Saturday, March 05, 2005

Meat the Beatles- to mash or not to mash?

You never forget your first mash-up (aka bootleg remix). For me, it was in late '01 when I heard Freelance Hellraiser's "A Stroke of Genius," taken as a snippet of British radio program with DJ patter in tact. Even though I didn't know the Christine Aguilera song, I did know the Strokes song ("Hard to Explain") it took off from and now I can't hear it without thinking of this version.

What I later realized is that I had done this myself a few years before that. I remember reading how Mutabaruka's accapella "Dis Poem" was played over backing tracks and had the same thought when I heard Sub Rosa's wonderful Lunapark compilation which Mike McGonigle accurately described as your library coming to life. So in May '99, after rigging up my stereo and my computer, I took a reading from author Brion Gysin from 1962 and laid it over some King Tubby tracks. I thought it sounded good (hear an excerpt- 442KB, WAV file) but I foolishly never bothered to take it anywhere off my computer, thinking it was just a trifle that no one would be interested in. Which is not to brag but to say how easy it is to do this and what an appealing idea it is.

Mash-up's got mixed reactions though. Village Voice editor Chuck Eddy contended that they were almost never better than the original versions they take off from. And then you have defenders like Seattle Weekly editor Michelangelo Matos who once filled his Pazz and Jop ballot mostly with these remixes. When Eddy made the mistake of joking to Matos that mash-up's wouldn't be allowed in future Pazz voting, there was almost bloodshed. As what should be more than a side-note, another passionate defender of the mashers is Vulgar Boatmens' Dale Lawrence (who should write more about the subject) and the best resource to find mashes online always seems to be Boom Selection.

After the initial thrill of 2 Many DJ's and the bootleg of the bootleg remixes The Best Bootlegs In The World Ever.., I admit that my interest starting to wane. There were too many volumes of 2 Many DJ's (it's up to volume 20 now...?) and maybe the novelty was wearing off and maybe it was because it was now co-opted and being done now by majors very badly (i.e. Jay-Z and Linkin Park).

Then along came DJ BC Presents the Beastles, which is sure to come down soon once Sony finds out about it so listen up now. The premise is obviously taken from DJ Dangermouse's The Grey Album which not only shot his own career into the mainstream world but also revived the art of mash and may have forwarded it along with an album-length concept- even now, it's a piece of musical history. BC's idea got barely any of the press that Dangermouse did and that's a shame because it's a much better album. Once again, the Fab Four are used for music but this time, the Beastie Boys are on top. Sometimes, it's too awkward to work at all ("Mother Nature's Rump" where "Shake Your Rump" meets "Mother Nature's Son") but many times, it sounds like the wonderful fun the best of the mashes are: "Tripper Trouble" with "Day Tripper" hooked up to "Triple Trouble" or "Mad World Forever" where "In A World Gone Mad" meets the psychedelica of "Strawberry Fields Forever." Though I doubt it's the case, I like to think this is a swipe at Michael Jackson (owner of the Beatles' catalog) who back in the 80's denied the Beasties the right to cover "I'm Down."

What got me thinking about this again though was a mash-up of a different sort, again involving the Beatles. Though it sounds funny on paper, I always thought the idea of joke bands like Dread Zeppelin that tried to make light of two different musical styles (you remember, they did Zep songs as reggae, headed by an Elvis impersonation) was just too damn stupid to think a second thought about. Though they wouldn't consider themselves Fab fans, Beatallica decided to wed the Brits to another famous metal group. This time, Sony did catch wind of it and they were not amused, threatening lawsuits and seeking payment for any music that the group sold. Though this site will also come down soon, some of their music can be heard at Metafilter. Musically, the band sounds like what you'd expect- a joke meta-cover band. But you have to hand it to them for some of the titles: "...And Justice For All My Loving" or "Sgt. Hetfield's Motorbreath Pub Band."

As with the Kazaa lawsuits that the RIAA carries out against home users, Sony's beef with this band isn't really about money lost directly. Again, the issue is sending a signal to anyone who's looking to do something similar without paying the toll. If the band had only offered the songs as free downloads (as DJ BC does), Sony would have still tried to stop them but would have had less legal footing. The problem is that they have high-priced lawyers to back up their threats while the likes of BC or the Beatallica wouldn't. That's the same reason that the RIAA lawsuits continue also- some of the judges in the cases have actually expressed frustration that the legality involved is not being truly tested because the defendants have to settle out of financial considerations.

One solution to this muddy legal/artistic battleground is Creative Commons's flexible licensing program, which replaces the old, outdated schemes with terms that are beneficial for both the original artists and also anyone who would utilize their works (not just professional DJ's but any home user who's got a computer and an imagination). Though the Beatles haven't signed up for it (they haven't even licensing their work to LEGAL downloading services!), one major label rap group, among others, did. Hint: they're three white rappers from New York mentioned above. Nice to see that they know what time it is.


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