Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Are Mashups Dead?

I posted a response to a post on the blog Touch That Dial. (By the way, my brief response did not do justice to the vast wrongness of the post -- I just hit the high points.) To summarize, in typical hipster fashion, TTD declared mashups dead. Submitted as evidence is the Jay-Z vs. Linkin Park mashup album. My point was that genres are declared dead all the time, but somehow people keep making music.

To be honest, I had basically dismissed out of hand the possibility that mashups are dead. But then -- after seeing the recent attempt at a live mashup at the Grammies -- my man SF called and asked me to stop making mashups. (He wasn't the first!) He said that after the Grammies (I didn't see it, but apparently it involved the aforementioned offenders and a slew of others), mashups are over. I respect SF a lot, so I was forced to reconsider the argument. Here's what I came up with.

As mentioned in my response, every genre is declared dead at some point. According to Kundera, classical music was dead after Schönberg. After going electric, Miles declared jazz dead. And remember when Tortoise and co. rendered rock obsolete, to the point that they spawned a "post-genre," post-rock? Despite these genres being dead, musicians still work within them.

I haven't changed my mind. I still think that declaring a genre dead -- beyond being a hipster's way of seeming above it all -- is just a weird thing to do. I'm not certain what it means for a genre to be alive, but I assume it means that music made under its name is vital or relevant. So, right off, declaring a genre dead is a way to dismiss some music you've heard and a whole lot you haven't. The problem here is the same problem with genres in general -- it reduces music to types and cuts people off from a lot of (possibly good) musical experiences.

When it comes down to it, genres are irrelevant. There's music. People experience music and they think it's good or they don't. Whether someone declares a genre alive or dead is also irrelevant. To paraphrase Michael Chabon, it's a cop out to pass off your own limitations as the limitations of a genre. It's also a cop out to blame bad art on the category into which it happens to fall.

I do agree with SF and with TTD insofar as it's disheartening to hear bad music -- mashups or otherwise. But bad corporate mashups don't signal the death of mashups. If anything, they reinforce why mashups were ever "alive" in the first place.

In the music business, music is exactly that -- business. To even get The Strokes and Christina Aguilera in a room together, you'd have to overcome a huge list of obstacles that have nothing to do with how good or bad they would sound together musically. Luckily, they don't have to be in the same room. But, to bring them together, you have to bypass an entire industry that, ultimately, cares about money, not good music.

So far, to my knowledge, no one working from within the industry has produced a good mashup. (Correct me if I'm wrong.) And, to me, that is no coincidence. Having said that, home remixers rely on the industry, and sometimes an industry artist like Jay-Z blatantly does them a favor. No, I'm not talking about Collision Course. I'm talking about the Black Album acapellas. Jay-Z could not have predicted what other people could do with his music, and he didn't try -- he just made the acapellas widely available and let people go at it. (Obviously, Beastie Boys eventually did him one better, since their acapellas are available free.) Collision Course was a misguided effort to cash in on a DIY phenomenon. The acapellas illustrate that the more free/accessible music is -- and the more free people are to make it -- the better music can be.

The TTD post to which I responded is a terrible piece of writing. Does it follow that "writing must stop"? Of course not. People make bad mashups. Does it follow that "mashups must stop"? Of course not. It does follow that everyone who writes needs to write better, and everyone who makes music needs to make better music.


Anonymous said...

I'm not saying stop making them, I'm just saying they are officially commodified & no longer anything forward thinking (but a particularly forward-thinking mashup can certainly still be created).

But who am I to talk about commodification? My soccer team was just sold and named for soft drink.


Anonymous said...

Great entry, esp. the part about genres being "dead" and why people say that kind of thing. I agree whole-heartedly with your thoughts on that, especially.

As for mashups...Mashing up music is a production technique. People will mash up and remix music as long as the tools and ideas are there, which pretty much means always. People that discredit mashups, obviously just don't hear the right ones, which is easy to do since they are still not legal, and you have to scour the interent thru all the crap for the good ones. Every year since 2002 mashups/bootlegs have been called dead, but I can assure you there are some brilliant producers out there, and new great producers and tracks appear every year. But yeah, that Grammy thing was a trainwreck, but that's typical of people hopping on a bandwagon, yet having no understanding of the genre or what they are trying to mimic. BTW, this is Mysterious D, from mashup club Bootie/bootlegers A plus D.