Mashup Academia

Interesting when academics and music theorists (or in this case philosophers) talk about mashups, something I know very well if you are a frequent reader (if not: this blog started at the second mashup podcast ever – the first fizzled out – for the first year or so, broadening out into DIY remix and music generally but always with a mashup base with interviews and such like – and I’ve been making mashups since 2003, and hanging out with many of the mashup artists mentioned in this show since 2001-2).

I’m glad they referred to Clubhouse, something we’ve championed here for something like over decade, those early disco ‘medleys’. Not totally sure about the ‘5 rules’ – yes A vs B / layering is important, but the rules should include humour. They did cover it later in the Jordan Earworm interview, but the first of the new breed of mashups (well actually bootlegs and bastard pop back then, mashups as a term didn’t arrive til 2004-5) like Evolution Control Committee in 1996 were not pop, nor dance (rule #5). That’s not where it was in 2001-3.

Humour and the distance between the sources was a big part, the joke, a loving joke on the industry but also a fan’s in-joke in a lot of ways. That’s how you had the arty side like Osymsyso, ECC, even People Like Us nestling with the pop mashups, the ones that got played on Radio 1 and XFM, etc. That’s where I came from, via Negativland, it’s only later I realised that there was an earlier history past house and hiphop, the DJ medley and specialist ‘drop in’ records, although I knew of Steinski already.

What happened to that humour? Well money got involved…people started getting hits. Then it changed, and became about marketing nostalgia – like Girl Talk’s ADD 30 seconds ‘remember this?’ drops – and funnily enough back to Stars on 45 and Jive Bunny medleys. Which I think they were hinting at with this show, but it does come full circle…along with accursed multi-mashes and EDM medleys, stringing hit after hit. I’ve argued that a true A vs B is harder, since it’s easy to make a small ‘drop in’ part work, but a whole acapella or instrumental, where you can’t drop much of the original of either, you have to match or work with the structure, the middle 8, the keys, the timing. It’s a purer artform.

I heard about this podcast via Felix Five and MsMiep – btw it’s not alone, there is a site called Mashademia, which I’ve skimmed a few posts – really disagree with the Wax Audio one, since difference and humour is only one criteria, although an important one. But having been dragged in to answer questions in quite a few mashup theses, the odd book, even had my podcast used in post-grad teaching – I do get concerned with a lot of analysis of mashups. Yes some, like Jordan and GHP have highly musical backgrounds…but many of us like myself don’t really have any theory, just trial and error and ear. I doubt Roy Freelance Hellraiser thought in depth about resolving the chords or that it sounded jazzy, just that it sounded good…maybe he did. Roy? Are you out there?

It does raise the interesting questions, if someone does something musically amazing by accident, was it their intention, does that diminish the work because they didn’t have the theory or academic knowledge? And is analysing it a bit like pulling the curtain away from the Wizard of Oz, revealing their lack of guile, and imposing an extra layer that was never intended or known?

And so it feels a bit strange when someone does an academic or musicologist analysis of these works. Their intention wasn’t the same – they are too naughty, transgressive and funny to be sensible academia, and their intentions go way beyond the dancefloor, pop radio, or even sometimes music theory. I can see they are a child of post-modernism, the stuff of metatextual comment, juxtaposition and all that – but to pin them down like bugs in a case seems to miss the point. In a modern sense they defy such analysis somewhat being amorphous – as a friend said, what would they make of Crumplbangers? Soundclown? All these memetic jokes within jokes within jokes…I’d guess the likes of Adorno would explode, and Barthes would lose his punctum up his rectum 😉

They are undanceable jokes for the dancefloor or unlistenable tunes for the ear. Some analysis is good, but I do worry that much of it is (not) dancing around architecture – or indeed in the case of co-opting new ideas to sell old ones, like ‘mashup’ got stolen by geeks wanting a sexy term for beta software, tarting up dry theory with a nice pair of speedos or a bikini. In a way it was always thus, but makes me slightly suspicious of it, although it’s flattering.

One Comment

  1. Felix
    April 14

    Here here Tim, a well thought out (and measured) critique.

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