I remember very clearly the first time I heard a mashup. I was sitting at the computer at my old job back in New York and out of iTunes comes Skee-lo (impossibly) rapping over The Breeders’ “Cannonball.” Then came Dangermouse and the whole series of chromatically inspired spinoffs. Two years later, the cultural elite now find mashups laid up and played out — only the occasional Kanye West vs. Beach Boys novelty record whets the palate and wets the pants of the lurkers at boingboing.
Curiously, the mashup fad never caught on in Japan, even though Bonjour Records has been dutifully selling the (illegal) 2 Many DJs mix CDs for years now. You’d think that a collector culture with such high literacy in nerdy musical software would embrace this new form of pseudo-creativity, but there’s just not much going over here in this specific area of post-modern noodling.
There is, however, a small, growing scene interested in the production of “matchups” — musical creations that take the a capella track of a certain song and match it up with the instrumental version of the same song.
This simple description makes matchups seem deceptively easy, but getting the EQ, levels, panning, and compression settings to sound exactly like the original is difficult, painstaking work (especially when the vocal a capella track and instrumentals are mastered separately.) The ultimate goal of the effort is perfect verisimilitude — not being able to tell the matchup from the official version.
Pursuing this obsessive technical competition takes a certain amount of insanity, but just playing audience to these works requires equal focus and dedication. Take this “matchup” of M.I.A.’s “Galang” by one DJ Ball-et (link dead) — it sounds unbelievably similar to the album cut, with only some differences in “attack” and “release” on the compression to tip off the engineers in the room (and go right over my head.)
I can say without hyperbole that this is perhaps the least exciting trend I’ve encountered since the turn of the century, and I can’t imagine it having any resonance outside of the closed audio engineering world. This is sub-sub-Sound and Recording: Not even the eighteen year-old with triple pockets and a full Logic rig is going to take up the sport. The Internet seems like the perfect incubator for this kind of mathematical music culture, but a lot of the “matchup artists” have day jobs in the music industry and do not want to be found on websites promoting the downloads of “matchedup” top singles that sound exactly like the original. The outside world would be too quick to misunderstand this “art” for piracy.
Matchups are relatively new, so perhaps they’ll go in more “creative” directions in the future. But as it stands now, this is orthopraxy in the extreme, joyless slavery to the conception of mechanical auras, a last stand against the ever-growing numbers of culture vultures who pick apart our culture so rudely and rebuild it to their own pathetic liking. No imagination in the Lego building, just following the pictures on the box.