Thinking About It, Were Mashups Literally the Worst Thing Ever?
Rap over folk! Grime over EDM! Polka over Balinese gamelan! Kill us! Please!
Girl Talk (photo via WikiCommons)
When we're old and withered and drawing our last breaths and we take one last lingering look back on the 00s, we'll remember three defining delusions. The first is that the war in Iraq was a justifiable military excursion. The second is that pasta and pesto was an acceptable meal for anyone over the age of 19 to eat regularly. The third, and arguably the most damaging of the lot, was the oddly incredibly pernicious myth that that the mashup was anything but a horrific assault on the ears and minds of a generation.
Just this morning I received an email from a producer who'll remain anonymous—for both our sake's—touting a brand new mash-up. In 2016. I felt my stomach sake. A cold sweat dripped from my brow, and within thirty seconds my desk was sopping wet. My hands trembled. It was as if I'd being sucked into a vortex and spat out out into a world of Gordon Brown and Pete Bennett. Suddenly I was assaulted by a low quality MP3 of "PATT (Party All the Time)" by Sharam playing over a T.I. track. Everything went black.
When I woke, in a hospital bed, Homes Under the Hammer burbling away above me, the doctors told me that I'd be fine, and that I was the seventh person they've seen this month who'd been admitted for mashup-memorial syndrome. A patient four beds down was sucking lamb stew through a straw and shivering uncontrollably. The matron drew a curtain around my bed and softly told me that the shaking man had been found with an iPod in his hand in the New Cross branch of Subway—this had been playing.
The mash-up—the bootleg, the blend, the bastard child of bastard pop—was a cultural aberration on par with Chris Moyles' Channel 5 chat show or cargo pants. Why people willingly allowed themselves to derive some pleasure from Christina Aguilera being smushed into The Strokes, or The Ying Yang Twins whispering over "Bittersweet Symphony" we'll never really know. All we'll know is that the Freelance Hellraiser, Richard X, 2 Many DJs, and Girl Talk will have to take the shame to the grave with them.
For a few hellish years—before we became a breed of Pokemon catching clean eaters intent on speeding up the dissolution of the human race to the point where each and every day here on earth feels like a genuine treat as opposed to just another 24hrs of needless misery—you couldn't escape the catastrophic cacophony of the mashup. You'd be there, in Yates with a Corona, or Pizza Hut with a Pepsi, and Lil Wayne'd be going in one ear with Debbie Deb filling the other. Culture had decided that the best thing it could do was transform itself into a garish, one joke ouroboros.
I have memories, awful memories, the kind of memories that only come back to you on sleepless nights and remorseful mornings, of reading articles in magazines like The Wire that tried to convince the reader that the mashup was "an important development in the notion of music as a form of socio-cultural synthesis that perpetually seeks to dissolve interpersonal, intercontinental boundaries via the destruction of pre-existing contexts to create a new context in which this newly created object is the beginning of a new kind of modality," or whatever. It was self-serving bollocks that was a (well intentioned) attempt at justifying the existence of some very, very, very horrible music.
Because let's face it, that's the problem here: mashups were for people who didn't really have taste. They were a way of smashing through a load of records you half knew you should have know in double the time it'd take to actually listen to said records. And in the same way that filling your pick'n'mix container to the absolute limits and taking handful after handful of gummy worms, jazzies, and those little foiled-wrapped tennis balls seems like a really good idea until you find yourself nipping out of the Bicentennial Man screening to puke violently all over the swirling, sticky carpet of the Odeon, gorging on the hastily slapped together work of the average bootlegger's just going to make you feel fucking horrible the second that the sugar rush ends.
What you're left with is an endless litany of half-formed ideas that amount to nothing more than classroom sniggering. Rap over folk! Grime over EDM! Polka over Balinese gamelan! That's funny isn't it? Well, no. And it's not particularly interesting either. While club culture as we know it is pretty much entirely predicated on working out how songs, records, tracks, work with one another, the mashup does something else.
The mashup is a form of dilution, whereas mixing, blending—in the now-traditional sense as we know it—is about a musical kind of spatial awareness. You're looking—in most cases at least—for the seamless transition, for the moment when two machines lock and entwine, when something almost entirely new exists for a fleeting few seconds. The mix is a moment of clarity and cohesion. The mashup, on the other hand, is the sound of a dull colleague at an office party screaming in your face after two lukewarm beers and a scotch egg. "HAVE YOU," he shouts, yolk on his lips, "HEARD THE ONE WHERE "SHADDAP YOUR FACE" IS MASHED UP WITH "REIGN IN BLOOD? SERIOUSLY FUCKING GREAT."
You begin to walk away, hoping to find some kind of solitary solace in the toilets. He taps you on the shoulder, breathing hot cumbs onto your neck. You turn to face this man-cum-monster. His eyes are burning with desire. Desire to play you something off his phone. He fumbles for it. He digs it out of his pocket and his tubby digits start tapping away. He's going to show you a video wether you like it or not. So you steel yourself, prepare your best fake laugh, and plan an eventual escape route. He's turning the volume up. He's grinning. He's passing the phone over to you. "This," he says, "is fucking quality."
This is what he's playing:
Thinking about it, mashups really were the literal worst thing ever, weren't they?
Yes. They were.