We asked you to nominate your favourite remixers. We took the wide-ranging list of results and in true remix style, extended and reinterpreted it…
London’s West End is currently awash with posters for a new musical that is opening shortly after a brief introductory run in Manchester. & Juliet takes Shakespeare’s famous tale of star-crossed lovers and reimagines it – what might have happened if Juliet hadn’t killed herself? Altering the Bard’s original work would be considered by many as sacrilegious. Charged with legitimising the idea, the marketing department came up with the slogan “The most famous love story of all time. Remixed.” A clear sign of how far the concept of remixing has come. Not only will the use of that one word instantly illustrate the thinking behind the play; it aims to validate it. Maybe this is not surprising in a world where even sweets and fizzy drinks now get the so-called remix treatment.
Remixing the classics
Whilst respectfully doffing our funky Curtis Mayfield style caps to the pioneers of the extended dancefloor remix (both the 1960s Jamaican dancehall dons and New York’s 1970s disco denizens), here we will focus on the era which has seen the remix centre stage rather than lurking with artistic intent in the wings. The more remixing has been recognised as a true art form, the more artists and rights owners have been happy to offer up multi-track tapes of classic tracks for reinterpretations, especially when proven virtuosos such as the trio we feature here are ready and waiting at the mixing desk.
Dimitri From Paris is one of the most revered remixers of all time, especially for his sympathetic reworkings of disco classics which always strike that sought-after balance between respecting and enhancing the original version. 2018 brought us a clash of era-defining disco titans when Dimitri got the keys to the CHIC vaults for a box set remix project which saw him sprinkle glitter on no less than ten Rodgers / Edwards classics, including this one.
Equally lauded for his deft touch when it comes to updating a dancefloor standard for contemporary floors is master craftsman and long time disco evangelist Joey Negro. From the dozens of first-rate revamps on Joey’s CV, we have selected a choice cut from the most recent volume of his highly recommended Remixed With Love series. As Joey explains in the notes with this clip, when he received the remix ‘parts’ for (Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop by Fatback Band, he didn’t have an awful lot to work with – except, of course, for a 24-carat funk classic. However, he still turns in a brilliant reworking that has filled many a floor in recent months (coincidentally, Chaka Khan’s much-loved comeback single Like Sugar borrows more than liberally from Bus Stop – good timing for Fatback, Joey, Chaka and DJs / dancers everywhere).
Our first two selections may be recent releases, but house royalty has been entrusted with disco classics since the 1990s. Perhaps the most remixed catalogue of all is that of Salsoul. After the success of the Loleatta Holloway-sampling Ride On Time, the label was quick to realise the potential benefits (both creative and financial) that encouraging the synergy between disco and house could bring. The sheer number of remixed Salsoul tracks out there inevitably means the standard is inconsistent. The best tend to be those that opt for subtlety, as evidenced here by Todd Terry.
Pop goes the remix
When disco was at its commercial peak, many a chart artist tried to cash in by producing their own ‘disco’ track, inevitably with mixed results. When house music began to have a similar global impact, labels opted for a different tack, which would better serve their most precious acts. Why have them risk career suicide with a poorly executed dance track, when instead you could go straight to clubland’s leading authorities, the tastemaker DJs, and offer them a mouth-watering fee for a dancefloor friendly revision of an existing track. The remixers who made careers out of this were those who realised that to get the repeat gigs, you had to offer value for money in return for that generous paycheck.
David Morales quickly became renowned for doing just that, frequently delivering a whole plethora of mixes – vocal, dub, alternate takes. When given the chance to remix Mariah Carey’s Dream Lover, he took things to the next level, persuading the superstar to re-enter the studio to re-record the vocal to fit his brand new track.
Creating a new track under the guise of remixing increasingly became de rigueur for the remix world’s A list, with the credits accordingly being updated to ‘remix and additional production by’. A production team like Masters At Workwere aware that they were in effect being commissioned to deliver a Masters At Work track, ideally with the artist concerned still featuring. Living up to their name, they did indeed become masters of the format. Rarely did a Masters At Work mix not hit the spot, and they helped to give new leases of life to numerous artists / tracks.
Masters At Work were one of the select band of remixers to be given the opportunity to remix Michael Jackson’s classics as part of the campaign to promote his 1991 Dangerous album, alongside the likes of Roger Sanchez and Brothers In Rhythm. It wasn’t long before Jackson remixes became somewhat too common and, as with Salsoul, the quality control slipped. However, when the very best got the opportunity to update a true classic, magic could still occur. As a remixer, Frankie Knuckles had few peers. He employed a lightness of style that was in contrast to some of his relatively raw early productions, and his ‘classic’ mixes recalled the lush sound of the disco era revitalised for the house generation. There are few better examples than his take on Jackson’s Rock With You, with its distinctive, beatless piano intro. Both Michael’s vocals and familiar instrumental hooks from the original are slowly teased in as the mix builds in intensity.
Remix as reinvention
At the height of 1990s remix mania, many star turn remixers would in effect deliver labels new tracks which had but a fleeting acquaintance with the original source material. In some cases, this might be as part of a multi-mix package – as mentioned above, David Morales was famed for these, and increasingly, his darker Red Zone dubs became much sought after (and earn him a second entry here).
Effectively donating a new production to another artist could be justified to the bank manager when the one-off remix fee paid on delivery was frequently more than a producer could expect to earn from a single release over several months. Armand Van Helden referred to “making crazy bank” from remixes – and the more radical the surgery he performed on a song, the more work he was offered. He hit on a fusion of house with drum’n’bass dynamics on a string of remixes in 1996, uniting house and UK garage dancefloors, and concluding with his mix of Professional Widow by Tori Amos (90% AVH / 10% Tori) becoming a pop chart number one in January 1997 after ruling Ibiza all summer, and remaining inescapable for months after.
Professional Widow wasn’t the first remix to help an act hit the pop chart jackpot despite having little or no resemblance to the original song. Push The Feeling On by Nightcrawlers had achieved that feat in 1994 courtesy of the now legendary MK’s Dub of Doom. Marc Kinchen’s mix had initially appeared in 1992, but in this pre-internet age, an extended period of word-of-mouth was required for clubbers to discover what the track with the insanely catchy sax-style synth riff and nonsensical chopped up vocal sample actually was. Whereas Tori Amos enjoyed a successful career both before and after the interesting diversion that was Professional Widow, further success was to elude Nightcrawlers, despite several more MK mixes being commissioned. By contrast, as Defected fans well know, MK’s own star continues to shine bright.
The best remixers are often found to be at their most enterprising and innovative when challenged to take a track from a different musical world and make it fit for the most discerning dancefloors. However, the radical genre-straddling revisions didn’t become part of remix culture overnight. New Order’s electronic indie disco was a big influence on the nascent house and techno coming out of Chicago and Detroit in the late 1980s. Inspired by both their regular clubbing trips to New York and the revolution they were witnessing closer to home as co-owners of the Hacienda, they began to handpick new school producers to remix their tracks. However, maybe daunted by being such big fans of the band, the likes of Steve Silk Hurley (Fine Time) and Kevin Saunderson (Round & Round featured here) turned in mixes that didn’t stray too far from the original.
The 1990s would see New Order remixed frequently and with increasing risk taking, and another indie favourite who immersed herself in dance culture and championed a diverse array of mixes of her work was Björk. Her record company One Little Indian had first seen the potential in inviting remixers to work with her unique vocal style when she was still with her original band the Sugarcubes, whose 1992 It’s-It album was a collection of specially commissioned remixes from the likes of Todd Terry, Graham Massey (808 State), and arguably most effectively of all, Tony Humphries. While the pairing of Iceland’s queen of quirk and New Jersey’s garage don may not have seemed logical on paper, on vinyl the results were superb.
Meanwhile our friends Masters at Work (earning a second entry here having received more nominations from you lotthan any other act) continued their punishing studio schedule without letting the quality dip one iota. In 1989, in a sea of house music (a time when even much hip hop was uptempo) Soul II Soul had proved a downtempo oasis. Whileimmensely popular, they resided in a parallel dancefloor universe until Messrs Vega and Gonzalez got their hands on the iconic Back To Life in 1993 and turned it into a sublime soulful house number.
Remixers du jour
There are times when a certain DJ or producer’s star is so in the ascendant, their capturing of the zeitgeist so complete, that artists and labels are falling over themselves to grab a slice of their apparent wizardry. More often than not, such artists have found themselves in that position through wise decision making, which in terms of remixing means being able to say no, handpicking their projects with care. Two such hardy perennials are Sasha and Andrew Weatherall. Both defy easy categorisation, which helps explain not only their longevity, but also the widespread respect they have earned (hence the number of nominations both received from you despite operating a stylistic step or two away from most of the other acts featured here).
We showcase an early, much-loved Sasha mix of Urban Soul (featuring the inimitable vocals of Roland Clark); and a typical dub bassline-led Weatherall re-rub which extends the genre-trashing of Leftfield & Lydon’s Open Up even further.
Currently, Honey Dijon finds herself in a similar position. With her distinctive style, effortless cool and innate edginess, a remix from Honey can provide a major door-opening boon for a new artist. Like Sasha and Weatherall, Honey clearly picks her projects carefully, causing instant interest and demand. Her Fiercely Furious Dub of I’m Not Defeated by Fiorious is a case in point, providing the perfect musical counterpoint to the original while keeping its call to arms firmly intact.
Remixes for all dancefloors
The music industry has undergone unprecedented levels of change in the 21st century, most notably in the ways in which we consume our music. In the age of streaming and downloading, the remix now often serves a different purpose. It is less likely to form the central plank of a major label marketing campaign, and as such the inflated fees and unlikely artist / remixer combinations are less commonplace. However, in its natural habitat of the dance music world, where the concept originated, it continues to flourish, and arguably as an art form has become more refined than ever. Mixes are rarely commissioned without considerable forethought. More often than not, however, looking to widen the scope of dancefloors on which a track can succeed is key. In this environment, producers who have a trademark style and a track record of delivering consistent quality will still be much in demand; and much loved by the clubbing community, as your many nominations for our final band of stellar revisionists proves.
Preferring to stay under the radar, Atjazz finds himself seen as resolutely underground yet frequently in demand for his soulful, timeless sound. Here he transforms the funky Gallic house of Bob Sinclar’s The Ghetto into a lush, cinematic soundscape.
Also deservedly much nominated by you was David Penn. We have elected to feature his mix of Sophie Lloyd’s Calling Out Your Name, where he smoothly keeps the uplifting spirit of the original intact whilst taking it in a harder direction that successfully widens its appeal.
Mousse T., of course, is house music royalty. In his third decade at the top of the tree, his work schedule shows no sign of slowing down – a sure sign that he continues to deliver both behind the decks and in the studio. Faced with the prospect of remixing a track that had become a phenomenon, Mousse remained undaunted, as evidenced by his take on Cola. The brooding menace of the original is kept intact, but with a memorable injection of funk flavour.
We conclude with the track of the summer, Roberto Surace’s Joys, reimagined by one of the most loved remixers of the moment, the unstoppable Purple Disco Machine. Given a similar challenge to that welcomed by Mousse T. with Cola, Purple Disco Machine takes it effortlessly in his stride, taking Joys in a nu disco direction that has brought it to many a new dancefloor. A remix masterclass.
Check out our Best House and Club tracks Playlist below...