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These boots are made for playin'Songs called "mash-ups" (or "boots") are all the rage these days, with people taking the a cappella version of one tune and the instrumental backing of another and mashing them into a different number. Really, this style is nothing new. Since the dawn of hip hop, DJs have crafted tracks by slapping together their favorite songs. And we've seen plenty of tricksters swiping sounds and voices to form new tunes -- from Negativland pairing U2's bombast with Casey Kasem's expletives to Evolution Control Committee placing Dan Rather's soundbites over AC/DC's riffs. But after a London DJ named Freelance Hellraiser pasted Christina Aguilera over the Strokes and put the results up on the Web as "Genieus in a Bottle" late last year, the mash-up craze blew sky high.
Modern technology makes it easy to produce mash-ups. Computer applications like Acid match the tempos of songs you might want to put together. Add in the kitsch factor -- who hasn't wanted to hear Destiny's Child sing with Nirvana ("Smells Like Booty")? -- and you've got a full-blown movement.
"I think kids are having fun with it," Tomas Palermo, editor of XLR8R magazine, says of the style. "It signals this whole apex of culture we've reached -- meaning everyone's over everything."
You might think that the pranksters in the Bay Area would be cranking out boots, but so far no one's stepped forward. Kid 606 and other local techno artists have deconstructed well-known pop tunes, and the DJs at "Fake" have played mash-ups, but nobody's marrying tracks as assiduously as the Europeans.
In fact, two Belgian brothers -- Stephen and David Dewaele of the electro-rock band Soulwax -- have taken the form to the next level, releasing a fully sanctioned album of mash-ups. The pair's mix CD As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2, put out under the moniker 2 Many DJ's, is a 30-track, hourlong mash-up bonanza, with 45 of the 46 sampled songs officially licensed. (The brothers couldn't locate Carlos Morgan, the artist behind the sole exception.) According to the group's Web site, www.2manydjs.com, the process of tracking down the song rights took more than six months, with one dutiful assistant logging 865 e-mails, 160 faxes, and hundreds of phone inquiries to record companies.
The site goes on to document the difficulties in getting the OK for each track, as well as the artists who refused clearance for using the samples (including the Beastie Boys, Beck, and, uh, George Michael). Several times, the DJs sneaked denied riffs in by other means: For instance, wanting part of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" but unable to obtain the rights, they licensed Frank Delour's "Disc Jockey's Delight Vol. 2," a number that used the tune already. Covers also helped appease a need, with altered versions of Public Image Limited's "Death Disco" and ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" showing up.
But is the record any good? "I thought it was hilarious when I first heard it," XLR8R's Palermo says. "But I've heard a bit too much of those kinds of mixes to date, and it's funny once but not twice." I expected to feel the same, but the CD keeps growing on me. True, some juxtapositions become moldy after repeated listens -- Destiny's Child's "Independent Woman, Part 1" segueing into Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" works more on an intellectual level than a musical one -- but others hold up well. The marriage of the Stooges' hard-grinding "No Fun" with Salt 'n Pepa's raunchy "Push It" makes perfect sense and perfect fun, and Skee-Lo's nerdy rap number "I Wish" gains a heady strut via the Breeders' undeniable altrock hit "Cannonball." Often, a mash-up is just one well-known song plastered on top of another; 2 Many DJ's avoids this simplistic approach, sampling bits and pieces from seldom-heard or forgotten tunes. Thus, a minor '80s hit like "Oh Sheila" by Ready for the World comes alive anew when woven together with a riff from Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" and a vocal snippet from Polyester's "J'Amie Regarder Les Mecs."
The willingness of 2 Many DJ's to place underground rock and electronic numbers side by side -- and over and around each other -- is ultimately what makes As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2 so refreshing. The brothers put it best on their Web site when they describe one track they use as "proof that dance music can be quite rock 'n' roll." And vice versa.
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