Today I bought the Steinski album ‘What does it all mean? 1983-2006 retrospective‘ (itunes link). This is an album by hip-hop legend Steve Stein, on which he collected some of the mixes he and Douglas DiFranco (also known as Double Dee) made back in the early days of hip-hop.
In fact, it was back in 1983 that Stein and DiFranco, at the time working as an ad writer and a studio engineer respectively, learned about a nationwide remix contest called “Hey Mr. DJ Play That Beat Down by Law Switch the Licks Mastermix Contest” sponsored by Tommy Boy Records. Goal was to remix G.L.O.B.E. & Whiz Kid‘s “Play That Beat Mr. DJ”. A panel including Afrika Bambaataa, Arthur Baker, and Shep Pettibone awarded it first prize after one listen, and the remix gained even more airplay than the original. Their mix was called “Lesson One: The Payoff Mix,” a track that sprinkled the usual funk breakbeats with a parade of samples from feature films and cartoons, including all manner of pop-culture references.
Steinski & Double Dee created more Lesson tracks, with the fourth Lesson track only preformed live once. I learned about the duo from the Solid Steel podcast, the Coldcut and Ninja Tunes recordlabel affiliated radio station slash podcast station. In podcast ep 81 SolidSteel features an interview from 2002 with the duo, in which they talk to us about their experiences in the Way Back Days, at the start of modern hip-hop.
They later became great inspirators for artists like DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, the DJ Food collective, some of the worlds very best turntablists. A few months ago my brother and I went to the The Hard Sell show by DJ Shadow & Cut Chemist. There they performed a whole show remixing 45rpm records live on 4 decks, using only guitar pedals to create loops. The result was both very impressive and creative. It’s a mix of skill and creativity you don’t see all that often in hip-hop music nowadays. Take a look at this video of them performing here:
The intersting thing about this (original?) subculture of hip-hop is the basic premisi that you can deconstruct and creatively recombine any creative expression into something new. Originality doesn’t necessarily stem from creating something new from scratch (no pun intended). And this basic premisis is at the core of the hip-hop culture, which makes it one of the biggest influences on modern day media and creativity inductry.
I’m definately not a big hip-hop fan -I lean more towards the turnablism part then towards the slap-yo-bitch-an-look-at-my-bling-bling style R&B that is branded as hip-hop nowadays. But remixing creative expressions is what the modern internet is mostly about. Not just musical samples, but your personal thoughts and ideas (using twitter, for example), text, film, just about anything and everything can be recombined into something fundamentally new. The whole copyright movement doesn’t realise this -yet, but the Creative Commons does, and supports and promotes use of existing creative work for other uses.
So, Steinski and Double Dee show me that remixing is what is is all about.