Remix culture has been a part and parcel of electronic music since its very earliest days. It’s not surprising really, the nature of the music makes it almost uniquely malleable – and there is something about the way these complex machine rhythms and melodies can be morphed, pulled apart by fresh hands and redsigned, that plays into electronica’s sci-fi dreams.
OK, you’d probably be a bit mental if you attached that thinking to the majority of remixes you could pry out of the slag heap of dub version and bonus beats that have been cacking up every sliver of spare space aboard half the 12″s released since 1986. I have my own memories of trying to work out why I’d want a dub version, a trance version, a radio edit and ‘DJ Plumbz bangin’ ‘ardcore mental mix’ all stuck there on the wax beside the one track I wanted. Often the only noticeable difference would be how fast they were, and whether or not the 303 on one was slightly moodier than on the others. If the producer was trying particularly hard to impress himself you might get a fluttery ‘ambient’ version which only ever got played once as an act of inoculation against ever doing it again. And while it’s fun to imagine that record labels thought the average buyer open-minded enough to enjoy every one of these genre remixes, You suspect the real reasons were far more prosaic.
The other extreme was to be found in the demented grasp of producers like the Aphex Twin – a man who famously remixed the number 57 hit by Melody Maker’s favourite indy rock hearththrobs The Arse Balloons (that name may not be accurate) by stripping it down to a single hi-hat and smothering that one, tiny remaining element with burst of static, beats so skewed they induced madness, and a sample culled from Clive Dunn’s Grand Dad that had been recorded via an 80’s tape deck from Norwegian radio, and which listeners simply described as ‘horrific’, ‘criminal’, and ‘not right’.
I’ve always felt a bit uneasy around either of these approaches. The first one always smacks of knocking square pegs into round holes – which is fine until you notice how quickly the square peg loses it’s edge and flattens into some shapeless waste of time. The second is obviously far more fun, but there is something hollow and snearing about it. The remixes I’ve always loved have added something to the original. A good remix can tease, coax, perhaps even force a piece of music into something that is alien to what it was, while remaining true to its meaning; twins from different dimensions.
I don’t have many remix albums on my shelves, but I’m always glad that I had the sense to pick up Chris and Cosey’s Twist. It’s a still interesting project. Released in 1995 By T&B Vinyl, it brought together a host of fairly respectable producers to remix a collection of C and C’s tracks. While the names on the record are the obvious draw – Carl Craig, Coil, U-Ziq amongst other – the real treat is seeing what these guys bring to the work of a pair of electronic music’s god parents.
The results aren’t bad. The Tusken Raiders turn in a great version of Voodoo, taking the proto-Berlin techno whirl of the orginial and turning it into a shitkicker of a stomp. Fred Giannelli partly goes the Aphex way and dumps virtually all of Exotica’s tender tendancies in the bin and comes up with something utterly divorced from it save a faint shimmer of familiarity. What remains special is the way it sound exactly now, a tribally, dirty, grooving piece of underground techno. You could stick this on any of the last 25 LIES 12″s and it would sound like the best thing on it.
My favourite was always Vapourspace’s re-imagining of Driving Blind. It goes another route and holds faithful to the form and structure but turning the tune out into the sunlight. The original, a cold, skittish slice of mid eighties electro-pop, is remade with some warm synths and stuttering beats, which add a playfulness that sure as hell isn’t in the original. Cosey’s vocals, frosty and detached in the beginning are thawed here, delivering a wistfulness and growing delight. But no matter how far it goes from what was there originally, it never loses sight of it – even if it does go a bit wonky towards the end.
It’s tempting to look at all the bonus beats, dub version and Bad Bwoy ’93’ Junglist mixes as the currency we use to purchase the good stuff like this. If that’s true, then fine, it’s worth it. I just wish it was a little less expensive.