[iDC] The Metaphysics of the Mashup
Paul D. Miller
anansi1 at earthlink.net
Thu Jul 12 15:53:04 UTC 2007
This is an interview I did with Wired Magazine
about dub and its relationship to digital
appropriation, synthetic compositional
strategies, and of course, gasp, multi-cultural
>There's even a nifty slideshow of album covers. It's on the home page
>Upgrading Jamaica's Cultural Shareware: Trojan Records at 40
>DJ Spooky: How a Tiny Caribbean Island Birthed the Mashup
>Gallery: A Look Back at 40 Years of Reggae Hits
DJ Spooky: How a Tiny Caribbean Island Birthed the Mashup
Scott Thill Email 07.12.07 | 2:00 AM
Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, That
Subliminal Kid, has been producing beat-heavy
electronic music for more than a decade. From his
early solo trip-hop efforts to his more recent
collaborations with jazz giants, Spooky has
always approached music from multiple angles at
once. He has the chops of a musician, the
genre-blending ear of a disc jockey and the
conceptual vision of a performance artist.
It was therefore no surprise when Trojan Records,
a reggae label entering its 40th year, asked DJ
Spooky to put together a mix showcasing tracks
from its massive archives. When assembling >In
Fine Style: DJ Spooky Presents 50,000 Volts of
Trojan Records, one of several mixes commissioned
to mark the Trojan birthday, Miller found
countless parallels between the Jamaican reggae
scene of the 1960s and '70s and the digital
mashup ecosystem of today. (See Upgrading
Jamaica's Cultural Shareware: Trojan Records at
In his liner notes, DJ Spooky writes, "you can
think of the whole culture as a shareware update,
a software source for the rest of the world to
Wired News asked DJ Spooky to elaborate.
Wired News: Jamaican culture as "shareware
update"? Brilliant. Please tell us more.
DJ Spooky: The whole idea of people like King
Tubby or Prince Jammy (reggae producers who
pioneered the "dub" remix) was to use technology
to show their community how to make music for the
world. Jamaica is the loudest island in the
world! Dub used tech of the day -- analog tape
loops, old-school mixing boards, you name it --
to create a radical departure from music made in
the main areas of 1960s pop music.
Forget Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band or
Hendrix's Electric Ladyland as studio
masterpieces, I'm talking about rare dub tracks
that cut across the whole idea of what a song was
meant to be. It changed the way people listen to
music and the way that music was produced. Trojan
was at the heart of all these changes, and I
wanted to go through their archive to show the
hidden connections between dub, techno, hip-hop,
drum and bass, dubstep and more. I guess you
could say I wanted to show how to connect the
WN: Many of the songs on your reissue, and I
imagine the others in the series, are covers of
American standards ("Summertime") or pop classics
("Come Together"). Was reggae way ahead of
today's culture mash?
DJ Spooky: Reggae is all about the mashup! The
Caribbean is a place where so many cultures were
in collision: Spanish, Portuguese, Indian,
British, Chinese. People tend to forget that one
of Bob Marley's producers (Leslie Kong) was
Chinese-Jamaican, or that Lee Gopthal who was one
of the co-owners of Trojan Records was Indian.
Even the term "Ganjah" is pronounced Hindi style;
it's the Ganges river! And don't even get me
started about dreadlocks. Any holy man on the
Ganges could tell you that they're Indian too. ?
Everyone borrows from everyone. That's what
digital culture is all about. Information, the
cliché goes, wants to be free. I guess Jamaican
culture got there a little before everyone else.
One of the funniest things I noticed when I was
going through Trojan's archives is how many cover
versions of American pop culture were in play.
Jamaica was tuned into all the pop music coming
in over the coast from Florida, and the songs
people heard really left an impression. I mean,
c'mon, a whole box set of Jamaican covers of The
Beatles? Every possible James Brown song you can
imagine has a Jamaican cover version; ditto for
Curtis Mayfield. Trojan put out a lot of that
kind of thing, which is very, very cool.
WN: How has the technology used by the music
business changed since these songs were made?
DJ Spooky: When you think about it, so much music
is mediated by software these days, and that's a
mixed bag, at best. One of the things that made
early dub so unique is that even though everyone
had access to the same rhythms, they really made
different "versions" of the songs by using
special effects as a new kind of instrument. .
The problem with today's music is that so many
people are using the same software. I can hear it
when someone uses the ProTools edit, or when
someone like Paris Hilton has so many pitch
corrections on her last album, she might as well
as have had the computer sing everything and just
stand back, kind of like Warhol or something.
The U.S. government has the Library of Congress,
Jamaica has dub. That's one of the best things
the 21st century can offer: Wikipedia, Youtube,
MySpace, Facebook: All these say "Do it your own
way, but there's a formula." King Tubby and
Scientist, and all these producers, singers and
MCs were saying the same thing.
It's all about pattern recognition. Call it
Wikinomics: Mass collaboration changes
everything, and that's a dub plate special y'all!
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