2 Many DJs
As Heard on Radio Soulwax, Pt. 2
isposability is often cited as proof of the inferiority of pop to rock, but hip-hop’s ability to appropriate sounds is making that argument seem just a bit dated. So, as rock digs its heels into traditional sands, the latest manifestation of turntable/electronic/Pro Tools-style culture has spawned another genre: the bootleg. The addition of laptop software-assisted perspiration to “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”-style inspiration has resulted in the phenomenon of bootlegs, placing the vocals of one well-known song over the musical track of another. In the UK, bootleg culture has spawned sold-out club nights, radio shows, and now for the first time, a full-length, DJ mix album, recorded by Soulwax under the moniker (and pun), 2 Many DJs.
Incredibly, of the 46 tracks used on Soulwax’s album, all but one of the samples was cleared (the exception is Carlos Morgan’s “Shake Your Body,” the owner to the right of that track couldn’t be located). In a curious similarity, another recent genre album with a contemporary twist, the Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, also went to stores with the royalty rights to one track unresolved. (That mystery—the location of the lead vocalist on the record’s chain-gang opener—has since been solved.)
Most bootlegs have the familiarity of their tracks at the foundation of their success and at their best the creator is adding one to one and hopefully coming up with more than the sum of its parts. The most effective of these—such as Freelance Hellraiser’s “A Stroke of Genieus,” which adds Christina to Casablancas and co. or Girls on Top’s “I Wanna Dance With Numbers,” which turns a late-1980s Whitney Houston from a waffle-haired poppet into a Kraftwerkian chanteuse—obliterate preconceptions and compartmentalization. They not only produce knowing smiles but also raise questions about the nature of listening and the necessity of genre.
Barely a blip on the U.S. radar, this seems to be something that could only work as a sensation in the UK, where chart watching is practically a sport and amateur pop historians keep magazines such as Mojo and entire London bookstores devoted to music afloat. What’s more, the bootlegs reflect the demographic-free (albeit state-controlled) utopia of Radio One, on which Kylie, Jigga, and Jack and Meg White can all comfortably share a playlist. (And, true to the bootleg spirit, Missy Elliot vs. Basement Jaxx, as well.) In the U.S., of course, you couldn’t get Nelly and Daft Punk or Destiny’s Child and Nirvana on the same radio station, let alone on the radio on the same track.
Yet as bootlegging went from sensation to next-big-thing, the winks and nods have been too often repeated or risk growing tired. (Even before Kid606 and friend’s Timbaland-baiting “Freakbitchfly,” you could burn an entire collection of bootlegs that feature “Get Ur Freak On.”) Plus, Kylie’s Brits performance of “Can’t You Get Out of My Head” over New Order’s “Blue Monday” and an official release of the Sugababes cover of Girls on Top’s bootleg of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” vs. “Freak Like Me” have each deliciously pushed it into the mainstream. So the last thing the genre needed was a full-length album, right?
But this album works, however, because it is a DJ mix record as much, if not more, than a bootleg collection. The 2 Many DJs record also works because familiarity and novelty aren’t its primary currencies. Soulwax has included some of their more well-known boots, such as “Push It” vs. “No Fun” and “I Wish” vs. “Cannonball”. (Although, sadly, the original version of the latter does not include its third ingredient, “Eye of the Tiger”, because Survivor is no longer licensing the track after its use by George W. Bush in the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign.) Yet they have wisely not filled this 65-minute mix with only the recognizable. Instead, they use lesser-known tracks without their own associations, preventing this from degenerating into a nostalgia exercise. They also keep it vital and current (and give a lifeline to the entire bootleg genre), by filling much of the disc with some the European cognoscenti’s choice sounds: electropop, slinky house, Röyksopp, Kitty Yo records. Tellingly, too, on the occasions that Soulwax selects covers—putting another layer between his work and the original artists—each are electropop versions of well-known tracks: Public Image Limited’s "Death Disco", ELO’s “Don’t Bring Me Down”, The Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, and KISS’s “I Was Made for Loving You”. In each case, they get the recognition, but the track sounds completely fresh. Reggae, prog, country-pop, teen pop, hip-hop, and industrial goth fill in the gaps.
If this sounds like a mere curiosity or a musical scrum, it could have been. It could also have been a lazy blend of highbrow and lowbrow, a juxtaposition that the worst of the boots can’t seem to escape. Instead, despite being ‘merely’ a DJ mix and one built on bootlegs at that, the Soulwax record is a marvel and one of the first real contenders for album of the year. Sniff if you must, but in the hands of Soulwax, from the Residents to The Jets to Sly and the Family Stone to Lil Louis to the Velvet Underground, it’s all pop music anyway.
Reviewed by: Scott Plagenhoef
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01