Recently Toronto producer/DJ Deadmau5 rode the massive surge in electronic dance music's popularity all the way to the cover of the current Rolling Stone. Wearing a giant mouse head all the time doesn't hurt, but in the story he set tongues wagging even further by criticizing many of his fellow EDM artists as mere button-pushers who when performing live do little else than press "play" on their own songs.
Deadmau5 has since backed off a little, as well as admitting to being a bit of a button-pusher himself ("I just push a lot more buttons"), but the feedback from his comments was less than kind. Still, what he said cut straight to the heart of a question many of us struggling to understand EDM's sudden popularity have been asking ourselves: Exactly what are these DJs doing up there, and how are they doing it?
Luckily, one man not only knows exactly what he's doing, he's willing to dish a little dirt. Dave Wrangler has been DJing in Houston since 2005, both at live events and as a creator of remixes and mash-ups, as heard on recordings such as 2010's Under the Influence.
Wrangler also happens to be providing the music for the Houston Press' own Houston Web Awards at Midtown's House of Dereon Media Center Thursday night, so Rocks Off asked him how to tell the difference between a remix, a blend, and a mash-up, and to give us an example or two of each.
Finally, we'll know.
First of all, "the term remix is used quite loosely these days to describe most any variation of the original cut," Wrangler explains. "Other generic production terms are mashup, edit and blend."
Lil Troy X Notorious B.I.G., "Wanna Be a Big Poppa (Dave Wrangler Mix)"
Dave Wrangler: Lets start with the most basic, the blend, which is essentially a live mix of two or more studio recordings into one audible mix. This can be achieved with complete songs, isolated acapellas over isolated instrumentals and vice versa.
Growing up during the golden age of hip-hop and electronica was exciting because you could listen to FM radio shows where DJ's were actually "in the mix" live on the air. I would listen in anticipation for the DJ (vinyl only) to lay an a cappella from a popular track over an instrumental of another. Some people now label this a mashup, but by definition it really is nothing more than a blend.
DJ Jazzy Jeff vs. Gorillaz, "Summertime Stylo (Dave Wrangler Mix)"
Dave Wrangler: DJs and producers began mixing music in more complex ways with the advent of digital audio workstations. The term "mashup" didn't really enter the social lexicon until around 2000 or so, but has recently become a major part of pop culture and a movement in its own right.
Many people LOVE mashups while others absolutely despise them. Rightfully so -- many are gawdawful while others are brilliant and often better than the sum of their parts.
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Matt & Kim X Notorious B.I.G., "Juicy Cameras (Dave Wrangler Mix)"
In 2009, I performed at "Bootie," the world's largest mashup party that takes place at DNA Lounge in San Francisco. I was surprised to see 1,500 freaks bouncing on the dance floor to mashups they immediately recognized.
The thing about mashups that many people fail to realize is that it you must have advanced editing chops to flawlessly execute them. Music theory knowledge is also crucial to avoid key clashes and dissonance in your mix.
Afrojack vs. Foster the People, "Pumped Up Kicks (Dave Wrangler Take Over Control Remix)"
Mashups are extremely difficult to pull of live, unless you are using a software such as Ableton that allows you to trigger clips you prepared well in advance. Ahem, Girl Talk. No slight to Gregg, but it much more difficult to get create an entirely new song than it is to put vocals over a four-bar loop then cut to another four-bar loop.
I am a fan of what is called the A-B mashup, which is one song mixed with one other to form a completely new song. My friends The Hood Internet and DOSVEC also champion this sound and do it quite well. Some dudes will literally incorporate elements of 20 songs into one four-minute track.
Dead Prez X Led Zeppelin, "D'yer Hip Hop (Dave Wrangler Mix)"
I find it to be more impressive when a producer can build a solid structure with two pieces rather than 20 -- a higher margin of error, in my opinion.
"With the The Tontons track, I only used the vocal stem and built a completely original track around it."
Dave Wrangler: Ah, the remix. Essentially you are recreating a new song with a few components of the original. If you are downloading music from blog aggregators such as Hype Machine, you will stumble upon names like "refix," "re-edit," "miximelt," "re-visited" and a slew of other cleverly crafted terms that producers use to create an association to their brand.
Producers try to be really clever about what they call their remixes for a number of reasons. If they are savvy on the Web, then they would understand the power of the keyword.
"The Blood Orange remix started as a simple edit, but I ended up adding a lots of instrumentation and drum work to the mix."
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For instance, if you were to remix a hot indie or Top 40 act and call your production the "Bath Salts Remix," then you are going to draw a bit more attention to yourself than if you had remixed some obscure act with no Web credibility and called it something that wasn't attractive to the search engines.
A massive gray area is emerging as producers combine elements of a mashup with layers of their own synth and drum work. My bros DJs From Mars are a great example. They produce massive big room dance tunes that combine samples of recognizable music with so much of their own instrumentation that you could never call any of their works a mashup with a straight face.