Remixing, in Brief
At first, a remix was simply a reconfiguration of a track's existing elements. This was probably first done by dub producers such as King Tubby and Lee Perry (Perry was also the first producer to add sampled sounds to already-recorded tracks). Using the technique of multi-track recording, they were able to isolate and alter one element of a song (e.g. the drum track or the vocal). By doing this, they could restructure the track into a new "version" which could then be played by a DJ.
To what extent prominent disco remixers such as Francois Kevorkian and Larry Levan were influenced by Tubby and Perry's sonic experiments is unclear, as their remixes were meant to function more as mixing aids than as radical restructurings. (Producer and DJ Walter Gibbons is credited with the first disco remix for his mix of Double Exposure's "Ten Percent" in 1976--thanks sakke) However, it is clear that hip-hop pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa were influenced by the Jamaican producers via Kool Herc. Often, the DJing technique of Flash and Bambaataa worked as a sort of on-the-fly, live remixing: by cutting back and forth between two copies of the same record, they could restructure the track as they pleased.
Bill Brewster1 lists four steps in the evolution of the modern remix, which were a result of record companies' desire to, on one hand, preserve the integrity (and copyrightability) of the track, while on the other hand promoting their product to the widest possible market:
- Structural changes only. Nothing in the original song is changed: pre-existing elements are simply shifted around.
- Minor changes allowed. A producer might add a baseline or change the percussion slightly. The "Know it All" mix of De la Soul's "Eye Know" is a good example of this kind of remix: although certain elements of the track are altered and a few new elements are added, the song is still more or less unchanged from its original form.
- Only the vocal is left intact. The remixer can put whatever instrumental he or she desires under the vocal track. This category of remix includes most of the "dance mixes" of pop songs. Often, a track will be remixed in different styles in order to reach as many different markets as possible. Frou Frou's "Breathe In," for example, has been remixed into a drum&bass track by Aphrodite and a house track by Watkins, while Kylie Minogue's poptastic "Come Into My World" has been reworked into an electroclash track by Fischerspooner.
- The remixer may use or discard any element of the track. Here, the line between remixing and full production is blurred, although, for financial reasons, this form of production is, contractually, almost always considered to be remixing (see Autechre's remix of Saint Etienne's "Like a Motorway" for an example of this).
The State of the Remix
Recognition of the remix as an artform reached its present level with the release of Sasha's "The Qat Collection, Version 2." Although the LP is made up entirely of remixes, it bears Sasha's name and was marketed as a Sasha album. It was released on a fairly large label (Deconstruction) and, most importantly, was marketed as a album for mass consumption and home listening, rather than as a DJ tool. Still, remixes are often designed to adapt a song into a certain style of music. David Morales' remixes, for example, fit perfectly into his sets of melodic, vocal house.
Some of my favourite remixes:
1Bill Brewster: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life. New York: Grove Press, 1999, p. 354.