet Home Alabama. Everyone I've played it for has their jaw hit the ground. It mashes, I mean, meshes up very well.

Check it for your self here.
"Sweet Home Country Grammar"

. . .and no, I do not know the artist(s)
posted by mikeinclifton at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2005

I'm feeling so square. A quick search turned up this mashup of the Beatles and the Beastie Boys... the Beastles, of course. I just downloaded the whole lot.
posted by frecklefaerie at 10:00 PM on January 9, 2005

One name: Party Ben.

Weekly 30 minute mashup sets that feature the best the mash-up scene has to offer. His own "Boulevard of Broken Songs" is pretty darn decent as well.

And no, I don't know him personally. I voted for Bush, thus he hates me.
posted by mediamelt at 10:11 PM on January 9, 2005

Oooooooh, thanks mediamelt, "Boulevard of Broken Songs" is really darn cool, although it somehow makes me feel a bit chagrined for liking all those songs... echoes of this thread, I guess.
posted by Occultatio at 10:50 PM on January 9, 2005

Frecklefaerie: Thanks for the Beastles link. I think that's the first mashup where I didn't just think, "That was neat" and then delete the song, but actually added the song to my collection.
posted by Bugbread at 11:31 PM on January 9, 2005

The mashup song I've stuck with the longest has been "Zurich Your Shoulder" from dj n-wee's Slack Album (Pavement vs. Jay-Z). Damn that's hot.
posted by rustcellar at 12:35 AM on January 10, 2005

I can't believe I just read an interview with Eddy Temple-Morris in The New Yorker. Almost didn't get to finish the article as I was distracted by the pigs flying past my window...

And as regards the "Boulevard of Broken Songs", my respect for the skills involved in creating it almost eclipse my total, absolute and everlasting hatred of the lyrics of that Green Day abomination that dares to call itself a song. Hackneyed, cliched, lazy songwriting of the lowest order. Shite, basically. The melody's alright, but gosh, the lyrics are just insulting.

/rant off
posted by LondonYank at 3:00 AM on January 10, 2005

Mashups and variants have been getting various level of coverage for a few years now -- first here, I believe, in early 2002. That thread is where I heard about them.

Since then, I've followed the scene, listed to the music and enjoyed very high quality work. Last year's DJ Danger Mouse debacle brought some pretty bad quality work to the forefront (Kno's remix being an exception), and though it introduced many people to the scene, I fear it may be the turning point for these little things. To wit, browsing GYBO has become quite a different experience lately -- quite like when AOL unleashed its less saavy users upon the open Internet sometime ago.

Hopefully this will just be a brief shakeup and things will settle down, letting the quality return to what it was... but it's probably going to get worse before it gets better, given this sort of coverage.
posted by VulcanMike at 5:08 AM on January 10, 2005

As Jennifer Justice, of Carroll, Guido & Groffman, Jay-Z’s law firm,

Now I understand. Jay-Z has a superhero lawyer!
posted by srboisvert at 5:21 AM on January 10, 2005

Evolution Control Commitee.


Rocked by Rape. It even has a video.

And, yeah, it makes you go "whoa".

Just about everything they've ever done is available for free download, mainly because just about everything they've ever done breaks most if not all of the copyright laws of the U.S.

But damn if it doesn't get the dance floor jumping at my club.
posted by daq at 7:22 AM on January 10, 2005

DJ Danger Mouse debacle brought some pretty bad quality work to the forefront...

He did some quality mashups released on vinyl only prior to his breakthrough - Xzibit/Radiohead, Top Billin'/Air, Nas/Portishead...
posted by iamck at 8:01 AM on January 10, 2005

The Avalanches' Gimix mix (which was the genesis of their "Since I left You" album before they got the samples cleared) or any of their Breezeblock or XFM sets. Masterpieces.
posted by phirleh at 8:03 AM on January 10, 2005

I'm still hooked on the two year old Asha Bhonsle / Nelly Furtado "Like a Bird" mashup (which later got commercially released). It's the only mashup that's stayed on my iPod so far.

Sweet Home Country Grammar is awfully cool though. Thanks for all the links!
posted by Songdog at 8:24 AM on January 10, 2005

I have a legitimate question, if anyone's still reading this thread: What's so fascinating and commendable about mashups? I've been hearing about them for years, and I'm tempted to suggest that creating a mashup is not art, it's bookkeeping. It's administrative. It's organizational. A librarian can be a very good librarian, but a librarian is not a novelist.

I don't buy Frere-Jones's reasoning. He rambles and fetishizes but refrains from persuading the skeptic that the mashup should elicit anything more than a cute, condescending chuckle. Certainly, something like the 50 Cent / Nine Inch Nails mix is kind of interesting, but it's just a couple of songs mixed together, not a passionate expression of raw human emotion, like the original Reznor song. Yes, it can be argued that juxtaposition is commentary, but is it art, is it any good, and does it deserve our attention? If so, why?

This is NOT a troll, by the way. I am seriously interested in this issue, as it has bugged me for some time, and I'm too polite to confront my DJ friends about it directly.
posted by gramschmidt at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2005

gram - I'll give it a shot.

I'd suggest try making a mashup yourself and you will find out either a) this is a bit trickier than you thought at first and takes a good ear or b) this is so easy i can do it in my sleep (then you're on your way to stardom and i eat my words- happily cause i get to hear your funky ideas!). I say this because I've found myself in the position of defending hiphop against live-drummerish claims of "the beats are too simple." My response is to ask said drummer to play the beats then - and they are invariably unable to play the damn thing.
There can be a surprising amount of creativity and levels of complexity in the "just mixing two tunes together" form, be it dj or masher-upper. sometimes its not so obvious though, due to that "they make it look easy" thing that happens so much in the creative sphere. For example, I've been known to mix the a capella from "milkshake" with Apache by Incredible Bongo Band. Doing this on the fly (meaning in front of people - using two records) requires split second timing, knowing when to cut out certain vocal phrases that clash, having the two tunes beatmatched as well as possible, but still speeding up and slowing down the a capella the whole time because it is sung to a machine beat, and Apache is played by live musicians so its not locked onto on time signature. Not that exciting maybe when all said and done, but it takes some skill to pull of and some creativity to envision how to do it.
posted by 31d1 at 10:16 AM on January 10, 2005

With more reflection - i'd agree that people might give more credit to mashups than need be - there is a great deal of more technically accomplished, made-from-scratch, more deeply felt music out there, but there's also so much crap out there that's supposed to be "original" that it's hard for me to find it even worth debating.

Ad there is somewhat of a mashup ethos I've come across from multiple sources along these lines:

If the record companies keep putting out total crap and expecting us to swallow it and grin then we'll just cut and paste it into something we can stand a bit more, that's a bit more fun to listen to, and doesn't take itself so seriously.
posted by 31d1 at 10:25 AM on January 10, 2005

31d1 -- 1st: But in this sense, performing a mashup live is akin to reading someone else's famous poem on open-mic night. Certainly, it requires some skill and creativity to make "Because I could not stop for death" lively and engaging, but it simply doesn't require the level of experience, skill and emotional investment that writing it did.

You are right about the usual gulf between the naysayer and the performer: any live drummer who paints "hip hop" with a brush broad enough to dismiss all of the beats therein obviously hasn't been listening closely enough to ?uestlove.

Here again, though: The Roots is a group of artists. It takes skill and experience and emotion to do what they do. Their best tracks combine lyrical and musical (and, yes, the occasional sample-related bit of) dexterity and precision to create a wholly original and instantly recognizable piece of art, worthy of emphasis. Can the same be said of the guy who says, "Hey, 'Thought@Work' and this random piece of crass Top 40 bullshit have approximately the same tempo and similar melodic elements. I think I'll have my software stick them together"?

Don't get me wrong. I like librarians. I'm just not certain that what they do in their capacity as librarians deserves artistic acclaim (or a piece in The New Yorker) like that given to the books being librarian-ized.

And neither am I claiming that mashup makers are being universally canonized as great artists. I just find it odd that they've gained the level of notoriety that they have.

2nd: If it's a fight-the-power thing, then I'm all for it. I will wholeheartedly support any mashup that attempts to make crass, cookie-cutter pop listenable, provided it's attempted in that spirit. But I suspect that not all mashups of Top 40-type stuff are.

Additionally, several mashups are using otherwise good music. Take the 50 Cent / NIN thing, for instance. I can't speak very highly of the artistry of "In Da Club", but "Closer" is a great track, perhaps one of my favorite songs of the entire 90s. Is the mashup greater than the sum of its parts? Not even close. Is it curious and slightly novel? Sure.

But is it art, and is it good?

I don't know.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:21 AM on January 10, 2005

When I was a kid, I used to mix up bizarre combinations of food and eat them. As I got older, I thought the whole idea was pretty silly and stopped doing it.

I expect the mash-up to go through the same thing.
posted by flarbuse at 11:49 AM on January 10, 2005

To determine whether mash-ups are art, you must first define "art," and people have been trying to do that for thousands of years. All I know is that I enjoy listening to them. I appreciate a good concept and good execution. A well made mash-up can be moving and compelling (vocals from the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" over the instrumental track of Radiohead's "Karma Police," with just a touch of "I am the Walrus") or silly and goofy (the music of Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" backing Sir Mix-A-Lot as he raps "Baby Got Back"). If you don't enjoy them, don't listen to them. Seriously, it doesn't hurt anybody if you don't care. Whether or not they meet some nebulous standard of "art" shouldn't matter.
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:55 AM on January 10, 2005

Mashups are artistic, but they're not art. I agree with gramschmidt. All things that are not creative are not art -- art challenges the status quo, and if everyone already knows what it's like to mix a hip hop artists and a rock band (the most common) or a dance song with a disco song (less common), then it's ceased to be art.

Duschamp was a genius for exibiting the bicycle wheel and "fountain." But if you did so today, you'd be laughed out of a gallery. Mashups are technically cool, and creative, but are mostly conceptual as art, and therefore their creation is more like a conceptual art piece, and not like a performance piece or more intensely-technical artistic work.

They certainly bring a smile to my face and a pop-n-lock in my step. I listen to them all the time. But they're not a new art form.
posted by zpousman at 12:06 PM on January 10, 2005

But is it art, and is it good?
I don't know.

That's a decision only you can make. Ordering artists from best to worst (and excluding some from the list entirely) is a highly personal thing. I'd definitely put the Roots high on any list, but lower than J. Coltrane and others on that tip. But I personally find more artistry and creativity in a weak mashup than a completely played out (in both senses of the term) Linkin Park "original" but who am I to say. Personally I really dig the Grey Album and most of Meet the Beastles, and artistically they meet my rule-of-thumb criterion of providing something that I could not get from either album. If I listen to The Black Album, and then listen to The White Album, I don't feel like I've heard the Grey one.

While most of the music i make uses unrecognizably tiny samples that you would be hard pressed to source, a couple tracks I have made have sampled rather long and recognizable phrases from another song, but i don't feel like a hack from it, cause I get something completely different from my version than the original even though I can hear the original behind it. If i had just laid a heavier snare over the original and looped a phrase ala P Diddle I wouldn't feel proud - if i did and it came out hot then I wouldn't try to take credit - I'd be all "dude all i did was stick a snare on a old soul loop big deal. sounds good though, right" :)
posted by 31d1 at 12:18 PM on January 10, 2005

Whether or not they meet some nebulous standard of "art" shouldn't matter.

Except when they become the subject of a high-profile article in The New Yorker.

Moving, compelling, silly, goofy -- certainly, a mashup can be any of these things, and I've heard mashups that have been all of these things. I've heard them and become curious. But after my curiosity was piqued, I quickly forgot about them. I'm just questioning the wisdom of giving the mashup undue attention when I'm still not sure that what's being done requires anything more than a reasonably good ear and software skill. "If you don't enjoy them, don't listen to them," avoids the issue. I've enjoyed several of them. But, like flarbuse, I've tried whimsical food pairings before, and I don't think that combining salsa and almond butter is worthy of acclaim simply because they come in similarly shaped bottles.
posted by gramschmidt at 12:27 PM on January 10, 2005

Sheesh - I really don't mean to go on about this but I must.

Lois Armstrong said early last century "There's no new notes". And this was before we built up a the bulk of a century's worth of recorded music. At this point I don't see anything especially more creative than mixing two beats together in picking up a guitar and forming a band consisting of (yawn) a bass player and a drummer and a singer. The Duchamps of music have staked out all the territory. And what's increasingly the thing left to do is to combine different arts in an interesting new ways. We can yearn for a time when creativity in music was still possible, or pretend that some things still have merit while others do not, or just follow our creative drives wherever they may lead with as little in the way of pretension to grandeur as possible.
I hear people say that learning an instrument takes skill and cutting and pasting do not. Where does that leave me, someone who has spent years playing "instruments" and now spends most of my time cutting and pasting - mostly cause the raw material is there and i don't feel the need to make it up from scratch all the time. For me, previously recorded material is like paint. I could mix my own from painstakingly mined pigments, or I can go down to the art store and get some made up nice and concentrate on what I'm gonna paint.

On preview: I think you could safely say that mashups are overrated, but no more than the last 50 overhyped pop trends.
posted by 31d1 at 12:41 PM on January 10, 2005

Whether or not they meet some nebulous standard of "art" shouldn't matter.

Except when they become the subject of a high-profile article in
The New Yorker.

You give The New Yorker a whole lot more credit than I do. Whether or not they print an article about any given subject has absolutely no bearing on my opinion of it. Why are they the arbiter now?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:53 PM on January 10, 2005

n. pl. i·ro·nies

1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.
2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning.
3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect. See Synonyms at wit1.
1. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain).
2. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity. See Usage Note at ironic.
posted by interrupt at 2:20 PM on January 10, 2005

Gram, let me give it a shot, too.

Why are writers of history books considered writers? After all, they're just collecting facts that are already out there. However, it is the facts that they manage to dig up and the conclusions they're able to draw that make their work compelling (if they're any good), and not everyone can do that.

Similarly, mashup artists have to comb through an amazing amount of material to find good mashup potential, then assemble that material in a compelling way. It's very easy to do a mashup, but not easy to do a good one.

After all, music is just math, right? Anyone should be able to do it, and for the most part they can -- but relatively few can do it WELL.

Hope that helps.
posted by davejay at 3:36 PM on January 10, 2005

Oh, almost forgot to mention: the best mashup I have in my collection is a mash of Eminem's song "Without Me" with a ragtime piano number. Yes, you read that correctly.

If you've ever wondered why his rap can be so compelling, you should hear this -- he is essentially rapping in ragtime. Absolutely phenomenal as a musical curiosity, and not at all obvious as a mashup unless you've got a really good ear.
posted by davejay at 3:39 PM on January 10, 2005

davejay, can you e-mail that to me? username@gmail Or, is it online somewhere?

That sounds awesome.
posted by graventy at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2005

The Eminem/ragtime mash-up is one of my favorites, too. In all fairness, it should just be said that it's one of everyone's favorites. The title is "Marshall's Been Snookered," and it's by the Freelance Hairdresser. You can get it here.

And interrupt, would you care to elaborate on that definition snark? Did I miss some irony? Did I inadvertently commit some? Was that not directed at me at all? I'm honestly confused, and I'd like to respond (or, if necessary, apologize) if a response from me is warranted.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:46 PM on January 10, 2005

mr. butt, I believe you're being reprimanded for taking the line about the NYer seriously.

Thanks for the links all. Some fun stuff.
posted by mdn at 8:05 PM on January 10, 2005

Why [is The New Yorker] the arbiter now?

It's not the arbiter, but it's an extremely well-known, respected, and discerning publication with a reputation for quality writing and analysis beyond that of most other magazines. You might not give a damn about what they print, but lots of people do. It transcends DJ culture. Most people are not as secure in their tastes as you or I may be. They can easily be swayed by print media and, in the case of The New Yorker, by the fact that the article exists. It's not the arbiter, but it is influential. (Yes, FoB, I was being serious. Fuck irony.)

Armstrong said early last century "There's no new notes".

And Duke Ellington said, "If it sounds good, it is good." Both are reasonable dicta, but are far too simplified to be used for critical analysis. And, 31d1, I like your painting analogy, except that it seems as though the whole point of a mashup is to draw attention to the songs being used. A painter doesn't care if anyone knows which particular reds or greens he has used, just whether the end product is any good.

I suppose it would be valuable to distinguish between DJ-ing and mashup-making, since the DJ, though acutely aware of what beats or tracks he's utilizing, appears to be more interested in creating a certain mood, atmosphere, feel or intensity, using -- much like a painter -- existing sounds, loops, samples and textures, both recognizable ones and more subtle ones.

When DJ friends give me their latest mixes, they almost never provide a list of what they've used (unless it's an official promo disc). After I've heard it, they just want to know what I thought, whether it flowed well, whether it had the intended effect or any effect at all. They clearly intend the whole to stand on its own as greater than the sum of its parts. (DJs: Am I completely off-base here?)

By contrast, a mashup maker seems concerned more with displaying how clever he is for putting two parts right next to each other. Taking into account what davejay said, a proper analogue might be an artist who notices that a Cezanne and a Titian share a similar theme or composition and skillfully overlays two translucent prints. He may very well be making a historical connection and drawing attention to strengths and weaknesses of each artist and work of art, and his final product may be interesting and even enthralling in its own right, but does that final product deserve attention and placement alongside the originals?

I think I've positioned myself to admit that Ellington was more correct than I'd wagered. 31d1's "rule-of-thumb criterion of providing something that I could not get from either album" appears perfectly legitimate.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:09 PM on January 10, 2005

davejay: "Marshall's Been Snookered" functions for me like the conceptual art noted above. Curious, interesting, slightly invigorating -- and ultimately a little feeble. I don't like concluding that I simply don't share the respect for mashups that others do, but I think that's where I'm headed.
posted by gramschmidt at 11:13 PM on January 10, 2005

Most are crap, but man oh man, the good ones are utterly amazing and more than the sum of their parts. My favorite would have to be "Love Will Freak Us."
posted by Vidiot at 8:49 PM on January 11, 2005

I'll jump back in here, because my argument about a recent decline in bootleg quality and gramschmidt's questions of bootleg value as art are somewhat related.

I hesitate to create a definition of art, or good art, especially for something like music. Ultimately, people listen to music because it entertains them.

I believe bootlegs have the same artistic potential as any other music -- some tracks are boring and do nothing more than show that 50 Cent can be laid over -- well, just about anything. Certainly we've all heard original music that sounds like it was composed with very little quality concern.

31d1's rule of thumb is a good starting point for a track's consideration as a "good" bootleg.

Changing a backing track can have a significant impact on the perceived meaning of a track -- imagine, for example, Ice Cube's laid back, summer track "It Was a Good Day" placed over an upbeat drum track. Suddenly, a stoned-out Sunday becomes a bit more on edge.

Even more, bootlegs provide very new ways to appreciate the vocal and music tracks of different songs. Some of TLC's later songs come to mind -- some absolutely beautiful singing and the meaning conveyed through that singing is lost with the instrumentation of the original tracks. Several bootlegs have emphasized the vocal accomplishments of those songs much better than the originals.

The same can be said for rap vocals. I completely appreciate some artists more (and some less) after hearing their vocal tracks with different instrumentation. I appreciate Jay-Z much more after hearing Kno's remix of the Black Album.

There's a lot to be heard -- I've listened countless bootlegs and have heard some tracks that have truly surprised and impressed me, and definitely made me say "This is new art." If you haven't gotten close to that experience, listen some more!

Sorry for the lack of specific song references -- I'm shooting for long comment rather than detailed essay :-)
posted by VulcanMike at 10:30 AM on January 23, 2005

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