Earlier in the millennium, I reported on “byterock”: the desktop dovetailing of a couple songs in a fun game of (not so) strange bedfellows. Let’s make Eminem talk to Britney. Let’s make her and Justin do it, digitally. Many combinations were inspired, if primitive. But inspiration moves toward professionalization, unless self-destruction is built in.
The new phase has none of byterock’s splicey back’n’forth, or its endearing awkwardness. Bootlegs compress and pitch-shift two object songs till they’re in perfect parallel. It’s a meaningful evolution. Byterock was he said/she said. But the form has changed its nature from either/or to both/and, to charged moments of overload, until last year’s models make this moment’s vertigo.
Some pairings showcase pure technograce, like 2 Many DJ’s‘ impeccable blur of “Push It” and Iggy’s “No Fun.” Some settle for implausibility’s charm, like Celine Dion’s confab with yoga-rockers Sigur Rós on The Best Bootlegs in the World Ever. But postmod screwing-aroundism isn’t limited to irony and technique. Living up to its name, DJ’s is bent into a continually inventive dance party, from ELP + Basement Jaxx to the lambent, kinky coupling of Dolly Parton with Eurolectro new kids Royksopp. Lost one-hitter Skee-lo has a career moment crossbred with “Cannonball”: His stoner wish list is briefly the bong in the Breeders’ song until it all blows, crushing everything before dissolving into the Cramps and the Wildbunch. Sonesthesia party tonight!
Less wingding and more wig-out is Best Bootlegs. Freelance Hellraiser’s “Stroke of Genius” (Christina Aguilera meets some New York rock combo) rated mention in these pages recently. But the superlative mindblower is another Hellraiser offering on Bootlegs: “Smells Like Booty,” which gets its Teen Spirit in my Children of Destiny. Nirvana seem so cultically themselves that it’s hard to imagine they could play well with others. But even as the Beyoncé sexes up Kurt and the boys, their rude voodoo uncovers a wild desperation in Destiny that must always have been there. You keep waiting for it all to fall apart, out of its own intensity—waiting for the concerned parties to slip back into their bodies, be themselves again. The way it keeps on not happening is shocking. It’s not just new, it’s world-historical.
But history can’t be trusted. One of Bootlegs‘ peaks is the sexy “We Don’t Give a Damn About Our Friends,” credited to Girls on Top. Previously a year-old piece of white-label plastic, it syncs source-code star Gary Numan with who I suspect are local vocal heroes Sugababes. I suspect this because, in April, Sugababes released a sanctioned “Freak Like Me” which is the exact same track(s), a little closer to perfect.
You can’t blame a girl (or three) for smelling market share, and surely they kicked down some pounds sterling to proto-post-human Numan. But it comes with the dry reverberation of a story slamming closed in a slick spasm of professionalization. With the official mersh in hand, with the familiar brand names, “Freak Like Me” sounds weirdly like a unitary song. The dizzy seduction of the bootleg is at its heart the vertigo of consumption—that idle dream of listening to two great songs at once, just because life is short and art is many. It’s a seduction that vanishes into the pro flirtation of the Sugababes’ photo on their Universal Island jewel case, into the old and tired prohibitions of the commodity (“Unauthorised copying, reproduction, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting prohibited”). Bite me.