One type was just an attempt to re-record a great song, leave it as close as possible to the original, and open the cash register.
The other type (the good type, if you hadn’t guessed) took a great cultural artefact and recast it, so that what resulted wasn’t just new, it was also somehow more resonant with the memory of the original (I am paraphrasing, and what is more I’m paraphrasing unbelievably badly).
Flash forward I-don’t-know-how-many years, and those differences are writ large in the remix culture. Some remixes are powerful and add depth. Some remixes are funny. Most remixes are rather pointless, if ultimately harmless.
Take the baffling Bowie 2001. This is described by its kind-of creator (I’ll come to kind-of in a bit) Fritz von Runte as:
Itâ€™s a compilation of brand new remixes of many Bowie songs. It is also, a non-stop continuous mixpiece comprising those remixes and other Bowie moments. And yet it is a movie, a re-imagined re-edited version of 2001, synchronised to this mixpiece.
I sat down to watch it. It’s essentially 2001 cut up and re-soundtracked with a continuous loop of remixed Bowie songs. It’s kind-of nice to look at, the way a fire is kind-of nice to look at.
But after maybe five minutes I began to wonder what the point was. The remixes were nice, but not as great as the originals (of course – what could be as great as the originals?). All narrative tension in the movie had been lost by cutting it up (of course – how could you find more narrative tension than there already is inside 2001?). I kept seeing odd little artefacts at the edge of the screen which made me worry that they’d just digitised it off some home video, which caused me to question how official this exercise was, and (given the splendour of the source material) how the original creators or their families were being compensated.
Compare and contrast with something I watched for the first time in five or six years: the video to Johnny Cash’s Hurt. I came at this via a link in the Word Magazine Something for the Weekend email, which pointed to a video about the making of the video which emphasised that it was made up of two different components: original video shot of Cash; and lots and lots of archive video of the younger Cash.
As this was mixed into the original video, and the older Cash was juxtaposed with the myth of his younger self, the lyrics to the song (itself a cover/remix, of course) became more and more poignant, and I remembered why so many people said they cried when they saw it.
Two different types of remix. Two different approaches. One creates wallpaper. The other creates art.
Bowie picture from Wikimedia Commons – page for the picture is here.