The remix: Blurring the lines between composition and reception

As the last few notes of The Citadel from Ital’s recent EP, Toxic Work Environment drown out, I feel like what has come before it has quite contentedly concluded. There would be no purpose in following it on with anything else let alone a beat-heavy track made for a subterranean dance floor at 3 am. Yet it comes and unsurprisingly it is in the form of a remix, a remix of that very same track that should have offered such a sublime end to a very sublime EP. Now, while I have no end of respect for GOD, the people behind the remix and the label of the same name, I do believe it was quite unnecessary to include it and it warrants a bigger question. Why is the remix, rework or edit still such a staple of dance music when very few of them offer any new dimension? In the early days of house, the edit was necessary to draw out the break in a disco or funk track just a little longer to keep the people on the dance floor. It served a functional purpose, a purpose the original track couldn’t fulfil in its original state. The remix, which in fact started life as edits, were born out of necessity. But as we find ourselves in 2015, in the age of electronic dance music, there’s no longer any need to extend a break, since the music is already appropriating the dance function in its original form. So, is the remix or edit still necessary in contemporary dance music? What function those it serve that is not achieved in its original unedited state? As I scroll through a list of recent promos floating around in my inbox, I land on one particular one that for all intents and purposes shouldn’t really appeal to me. Orlando Voorn is not a name I’d be drawn to naturally; it doesn’t resonate particularly with me, even in the light of his legendary status. Yet, a recent EP adorning the artist’s name on OUT-ER has me stopping dead in my tracks. It’s a remix EP. An EP where other artists re-interpreted Gain Upwards from Voorn’s Black Diamond album from last year. It was the stellar cast of remixers, especially Efdemin and Juan Atkins that caught my eye before I even saw Voorn’s name and suggests to me that the remixes on this occasion is little more than a marketing ploy to broaden Orlando Voorn’s audience to include fans of the remix artists. The remixes in themselves offer no significant functional dance demand other than what was already accomplished in the original, with most of the artists opting to subvert the gauche melodic refrain that crops up its overbearing manner on the original. It appears that in this context the remixes have no real value in themselves other than creating more of the same thing to draw attention to Orlando Voorn’s composition. This is something that becomes blatantly obvious when we look at the artists selected to remix the track. Juan Atkins is an obvious choice, being a contemporary of Voorn and dealing in a similar aesthetic, but Efdemin and ROD are interesting and motivated additions in my opinion. They represent a younger audience with a finger firmly on the current pulse of Techno, and it clearly comes through in their remixes when compared to the original. It is immediately evident from their interpretation that we are in the presence of contemporary artists in each case, more so than in Juan Atkins interpretation also. Their arrangements follow a more minimalist approach and negate the melodic refrain almost completely in favour of concentrating their efforts on the driving force behind the track, the percussive section. In it’s way it does strip the original from the indulgence of melody and harmony for functional dance motives, but as Voorn’s original for its most part can’t be said to not encourage this function we must assume that there is another reason these remixes exist. The remix on this occasion serves a new function, one that is to familiarise younger audiences with this artist through their epochal peers, in this case embodied in Efdemin and ROD.

The Gain Upwards remixes does not then seem to function at the same level as the GOD rework of Ital’s The Citadel, which is more in line with the traditions of the remix, in appropriation a track for the dance floor. The latter case is still unwarranted however in the greater context of the release where other tracks do fulfil that function and spoils the narrative of the release. I have tried to probe the GOD crew about their decision, but have yet to receive a reply. In my opinion it is something that’s been so fortified in tradition that it no longer warrants any real purpose, but rather just an accepted practise that needs no further explanation other than; “that’s just the way it is.” I’m quite willing to except that for the sake of tradition, since tradition is the reason I still open a Christmas present even though a belief in a mortal deity of the past is non-existent. But what does this mean for the remix? If remixes are made for the sake of nothing other than tradition, is there any artistic intent left in them, and thus should they exist at all? Turning to the GOD remix again, their gloomy dance floor interpretation of The Citadel is not only functional in its purpose, it’s also true to the artist’s, and therefore also the label’s, unique sound. Another remix that cropped up recently that can be said to have a similar ideal in this regard, was Timo Maas’ remix of Hackman’s Grass Green. It was unmistakably a Timo Maas sound in the way the track developed in the German producers hands and the particular sound palette he works in, to the point it might have been completely indistinguishable as anything other than a Timo Maas original. Like in the case of GOD, the Timo Maas remix is something that could be concurrent in his own discography. Maas appropriates the significant appeal within the original and transposes it into his own voice to the point where can almost suggest the remix is an original composition in itself.

This idea of the personality in the remix is exactly what Noise Manifesto has taken on in their decon/recon series too, albeit exactly for the opposite effect. It is their intention to subvert the personality all together. By essentially putting a sample library together from a host of artists and letting those artists pick from that sample library to make it their own, their blurring the lines between composition and reception even further. No single track is accredited to a single artist in order to undermine the personality of the artist and although one can suggest the opening track with its emphasis on the saxophone is distinctly Planningtorock’s it cannot be stated as a fact. Therefore the remix is not so much a new version of the original, but rather something new altogether that might burrow from another composition, the way composers have borrowed melodies through the eons. It appears that in today’s terms the remix is not functional in terms of a new intended purpose it must fill, but rather an artistic expression in itself derived from the reception stages. It is an artist appreciating a piece of music and appropriating it as his/her own for the sake of admiration.The admiration can be in the form of highlighting the music for promotional purposes, and I have also noted – more so recently in fact – that this admiration could be applied to the DJ set. As more DJs seek to carve out an original and distinctive sound in their sets they are relying more and more on edits to accomplish it. They still want to play other artists’ music for the sake of admiration but they would like a consistent voice to run through the set. These DJ’s will make edits of the originals to throw into their sets, and will tie all the songs together. It can be something as simple as sticking to a preferred kick sound or something more complicated in the way of patten’s re-edit sets, but its function is always the same, to make the music in a set concurrent.

It turns us back to the initial purpose of the remix or edit, but updated for a generation where electronic dance music is the norm and the need to extend a break is no longer necessary. The remix appears to have gone full circle, but passed into another dimension. The singular functional aspect of the remix has been surpassed, and has adopted many new functions in our age. Some of these functions are questionable, holding no artistic intent and never really offers an answer to why the remix is still such a staple of dance music. But for the most part, and particular in the case of Noise Manifesto’s recon/decon series, they have become a form of artistic expression that feeds off creative sources. The remix today has completely destroyed the barriers between reception and composition where the discrete parameters of those parts in music have become all in the same for a generation of artists.