Global Beat Fusion: The Art of the Remix

Remixing is a craft equal in worth to songwriting. There are two general pitfalls that remixers fall into, however. One is that they may (or not) create a great track, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the original. They then place elements of the original on top of it, creating a "cut-and-paste" sound, in which two songs are merged into one. Even mash-ups avoid this when done properly. Most often remixes are the result of producers trying to show off their beat-and-bass skills without really listening to the nuances and cultural subtleties in the original.

The second slippery slope involves drum selection. This is more challenging, for if the producer is not a percussionist it may be hard for him to tell what works. Thus you have a great beat in and of itself, but the drums sound programmed, lack sway and do not sound, again, like they would be used in the original mix. Remixes are songs too, and should be treated as such. If for the first time I hear an original track and a remix, I don't want to be able to know which one came first. This makes the standard high, which is a good thing, as it weeds out lackluster tracks.

With a dozen takes on seven tracks by funk outfit Brownout, Aguilas & Cobras - Remixed and Regrooved (Six Degrees) at times falls into the second pitfall. There are two standouts: the first by Grant Phabao, who cut his teeth on dub and reggae and never stopped sharpening. He gives "Pole Position" a stellar irie vibe with the best beat on this collection. The second is by Bay Area hip-hop producer J Boogie, who weaves the Latin touch of "Olvidalo" nicely with a muted beat and guest emcee spot by Deuce Eclipse, a great indie hip-hop artist also from the San Fran area. Tal M. Klein, who I've enjoyed over the past year, creates a serious backdrop for "Slinky," though because the beat never changes, halfway through the repetition becomes apparent⎯the song is molded to fit the beat, rather than vice-versa. There are a few other great rhythm tracks on here, though how much they have to do with the original is questionable; a nice mix-and-match set for DJs, certainly.

Now there are remixes that just plain work as such, and one of them is on Chocolate Remixes (Six Degrees), a five-track EP of takes on the song of that name (pronounced choco-latte) by Pacifika. The cumbia take by Copia Doble Systema uses repetition to its advantage on a great mix reminiscent of the ZZK sessions. The Dr Rubberfunk mix is an example of new track and original colliding, yet working really well (which is probably why the label included an instrumental dub). The Waterpark mix is simply boring, but the real winner is by Adrian Quesada, leader of the aforementioned Brownout. His soulful, guitar-driven mix is better than the original, kind of like the Cowboy Junkies lovingly sticking it to Lou Reed. Reed acknowledged that CJ's take on "Sweet Jane" destroyed his nasally if not beautiful original. Pacifika's "Chocolate" is nice, but maybe they should consider hiring Quesada for the next album...

While not a remix album at all, I can imagine many coming from Sabor Tropical (Fort Knox), the debut from the five-man DC collective the Empresarios. After downloading the promo, I quickly dug a number of tracks, which pull from cumbia, dub and Thievery-style beatmaking. So it didn't surprise me when reading the press release and seeing Javier Miranda acknowledged as mastermind. Having spent a month on a cross-country Latin music tour with him a few years back, I knew he'd played congas with Thievery and had great taste in music. That shows through on this 15-track album, with a lot of solid cuts and a few outstanding ones, most notably the Latin funky title track and the reggaeton-cumbia banger "Negrita Linda." This record will be coming out from my DJ bag often in the near future.