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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.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 29, 2005

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

11 Responses

  1. odot Says:

    i really hate “mash-ups”, “bootlegs” etc. when they’re done with no critical understatement, just enhancing mainstream pop with electronic wizardry. do you know V/VM (his “sicklove”, “helpaphextwin” and “green door” are the sickest and funniest),, illegal art? they’re the real shit, plus they happen to know what they’re doing with dirty music. also, everything wobbly ( does is amazing. sorry about the name list, but god i hate 2manyDJs.

  2. Mark Says:

    It strikes me that you’re misreading it as a nihilistic parody of creative endeavor rather than as a purely technical exercise, similar to reproducing an image by hand.

    As you acknowledge, a lot of them work in the music industry, so chances are they’ll apply those skills towards building or rebuilding something to your own pathetic liking.

  3. alin Says:


  4. nate Says:

    is this an experiment to check if even your elite, “japan aware” audience will believe any old bullshit about pop-culture here? Did momus put you up to this?
    Or is it just a joke with 2manylayerzofirony?

  5. channing Says:


  6. Rory P. Wavekrest Says:

    I mentioned this to you a while back, here’s a link:
    Strictly Kev’s “Raiding the 20th Century.”

    “On January 18th 2004, Strictly Kev premiered the original ‘Raiding The 20th Century’ on XFM’s ‘The Remix’ show in London. It was a 40 minute attempt to catalogue the history of cut up music – be it avant garde tape manipulation, turntable megamixes or bastard pop mash ups”

    “Mash-ups” are cornbally and not that new or impressive. Call them blends so everyone knows you too are a disc jockey! I’ve invented the “back-up” remix…it’s where I play a song, and then play the exact song backwards on top of it.

    Er, no, I think I call them Palinjamz.

  7. Momus Says:

    This is all just a ruse to distract attention from the Nikkei hitting 15,000. The end of the world you trumpeted with trends and stats didn’t happen, Jeremiah? The final trump didn’t sound? No problem, switch to comedy! Play the trumpet!

  8. Chris_B Says:

    This sounds like something that used to be (and maybe still is) in first year audio engineering class.

    I’m predicting the next boingboing pants wetting fad will be simultanious playback of CDs & DVDs (Dark Side of The Moon & The Wizard of Oz notwithstanding).

  9. non Says:

    Marxy, as you’re certainly a very intelligent person, it sort of seems rather bland when you post so little about important issues in Japan. Maybe toss in a couple more posts similar to Oct 08, Oct 25, etc.?

    (Oh, and, if one were to trumpet the Nikkei, I would hope one would actually be participating in the aforementioned economy, rather than experiencing something akin to the empty importance of a soccer fan taking credit for their team winning the World Cup – when all they did was watch the game on the internet from another country, without even understanding the play by play.)

  10. Michael McCarthy Says:

    All these things are basically just ‘white labels’, people have been doing this since the 1980’s, in the past it was released as a means of getting out some specai mix a certain dj did, or more often, just a cheap way to make money.

    I don’t know if anyone ever consideret it art.

  11. marxy Says:

    I like the mashups in the context of being extentions of mixes and megamixes. I don’t think they deserve much attention as standalone pieces.