When is a remix not a remix?

Something which has irked me for a really long time, and I know its petty and all that, but it does, is remixes that just sound like the original. Basically its those lazy producers that listen to a banger of a tune and rather than completely change it, just use pretty much all the parts and pass off a half assed attempt as their ‘interpretation’ To them I say vehemently… Have a little courage, make something totally different; be ORIGINAL!

“I think a remix can be easy for some producers because they do become lazy and just loop it without care. Add a few bleeps here and there and call it good. Those that actually do the work, take that original track, without dismantling it entirely, add their sound and return it in a new yet familiar form, are extremely thoughtful and creative. Not many can actually pull it off with grace. I also insist that the artist enjoy the original track to begin with. You’d be amazed by how many accept a track for remixing that they really don’t care for. There’s love in that work and if its not there, it definitely shows.” – Renee Ugarteche, A&R Manager – Perspectives Digital

Heres a few examples from over the years, 2 very well known ones and a third I really think typifies what a remix can be.
First up, Eric B & Rakim – Paid in Full (Seven Minutes of Madness – The Coldcut Remix)


When “Paid in Full” was eventually released as the album’s fifth and final single, it became a huge hit in American clubs. But it experienced much more commercial success overseas, however, thanks largely to the Coldcut remix. “Seven Minutes of Madness” was one of the first commercially successful remixes, becoming a top fifteen hit in countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom making the record label a tidy profit. Coldcut were paid 700 pounds for their remix work. Interestingly, despite its success, Eric B dismissed the remix as “girly disco music”; Rakim, however, called it the best remix he had ever heard. Coldcuts’ success with sample based remixing was later replicated by M/A/R/R/S with the first sample based number 1 single ‘Pump Up The Volume’. They also used samples of the singer Ofra Haza in that track as well.

Tori Amos – Profession Widow (Armands Star Trunk Funkin Mix)


The eponymous “professional widow” is widely rumoured to be the former wife of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor blames for the destruction of Amos’ and his friendship. In 1999, Reznor released a single called ‘Starfuckers Inc’ with “Starfucker” being a word that appears in “Professional Widow” and Armand’s cryptic remix title. The original track as you may remember was a harpsichord driven rock track, but following the success of Armands mix, a further remix was commissioned and a new CD single was released which charted highly. Armand van Helden is widely acknowledged for being one of the first producers to pioneer speed garage.

Art of Silence – West 4 (Beat Foundation’s Crowd Control Dub)


Finally, heres a personal favourite of mine by the Beat Foundation guys. The original was a 4×4 progressive house track from the golden age of progressive music, but its this remix, immortalised on Jonathan Lisle’s Bedrock mix CD OS_0.2 that really shows us where the mind of a remixer can take a track. Starting innocently enough as a piano led ambient piece, over the course of about four or five minutes elements are added to increase the tempo to a beautiful soulful drum n bass track, and back again. A marvel.

Hopefully those examples illustrate how a remix should enhance a track rather than copy it; the remix should have elements of the original but be a totally different viewpoint of the track. From a classic selling point it makes the record more commercially viable. Hands up those guys who used to buy vinyl singles with 4 remixes covering drum n bass, trip hop, breaks, techno, whatever. The remixers were carefully chosen to add the most value to a single. It can sometimes backfire though as Neil Quigley told me recently,

“The biggest bugbear for me is too many remixes. It’s a painful lesson learnt from the Urbantorque days. There was one particular big track we released which ended up having about 6/7 remixes. Some were good, others not so much, and unsurprisingly there were some striking similarities between some. Ultimately sales were good, but the original was cheapened as a stand alone track. Nowadays if I see a track with a bumper pack of originals I interpret it as either a cynical effort to cash in, or a lack of faith in the quality of the original.”

The problem lies in the terminology used – remix, re-edit, re-version, reinterpretation… the list goes on, but there are fundamental differences between them, even if its just old farts like me that see them! The word remix dates back to the 1600s but in musical terms is generally agreed to refer to the creation of a new version of a recording by recombining its constituent parts (or adding new ones) in order to enhance the original. The remix actually came into pop culture a lot earlier than one might realise. In fact some commentators believe rock bands like Led Zeppelin didn’t actually write much of their own work, but instead borrowed heavily from blues records and passed them off as their own. And although the idea of reimagining a famous song in a different style is nothing new, what bands like Led Zep did was to not accredit the artists they were essentially ripping off.  Later, with the dawn of hip hop, remix culture grew to be the dominant form of creating new tracks. Sampling was big business and DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Africa Bambaataa rose to fame with original tracks made up of familiar hooks, bass lines and melodies.

Essentially, a re-mix should have an aura of the original; its should be different enough to hold the audiences attention, but be familiar enough as to not put them off. Remixes fall into 4 groups explains Eduardo Navas,, a leading voice in this field. Extended – basically a longer version of the original song which were particularly useful for DJs. Selective – where the producers takes certain parts and makes a new track from them. The Eric B & Rakim track above is an example of this type. Reflexive – in this style the remixer is extending the aesthetic of sampling to create a version with the aura of the original but individual autonomy of its own. Material can be removed or indeed added here to create something new. The Mad Professor album ‘No Protection’ would be a good example here. Without the initial act of making the original album the Mad Professor album would not exist, and so it needs it for validation although in reality they stand up as equal pieces of art. Finally, regenerative – these are a juxtaposition of two or more element that are in constant flux and refer more to remix culture or really anything that has fluid existence. Wikipedia for example is constantly changing. Film or TV also rely heavily on this concept. Think about any of the summer blockbusters out last year and you’ll find the story lines are familiar to you even if the actors are not. Spiderman, Sin City and Green Lantern are all examples of cartoon derived stories which have been transformed (remixed) into films and TV. And not only that, but the same story gets re told over time, Hollywood are very good at making old seem new.

Movies Chart

I spoke to few music industry friends, and on the whole they also say a remix should be nothing like the original. Luke Chable even goes so far as to say he wants his remix to be better than the source material. “I guess I like to look at the parts, instead of the track itself,” he began, “ and think about how it would look from an entirely different angle.” Bulgarian DJ/Label manager D-Phrag agrees, “To me both as DJ and a label A&R, remixes are a grey area. I really don’t see the point of making a remix that barely differs from the original, by just using a different drum kit.” Anton Tumas at Subtract Music in California believes its a question of quality over quantity, “I’m very careful about whom I ask for a remix. I only want artists that will enhance the creativity and quality of the label.” Steve Parry, label head with Dave Seaman at Selador and ex Cream resident told me,

“From a label point of view, we ask a remixer specifically because we like their sound or musical vibe of recent tracks…. we give the remixer free reign to go wherever they want musically with the remix. We don’t want to pigeon hole their sound and tell them how to do the mix, otherwise we could get any engineer to replicate a remix in that style. From a DJing point of view, I like a remix that adds something to make it more appealing to the dance floor. I suppose the point of the remixer is for them to tweak and hopefully make it suitable for a slightly different dance floor, otherwise it’s just more of a re-edit.”

Its because we care about our industry that we stand up to this nonsense, and I think we should as a united collective of like minded souls, look to end the necessity of 8 remixes for a single and maybe, just maybe install a little more quality control into our respective scenes. Maybe in this way, we will see the back of the lazy remix where the producer has taken the bulk of a track and replaced the drums and percussion for some of their own. That ISNT remixing. Thats just a rip off. Stop it, you’re diluting our rich and vibrant culture in the pursuit of minimal profits. If you were to breakdown the costs involved with a release; distro, marketing, promotion, mastering, hell, writing the damn thing in the first place! it works out at bare minimum around £500 PER track. Remixers often get a flat fee upfront, its become common practice. Famously, Hip House pioneer Jason Nevins signed a contract for $5000 for his remix and massive club smash ‘It’s Like That’ by Run DMC, but had he negotiated a % deal, he could have made a small fortune from the 5 million copies it went on to sell.In retrospect, Nevins is philosophical about his choice to take what was essentially an original track to the company that owned the sample he used, “[it] was a huge mistake right there because I basically brought them what they already owned and they had free will to do with it what they wanted.”

Well known remixers, like The Freemasons or Ewan Pearson can command large fees, and thats because they are trusted engineers with a unique style that will almost always render the track they are remixing more profitable. Which leads in nicely to the concept of ghost producing. Its been happening for years, and will continue to for many more. Its not really remixing I know, but it is taking someones idea and making it your own. I kind of regenerative remix of sorts (see what I did there?!). So why does it happen? Well, in short its a necessity of modern times. If you want the plumb DJ gigs, but you suck in the studio, get a ghost producer. Once you have that small window of opportunity, the speed with which social media moves implies you need to keep pumping out the hits, so you get a ghost producer. Then theres the hours and hours of commuting between gigs. Anyone who’s ever got a plane at stupid o’clock knows your brain doesn’t function that well, so the thought of airport compositions and mixing down and road testing tracks becomes a bit of a misnomer. There are a few that can and do do this, but mostly, its ghost productions. A quick google search will find you pages and pages of potential producers, but beware, because of the cloak and dagger nature of the business, you never know who is actually at the other end of the email. It might be someone great like Thermal Bear or Diplo, but more often than not its some kid with a cracked copy of Logic 9 trying to find an in to the industry.

Which brings us full circle back to my original gripe, remixes which are not remixed. A&Rs have for all time been the guardians of quality for a particular record label. It was their job to weed out the rubbish, the rip offs, the dross, and give the public good quality music to consume. But with the advent of DIY labels and smaller independents, I’d argue the quality has diminished and the quantity has increased to a saturation point because they (the record labels) have to sell music to keep afloat. The chain of quality control now lends itself to the DJ and the music fan, and its our responsibility now to make sure that our punters get the best we can find, and I urge you to think twice about everything in your hold bins. Keep the ones which transcend time, and ditch the rushed and poorly imagined remixes.