[Week 7] Rip/Mix/Burn: music sampling and the rise of remix culture

As a prelude to this weeks blog post, I will include one of the recommended videos to watch should you feel – as a lot of the context of this post will be contained within this video.

This week’s topic seemed to be a bit different from the topics of the previous weeks, given it’s heavy music focus; a genre of music that I have generally stayed away from entirely with the exception of one artist that I felt particularly drawn to for sentimental reasons.

Naively and stubbornly, I always considered sample and remix culture to be somewhat bland, dull and unoriginal. As an angsty teen my afternoons were spent jamming out to death/black/progressive metal; I was drawn to the minor tones, the raw emotion in the music, and heaviness of the music – perhaps because I was a rather angsty teenager. However, being brought up by a very musical father and having an older brother that started his teenage years as a punk in a private school, I believed that any music that wasn’t made with instruments was really music. How wrong I was.

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It turns out – I just didn’t have the proper appreciation (I DID say I was naive). The rise of remix culture in music seemed to go hand in hand with the post-modern and pop-culture art movements. In much the same way that I didn’t consider rap, hip-hop and pop to be proper music, many people didn’t consider the work of Andy Warhol or Marcel Duchamp to be real art.

So imagine my surprise at discovering that one of the most common beats in the world, the Amen Break, was actually an appropriation itself of a 6 second drum break in an almost forgotten song. I had no idea that this was the basis of so many songs, and so important to the world of remix culture and electronic music, until watching this week’s source material.

As previously mentioned, there was an artist who wasn’t metal or rock that I used to be rather drawn to – Pendulum. Ironically enough, it was a collaboration between that band and another of my metal favourites (In Flames) that I was actually made aware of the fact that electronic drum and bass was actually cool. I used to work at a lasertag arena hosting parties and I really loved the sport – and Pendulum was one of the few artists we were allowed to play in our arena. Whenever I had the chance to play myself, I used to blast the music as loud as I could without getting in trouble from my boss for blowing the speakers and disturbing the customers (it was a really cool job).

The music really got the blood pumping – it was fast, it was fun to listen to, it didn’t take itself too seriously; and this could be, in part, to the band being heavily influenced by jungle sound from their earlier days. So upon listening to that sample of the Amen Break, I was immediately able to place that contextually within Pendulums’ music, particularly in their album Hold Your Colour, which was heavily influenced by “Jungle Sound”. The song Through the Loop in particular uses the above sample, and is a perfect example of remix culture, also including samples of Willy Wonka’s eery speech in the tunnel from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

I’ll admit that my previous dislike of appropriation culture probably lies within my disappointment as a youngster from being excited to hear Queen’s Under Pressure but feeling severely ripped off when it turned out to be Ice Ice Baby. I held a supreme dislike for that song – outraged at this blatant disrespect to one of the best artists in the world. Queen was clearly superior. How could Vanilla Ice get away with this? Spoiler – he didn’t. He was sued.

Copyright is a whole other kettle of fish, but not one I’ll really touch on too deeply. However, it does bring me to this weeks meme of the day!

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I feel the caption is pretty self explanatory – but I chose this image to pair it with due to the controversy surrounding it. The artist, Shephard Fairey, was sued for his use of an image of Barack Obama which was legally owned by The Associated Press. The appropriated image became the pinnacle image of the USA’s 2008 election; it is also an example of what happens when appropriation and remix culture is undertaken without the appropriate permissions and copyright is not respected.

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It is entirely possible that in the future, remix culture will be driven to extinction by copyright holders becoming increasingly wary of controversies surrounding the use of their material, and how it can be held against them. I hope that this doesn’t happen – but given the current trend of the media doubling down on material rights, it wouldn’t surprise me.

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