Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bastard Pop - Play the Funky Mashup, White Boy

Without knowing it, I’ve been a fan of so-called Bastard Pop for years. As a kid, I loved Dickie Goodman’s “Mr. Jaws”—my lazy music teacher in Elementary School would throw that on whenever she needed a break. Later, I was tolerant of the “Stars on 45” albums (including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra’s Hooked on Classics). This paved the way for years of enjoyment from Weird Al Yankovic’s obligatory polkapalooza of current hits that he’s done since his premiere album.

Creative sampling in hip hop put a smile on my face; the more layered and diverse the samples, the better. Groups like Pop Will Eat Itself, with its wide range of The Osmonds, The Warriors, and Run D.M.C., delighted me with a hodgepodge of riffs, drum tracks, and movie quotes used as building blocks to create a new wall of sound. However, other than the occasional clever remix, there was little to satiate my love of recycled sounds or bastardized songs for about fifteen years.

Everything changed when I heard The Kleptones.

My first exposure to the “mash-up” musical movement, The Kleptones stand at the top of a very large heap of artists (and hacks) who take two or more songs and marry them together to create something totally new. Their albums—Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, A Night at the Hip-Hopera, 24 Hours, Uptime/Downtime—are mash-up essentials. With Yoshimi, The Kleptones re-envision the Flaming Lips’s 2002 album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots via the removal of Wayne Coyne’s vocals and the addition of vocal tracks from The Beastie Boys, 50 Cent, Missy Elliot, Public Enemy, and more.

If Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots was a “simple” subtraction and addition, then A Night at the Hip-Hopera is a quadratic equation. The Kleptones pilfer a wide array of music by Queen while blending in multiple rap tracks, extra percussion, and sound clips from interviews, music videos, commercials, films, and television shows. In any given track one can hear Calvert DeForest, Meat Loaf, Old Dirty Bastard, Raymond Scott, Detroit Grand Pubahs, Tyler Durden, Brittany Spears, the Mooninites, Jeffrey Lebowski, or Jethro Tull; all the while without missing a beat. Just about every track is a winner with standouts being “Ride” (a mix of “My Name Is” by Eminem with “Bicycle Race” by Queen) and “Jazz” (which skillfully lays lyrics from Queen’s “We Will Rock You” over their tune “More of that Jazz” between bits of “Tears on my Pillowcase” by Task Force).

The Kleptones’ magnum opus, 24 Hours, continues the group’s eclectic journey. Using the framework of a day, the album tells the story of a person’s life through music.

Another great use of Queen is The Silence Xperiment’s Q-Unit: Greatest Hits, a collision of 50 Cent’s Get Rich or Die Tryin’ and The Massacre with some of Queen’s greatest hits. Like Yoshimi Battles the Hip-Hop Robots, this collection is more of a one-to-one mixing and matching of complimentary tracks. In this way it’s similar to works like “Smells Like Bootylicious” which pairs Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with Destiny Child’s “Bootylicious”) or The Grey Album by D.J. Danger Mouse (Brian Joseph Burton), a meeting of the Beatles’ eponymous work (commonly known as The White Album) and Jay-Z’s The Black Album.

Pairings of two disparate artists (the “A vs. B” subgenre of mash-ups) can be fun but I find more pleasure in albums like A Night at the Hip-Hopera which take from a multitude of sources. The other best example of this is Dean Gray’s American Edit, a complete makeover of Green Day’s American Idiot. Working from a Green Day backbone, Dean Gray (artists Party Ben and team9) layers on and mixes in impossible musical fits. No song is left untouched. Some of the more jaw-dropping tracks include “Greenday Massacre” which seamlessly crosses between Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends,” The Eagles’ “Lying Eyes” and several more tracks. Another, “American Jesus,” crosses genre chasms between Green Day, Bryan Adams, Smokey Robinson, and Johnny Cash, to name a few.

With the release of the Kleptones’s latest,Uptime/Downtime, HKIC Eric Kleptone took a few minutes to answer a few of my burning questions:

Cashiers du Cinemart What is your day job?
Eric Klepton Being a Kleptone is, right now! Although I do/have done many other things, but I have a history of sound/lighting work, IT stuff and now lecturing both of those - I’m going to be doing some Ableton Live workshops with BBC Blast ( over the coming months, which should be excellent!

CdC: How did you get involved in the “Mashup Biz”?
EK: Well, like a lot of peeps, the idea of sampling stuff and cutting and pasting came before someone gave it a catchy title - I’ve been hooked since I was a teenager, when a friend of my older brother started giving me pause-button edit tapes of mixes he’d made. I got really inspired by the journey you could take people on linking and overdubbing clips together, so inspired by him I started to make my own. Not long after that I heard The Art Of Noise and early UK cut-up dance tracks alongside more experimental stuff by artists like Negativland. All I had to do then was wait for samplers to get cheap enough to allow me to join in. On top of that I’d started DJing, which meant throwing entire tunes on top of each other, and not being limited by the memory of the sampler -- for example, play Kraftwerk’s “Numbers” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” on two decks -- probably the first genuine “mashup” I ever chanced upon; still sounds great!

CdC How on earth do you get your inspiration? I picture you like John Travolta in Blow Out with a thousand strips of sounds around.
EK: That’s pretty accurate. I spend a lot of time assembling source material - When I do put a track together, I like it to happen pretty quickly, so I’m pretty OCD about filing stuff right, but that means when I have a brainwave, I can check it out right then! Having said that, there’s also an element of “throw shit at the wall and see what sticks” - Everything gets filtered through my own taste buds though, which are pretty particular, as evidenced by what ends up on the album.

CdC: How have video games such as Rock Band / Guitar Hero changed the mashup game? It seems that so much of The Best of Bootie 2010 had bits of songs from those games since the tracks have been released.
EK: Well it certainly gave the mashup biz quite a shot in the arm...Personally I’m delighted as I love those sort of tunes! Freebird!

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