BY Klaus Walter in Profiles | 28 APR 11
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Issue 1

Another Nice Mess

Three recently released mix albums and the purist’s fear of digital bastardization

BY Klaus Walter in Profiles | 28 APR 11

Robag Wruhme

In the age of digital reproduction, the finality of the art work is no more. Pop music is endlessly remixable. The definitive version of a song, set in stone, is a thing of the past. The techno-scepticism of the cultural pessimist is confirmed by the realization that the neologism mixability comes with the two key imperatives of neo-liberalism: mobility and flexibility. The job profile of the DJ, like that of the professional footballer, is a blueprint for the globalized one-person business. Does this make the DJ mix a diabolical invention from the secret laboratories of digital capitalism? Is mixability an additional core requirement of neoliberal everyday life? A creeping poison that hollows out individuality and devalues originals? And what about the author? Do mixes blur the line between producer and consumer in favour of the prosumer?

A look at three recently released mix albums shows three different approaches. Lets start with Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution will not be televised. In 1970, delivering this slogan over a soul-jazz backing, the master of political spoken word wrote himself into musical history as the godfather of modern Rap. Now in his old age, he must make friends with the digital revolution. And with someone young enough to be his grandson. Jamie xx, front man of The xx, remixes Scott-Heron. This is a very particular setting, far removed from the barter model of I-remix-you-you-remix- me. A combination that eschews common categories. In real terms, theres so much separating them: the Atlantic, age, skin colour, the digital gap. Jamies band won the 2009 Mercury Prize and became pop stars, heralding the hybrid bastard style of the 2010s which (for want of a better label) is being called downtempo and post-dubstep. For Scott-Heron in New York, all this is a world away.

The raw material for the mix is Scott-Herons Im New Here (2010). And Jamie xx takes liberties with it. Instead of reworking each individual song, he cuts up and recombines the album as a whole, adding vocal snippets from Scott-Herons glorious past. This cut- and-paste approach turns Im New Here into Were New Here (2011). It opens with a doubly self-reflexive statement, without musical accompaniment: I did not become someone different, that I did not want to be, he croaks with all the toothlessness he can muster. An ill old man asserts his dignity: this new- fangled remix nonsense hasnt changed me. This is the programmatic prologue to an album that turns Scott-Heron into someone totally different without betraying him.

Dutch DJ Marcelle is a mixmaker of an entirely different kind. She describes her 2010 album Another Nice Mess Meets More Soulmates At Faust Studio Deejay Laboratory as a celebration of musical inspiration and personal friendship worldwide, with eternal thanks to John Peel, the mother of all eclectic DJs. The greatest possible density of material in the smallest possible space, mixing as sport this is DJ Marcelles approach. She combines female yodellers from Africas Chewa tribe with pieces by German experimental musicians FM Einheit and Hans-Joachim Irmler (Faust), dub deconstructivists Hey-O-Hansen with noises from the animal kingdom, West African blues roots by Dela Kanuteh and Mawdo Suso with the sound of freight trains and locomotives. Amazingly enough, instead of a freak show with attention deficit disorder, the result sounds like extremely focussed info groove, a sound that gives new meaning to the stupid notion of world music. Another Nice Mess… very nice. And inconceivable without limitless access to digital archives.

Wuppdeckmischmampflow. The title of Robag Wruhmes 2011 album is onomatopoeic and programmatic, containing both the mix and the tool used to make it. But the mixmakers work doesnt end at the turntable: Robag Wruhme digs deep, combines his pet tracks into a fine mix, and puts everything through the filter of his own favourite groove samples, leaving you unsure whether youre listening to individual pieces of music or whether Robags sound universe has taken control over everything. Maybe both. This review by Sascha Kösch aka Bleed in DE:BUG magazine puts a positive spin on the very things about mixology that scare cultural pessimists: embracing contingency, losing track, taking pleasure in this loss of control all qualities that until now have not exactly been the hallmarks of neo-liberal attitudes.

For all their differences, these three mix albums have one thing in common: they are beyond the grasp of the language we have at our disposal to describe them. This is evident in various helpless attempts to localize globalized music, to literally ground it. According to Skug magazine, for example, the fact that DJ Marcelle comes from the Netherlands has of course influenced her insofar as her experience has come to include the sound of a multi-ethnic environment and music from around the world. Following this logic, Robag Wruhme, alias Gabor Schablitzky, who hails from Jena in deepest eastern Germany, would have to use mainly German material. Homegrown techno? Nonsense. Most of the artists whose work he remixes spend more time on planes than at home, and, regardless of where they originally come from, for most of them that home is an increasingly international city. Berlin.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Klaus Walter is a writer living in Frankfurt am Main. He works for various radio stations, including