[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 
digital media.

>There's even a nifty slideshow of album covers. It's on the home page
>today. Linkage:
>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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