The DFA Remixes: Chapter One
shouldn’t be talking about this. Not here in the open. There are people who might recognize me. Let’s take this somewhere quieter, somewhere we can take off our military jackets and let our threads show. Everybody’s listening. Yes, it’s about dance-punk. There, I said it.
The term, let alone the genre, has gone through ten generations of rethink, both first incarnation and fifth. We’ve gorged ourselves on Simon Reynolds, and flirted with Sherburne and the increasingly alien Wire. We like Achso; we prefer Luciano’s Sci.Fi.Hi.Fi. 2 to Audion’s stunning Fabric 27 ‘cause it’s colder, less Detroit cum Chicago cum every mid-western town with wi-fi, bubbling with a frosty tropical heat that seems to freeze at the moment it burns. Dance-punk was a crack in the door, an easy entry into a world of dancing or wall-flowering, which ever way you swallow your ketamine. But that was so. . .I can’t remember.
Yet DFA was there at the start. Say what you will now, but Herrs Murphy and Goldsworthy were my-housing to Daft Punk and The Slits when we were arguing out Nevermind v. In Utero. They continue to put out the white boy crunk as consistently as any remixers or production duos in the industry. There’s a reason there are enough foaming reactionaries to start an army; they’ve been contorting sugary pseudo-pop (Gwen, anyone?) into mainstays of hip, the oblique into Warhol mimicry, before we’d lost our sense of irony (you know, ‘cause it’s ALWAYS FUCKING THERE).
As such, it may be hard to get up much enthusiasm for this first batch of the duo’s remixes. Many, from those for Le Tigre and Blues Explosion to those for Radio 4 and Fischerspooner, are now several years old, geriatric for the dance scene. But there’s a cohesion and a simplicity to this collection that makes it a must for any fan of the label. In the age of Soulseek’s fingertip finds, it’s hard to remember that most of these cuts were previously b-sides, even b2s, for wax releases and limited edition CD-Rs.
So though you may feel like several of these cuts are the thumb to your pinky, a not-so-quick jaunt through the disc’s seventy-five running minutes proves all hog-tie and greedy, slick fun. The trademarked funk extensions are here in spades. The almost-classic “Dance to the Underground” is nine minutes of broiling bass-drum punch, steaming away five-minutes deep until it gains locomotive speed and squeals off the track. Likewise, Metro Area’s “Orange Alert” flaunts the trademarked cauterized bassline intros of the DFA, pummeling past the original’s basic melody until the track’s steel-abbed middle, where a hovering chorus has to contend with Metro Area’s brokeneck bass part.
But sometimes Murphy and Goldsworthy just chop the shit up. In their hands, Fischerspooner’s electroclash cash-up “Emerge” has its machine-brain turned inside out, spilling out in repeated vocal refrains, distant and shadowed, leaving the original’s chorus as almost an after-thought. They break it down to build it back up, or not really up, but horizontally, off the line, sideways, a fractured and propulsive nod to the spaces the original never left open.
Perhaps the most pressing cuts here are the two most recent extended mixes. The DFA finger Gorillaz’ popular single “Dare” into a fist, merging Albarn’s blurry vocal chant with a cowbell, pulsating bass and spurts of electronic noise that won’t quit ‘til the storm hits the beltway, bruise-blue becomes purple, and red rims the iris. This is long-distance, no restraint. Hot Chip’s “(Just Like We) Breakdown”—from last year’s single but also included on the group’s fantastic full-length, The Warning—again flushes out the original’s simplicity by going even simpler, with its squirmy synth vamps and a polite varsity-band beat. But just as you think the duo’s finished, they bring the synths to the fore again; quiet wood-blocks pop astride the bass-drum, creating a small globe of sound out of the most primitive elements. Of course, that’s what the DFA do. Just when you think you’re out, they drag you back in.