On the Internet, no one knows you’re a lanky, bespectacled laptop nerd with too much software and not enough time (or inclination) to leave the house. But they assume it anyway. Why else would you be sifting through hip-hop tumbleweed, grabbing snippets of doggerel verse and matching them with messy, pungent beats twice the intended speed? Techno’s glitch scene, originally the domain of straight-faced post-Aphex noisemakers, is suddenly glutted by crossover moves, no artist’s oeuvre complete without the requisite reworked rap track. It used to be that the sound of digital malfunction was enough to satiate the brainiacs, but now they want cred, too.
But is it fear (those guys are the real sonic renegades, so let me immolate them beyond recognition) or loathing (I hate those sounds, so I’ll make them into something that works for me) that drives this trend? Strangely, neither. Consider the unauthorized mixes tribute tracks, cover versions that not only bring new life to the original songs, but often erase any trace of the old life in the process.
It’s aesthetic hijacking—no different from what white kids have been doing to black music for years (hello, Moby Mezzrow!). For that matter, it’s no different from Puffy pimping Mtume and the Isleys. Add all the effects and vocals you want, but this kinda borrowing presumes the listener knows the original well enough to at least give you props for flipping it. DJ Premier or the Avalanches might take a sound and render it so obscure that even the most devoted record enthusiast would be stumped. These new glitch guys crave no such trickery; radio-ready, they’re showing you their hits.
To wit, the caveat on the back of The Action Packed Mentallist Brings You the Fucking Jams: “all songs not written by kid606.” It’s part liability-fucker, part artistic concession, and all shtick. 606 (a/k/a Venezuelan-born Miguel Trost Depedro) has been reverse-engineering hip-hop for some time, masterminding 2000’s Attitude comp of N.W.A. assaults and sprouting a whole bootleg phenomenon. (606’s Tigerbeat6 label features culture jammers like Baltimore’s Cex, who’s progressed from beat biting to kicking original gold-tooth rhymes, and Toronto’s knifehandchop, whose “Bounty Killer Killer,” in its various permutations, preserves the dancehall original’s primal energy while, simultaneously, completely denaturing it.) So as much as Mentallist, the Kid’s latest album, is the work of others, the lens and filter are squarely his. There are the epic inside-joke song titles—”Sometimes I Thank God I Can’t Sing Because Than No One Can Blame Me for Anything” for a three-minute feedback trip, “MP3 Killed the CD Star” for a winking mash session—and the by-now trademark high-speed gabber chases that end in a nasty crash in a dark alley.
Half the fun with 606 is the trainspotting: D12, Kylie Minogue, Splack Pack, Black Sabbath, Craig David, the Bangles. On “This Is Not My Statement,” the kid takes what’s probably some liberal-arts college a cappella group’s rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” and distorts it so badly it makes AM radio sound crystal. Afterward, a repetitive loop drones, “I don’t belong here,” but it’s a lie. 606’s agenda has no boundaries, geographic or stylistic. Inherited context is as fleeting as the memory capacity of the sampler—instead, we get the now sound from way back. “Never Underestimate the Value of a Holler (vipee-pee mix)” revisits Timbaland’s “Get Ur Freak On”/”Ugly” sleight-of-beat, then lets Eminem get open over Tim’s other third-world production, “Big Pimpin’,” and that’s all minutes before 606 makes the dancehall/Sabbath connection and finishes on a high note with A-Ha, a rude bwoy in repose.
On the same track, 606 drags out Missy’s “copywritten, so don’t copy me,” pulling endless seconds out of the last two words. For his purposes, she’d better not be scared of the remix. Indeed, he makes her beg for it. Accordingly, on FreakBitchLickFly, Missy is the node that feeds Kid606 and his extended family. Last time out, N.W.A. provided unwitting, and provocative, source material for the network. But Timbaland’s sonic eclecticism has proven alluring to the clicknoscenti (Tim, after all, was breaking the rules before the Neptunes rode roughshod all over urban radio), so the selection of his masterpiece as target of the second 606, et al., assault is a logical one. It’s homage; students at the feet of the masters, chopping them up to bits.
FreakBitchLickFly, released on the alleged New Zealand imprint Violent Turd, comprises seven bootleg Missy mixes, varying in quality, but not mission. Max Tundra’s “Typify Dialup Toll Amateurishness (fuck coldplay)” (again, titles count for a lot in this world) is warm and fuzzy laptronica. Tundra mimics rain patter—it’s a remix of “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)”—with what sounds like gentle synth-pad hits, and at the end, dips into a choppy Billy Joel excursion. Kevin Blechdom morphs “She’s a Bitch,” an otherwise sinister, bottom-heavy affair, into “She’s a Bitchhole,” which spins spare electro shots into space, instilling the sly track with dancefloor euphoria.
606 himself takes two separate stabs at “Get Ur Freak On.” “Take the Piss On,” at drill’n’bass speed, layers a thick line of synthesized bass and assault-rifle snares on top; “I Got Mine” edges towards funky pings and feedback. But unlike his radical surgery on N.W.A., these procedures feel merely cosmetic, a tuck here and an implant there. Cutting in “Take On Me” (once again) seems to prove the endeavor’s levity.
Only the final, hidden, track, which chimes in at almost 47 minutes, asks the hard questions. Called “Load of Noise,” it’s just that. Occasionally a reference point ekes through—the sitars from “Freak” slowly mutate into distorted stoner guitars—but mostly it’s a throwaway. Any attempt to draw meaning from it is met with implied laughter. Yet of the bunch, “Load of Noise” is the most challenging by conventional standards. It denies its source material; it has no hope for borrowed cred. It makes fun of the quest for narrative even as it proffers a new one.
Since all glitch hipster roads ultimately emanate from Virginia Beach—home to Missy, Tim, and the Neptunes—the use of “Get Ur Freak On” to kick off DJ /rupture’s three-turntable mix Gold Teeth Thief might seem perfunctory. But /rupture (born Jace Clayton) likes the sound of the Freak more than 606 and friends. He enthusiastically speeds it up a few notches, every tabla and snare hit registers crisp, and the sitar licks pack more punch and, crucially, bounce than ever before.
The laptoppers tend to conflate reverence with irony, eager to either stamp source material as indelibly their own or use its power as a drawing tool. More often than not, they lose sight of the elements that made the song great in the first place. Not only does Clayton, a black expat raised in New England and living in Spain, get his freak right, he uses the song’s post-rap pan-ethnic fusion as a starting point and statement of purpose for his border-skipping mix. (The initial, limited run of Thief is long gone, though it will be reissued on Violent Turd this summer, or can be downloaded free from www.negrophonic.com.) “Freak” bleeds into the is-it-Middle Eastern-devotional-music-or-is-it-Peking-opera instrumental from last year’s most compellingly ignorant rap song, “Oochie Wally,” by QB’s Finest featuring Nas, then slaps in ruff dancehall chants from Bling Dog. Queensbridge, Bollywood, Trenchtown: one blood.
Everywhere else on Thief are artists who themselves slur their styles—DJ Scud rams dancehall into gabber with military industrial force; dead prez do their best more-fire versioning on KRS-One; El-P’s beat on Cannibal Ox’s “Vein” is like Vangelis crunk; Rude Ass Tinker (another Mike Paradinas/µ-ziq alias) gets his glitch on in an effects-thick but weirdly faithful rendition of “U Can’t Touch This.”
But when the artists themselves stay in one groove, Clayton fucks them up, pulling the best from each and demanding diaspora. Swedish electro-acoustic composer and trumpeter Tommy Zwedberg shares soundspace with Kid606, fellow chopper-upper Venetian Snares, and musique concrète innovator Luciano Berio. Classical plunderphonist John Wall rubs up against Spanish chanteuse Mercedes Ferrer. Oval’s click-moods drone with Nettle’s dirty dub and the sounds of Turkish composer Ilhan Mimaroglu, who in his day worked with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman and was responsible for the score to Fellini’s Satyricon.
While 606 and friends are in lust, DJ /rupture is in love. Good Teeth Thief inherently respects the architects. Every blend is careful and flawless. Even the album’s end—a plaintive arrangement of Muslimgauze’s ambient dub “The Taliban,” Miriam Makeba’s “Djiguinira,” and “Homeless,” Paul Simon’s transoceanic hit with Ladysmith Black Mambazo—shows a beautiful confluence of progressive cultural politics and sonics; the colonizer, the colonized, and the anti-colonial warrior all act in forward-thinking musical symbiosis. When Ladysmith chanted, “homeless, homeless,” alongside Simon, it was a dead-on lamentation. In the hands of DJ /rupture, it’s a statement of pride.