[sic] Magazine

Remixing – deconstructing the myth.

The remix; what is it all about? What is it for? Is it something added or something taken away?

In this feature article we’ll take a 360° view of remixing. We’ll hear from the remixers themselves, what are they striving for and how do they find it. But before the defense must come the case for the prosecution. So first off, we’ll hear the thoughts of a cynic, a bitter and twisted man who doesn’t quite see the point, who thinks remixing is largely as waste of (his) time and money. That man is, of course, yours truly. Bare with me then as I explain exactly where I’m coming from.

Recently the mailman delivered a review disc which turned out to be an entire album dedicated to mixes, ( Bitcrush – From Arcs To Embers), and I must confess my initial feeling was trepidation. I have always had an uneasy relationship with the remix. I wonder if I am alone in my skepticism? My mistrust goes right back to my formative years as music fan. In the early 80s there was a certain fashion for extended mixes. This was because of the 12” single. Personally I’ve always been more of an ‘albums’ man than a ‘singles’ man, probably because I want to hear the whole journey, a fully rounded experience, rather than the highlight(s). I also lean towards slower, sadder pieces and not the hits. If I fell in love with a band I might buy everything, but that was usually to get all the music. For me it was never about collecting, never about investment, it was about having all the songs, all the b-sides and if a band was good at album tracks and b-sides (where you can experiment a bit), they tended to rise a lot in my estimation.

These are general rules and of course there are plenty of exceptions but I suppose it goes some way to explaining why I was never fond of 12” mixes, extended versions or a remix if it took the place of a distinct b-side. I became a sceptic at an early age I’m afraid. I started to see ‘remix’ as a by-word for getting short changed.

There are other factors at play here. Electronic and dance music tends to be remixed more commonly than rock or alternative rock and I favoured the latter. And I have never liked ‘my stuff’ being messed around with. If something is good, why wreck it? I mean, take Hollywood as an example, why on earth would you even consider re-making films like Planet Of The Apes or The Ring when they were perfect to begin with? It irritates the hell out of me, especially when they botch it as badly as Tim Burton’s ‘…Apes’. Can you think of a good remake? Nope, me neither.

Let’s get back to remixing which to be fair, is not the same thing as remaking. My reservations also stem partly from one or two huge let downs in the past. For example I was a big fan of a band called AR Kane , (whose album, ‘i’, was a dream-pop precursor to something like Massive Attack today). When I heard that the ‘i’ songs would be getting the remix treatment from none other than Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins my expectations couldn’t have been more stratospheric. The record itself turned out to be pretty poor. ‘Less than the sum of the parts’ doesn’t even touch it. ‘Rem’i’xes’, was horrible.

I’d like to cite another example. One band who successfully bridged the gap between indie and dance music was New Order . I was a big fan myself and some of their singles had legendary b-sides. Examples include ‘In A Lonely Place’, ‘Procession’, ‘Lonesome Tonight’ and ‘1963’. Midway through their career New Order started putting out mixes as flip sides. I defy anybody to come up with a New Order remix which matches the excellence of the tracks I mentioned. Their Box-set, Retro, contains a whole disc assembled by Mike Pickering and devoted to remixes. I never play it. The FAN disc, with the b-sides and album tracks is by far the best of the lot.

It’s tempting to think ‘case closed’. The old ‘me’, the music fan ‘me’ might well have done so. But the writer ‘me’ has to concede that there’s a wider picture. I noticed it first with post-rock and electronica with Mogwai and Ulrich Schnauss in particular. The ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ remix EP featured none other than Kevin Shields (a kind of successor to Robin Guthrie) and actually opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities. A full album of Mogwai re-interpretations followed and set a benchmark for mixing in the indie sphere. Scepticism remained though. Kid Loco’s ‘Tracy’, for example was lovely, but lovelier than the original? See where I’m coming from? I suppose what some people see as improvement, others will always see as tampering.

So what are remixes for? What makes a good remix? Why not ask the mixers themselves. In fact why not ask those very same artists who worked on the aforementioned Bitcrush record. So we did and here’s what we found out:

On what makes a good remix:

port-royal mainstay Attilio Bruzzone . – “This is for sure a hard question to answer. Remixes can often be very intriguing pieces, but it’s also difficult to create something that the listener thinks: “hey, this is a really great piece of work!”. The problem is to find the perfect, brittle balance between the original song and your own style, so that the outcome can satisfy both the listener who is fond of the remixer as well as the listeners who’s a fan of the artist remixed. The goal should be to try to put in a new light the old melodic ideas, giving a renovated power to them by putting them in a new context or finding out the best new arrangement for them”.

Morgan Bellini of Vanessa van Basten adds: “A good remix should simply maintain an emotional link with the original version but showing the remixers main character and style”.

Jat man


Scott Worley ( Jatun ) is on the same page: – “I think the best remixes out there are the ones that can retain a core part of the original song (in some form or fashion) after being heavily deconstructed. In the end, the song should offer what’s best of both bands/artists”.

Arni Teitur Asgeirsson of Worm Is Green goes further: – “A good remix is when the listener instantly recognises /or thinks when he listens to the remix, that he is hearing, for example, Worm is Green remixing Bitcrush because of a combination of ‘signature’ sounds from both artists”.

Clearly there is a stylistic importance then – a blending of different genetic imprints with the objective of creating something new and different, something which can move forward whilst retaining aspects of both ‘parents’. It really is ironic that this ultra-modern world of cables, controls and coffee is actually functioning a lot like nature – cross-pollination, blending, breeding, evolution – it sounds like a reproductive cycle.

Thomas Bücker of Bersarin Quartett“It’s good for me if a remix puts the original in a different direction … a different mood or view … or just a reinterpretation of the source-material with the stylistic devices of the remixer”.

Tim Ingham ( Winterlight ) shares a similar view: – “I like remixes that take elements of the original and produce something completely new from it. I remember how amazing Andy Weatherall’s remix of ‘Loaded’ sounded and how different when you compared it to the original.”

subtractiveLAD aka Stephen Hummel“I prefer remixes that really balance the spirit of the original track with the style of the remixer. I have never been a fan of remixes that completely obliterate the original material – that’s not to say that there can’t be great music done this way, it just seems to me that then you really have a whole new track and to call it a ‘remix’ is a bit of a stretch (no matter what the jumping off point was). It is much more exciting for me to hear the original track recontextualized… to hear clear aspects of the original piece brought to life in a whole new way.”

“Brought to life in a whole new way” – Remixing really is like parenting (or more specifically the ‘activity’ that leads to parenthood). Of course some couples really shouldn’t do it. For others….the results can be beautiful. But without getting too ‘Karma Sutra’ about it, how does it actually happen?

We asked; how do you approach mixing?

Thomas Bücker – “Mostly I find a loop, a melody, a rhythmic structure or a sound-snippet of the original-track that fascinates me. If I want to put this into my world, then I will continue working on it”.



Stephen Hummel : “My approach to remixing has always been to find the part of the original material that speaks to me the loudest — what really jumps out at me… or, what seems to be the emotional core of the piece. I strip everything down to these core elements and then build up my mix around them. Almost always, once everything has been broken down, I get a clear idea about where those core stems want me to push them. It’s a very interesting process because remixing allows you to get into the original artist’s head a little, once you see/hear the arrangement deconstructed… there is something slightly voyeuristic about the whole experience.”

Arni Teitur Asgeirsson : “I’ve been in touch with Mike Cadoo for a while and we decided to make remix exchange deal, we did a remix of “Untilted” and he did a Bitcrush remix of one of our tracks called “The Politician”. (NB The Politician EP was released in October 2009, and was named one of 7 best EP’s of 2009 by igloo magazine.) As to method I usually listen to the track a few times then I start working with the samples for a few hour session, I rarely use any beat programming from the original and usually end up using like 3-4 samples tops from the original track.

“I try to implement some “Worm Is Green atmosphere” using some familiar touches from our music, if you have heard it, our piano, vocals and bass sound being the most specific thing about our sound in my opinion. I then listen to the original again for final check if I missed some cool parts I could include in the remix, and if everything is ok, it is done. I try to work pretty fast”.

Tim Ingham : “I will listen to the original track a few times and then listen to each of the individual parts. I’m listening for a riff or a melody that I can repeat and use to provide the foundations on which I can build something new. I tend to use two or three “motifs” from the original and then record lots of new parts of my own to layer over the top and I build this up so that by the end the track becomes almost like me playing a cover version of some theme or element of the original. I was happy to do this one because it was so different to my own music and on listening I knew there were structures in it which would enable me to work the way I like to work”.

Vanessa van Basten

Vanessa van Basten

Morgan Bellini bucks the trend: – “Vanessa van Basten has a sizeable electronic approach especially on recording, but remain a classic rock band with real instruments, so our approach to remixing that Bitcrush song has been basically to sample the bass line, processing some drums part and recording all the rest as a new Vanessa van Basten song. Our remix of ‘an island, a peninsula’ is something like Vanessa van Basten with the Bitcrush bassist as a guest. Regarding the song’s feeling however, I’ve tried to maintain the main melodies but I’ve created a new, final part, more dramatic and dark, and typically crafted as a mantric Swans ending. The song that Bitcrush gave us is very intense but extremely simple so it was quite easy for us to reorganize everything without spending weeks”.

Scott Worley “First I’ll listen to all the stems from the song and then choose the ones that inspire me to create something. With ‘Waiting For Something’, I really enjoyed the mood of the song. The thing that hit me the most was this repetitive guitar line and I envisioned writing all sorts of stuff around that one part. Usually I hack up pieces of percussion, guitars, and vocals and then go from there. I could go deeper into this, but I fear I’ll lose some folks along the way with all the technical jargon”.



Atti Bruzzone eases up on the jargon (but does manage to work in a shameless plug.) – “I can say that each time is almost a new way… During these years we tried a lot of things: original songs completely changed, transformed into something new and nearer to our style, as well as the opposite, that is to say, to stick to the original structures and melodies, and just work on beats and details and overlays.. on ‘of embers’, we decided to follow the main bass line, trying to keep the original song “body” and playing around with some different ‘skins’. We think is one of most recognizable remix we’ve done… for the first part! Then the second part is kind of port-royal new song, you know we always like the presence of two different (maybe even opposite souls) in the same song, sort of metaphor of the duality in any human being, ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ in music! However, usually we prefer to remove the most characteristic (or most recognizable) aspects of the original song and use instead the hidden parts of them. Sometimes we also tried new techniques, ways of working we never used in our records, some sort of experimental approach. Anyway people will soon be able to see for themselves. Our whole remixing portfolio will be out by the end of the year, as n5MD will release a double cd album: “port-royal 2000-2010: the golden age of consumerism”.

Conclusions? With the exception of the VvB track, which was a re-construct rather than a deconstruct, there seems to be a lot of commonality running through these answers, at least with regard to technique. Most agree on the idea of breaking down a track to find its essence. Once again I’m struck by the human aspect here. At the heart of a fairly technical process lies the search for, and reaffirmation of, music’s emotional core. I find myself warming not only to remixes themselves but to the idea and philosophy of remixing. What then on my old misgivings about messing around with songs which should be left well alone.

What should you never remix?

Arni : “I think nothing is sacred when it comes to remixing music, you just have to be approach every project with the respect it deserves,
Of course there will be mixed opinions and hardcore fans of some classic tracks don’t want anyone touching them, but sometime it works and sometime it doesn’t. Worm Is Green did a cover/remix of the classic Joy Division track ‘Love will tear us apart’ back in 2003 and we don’t regret it”.

Atti : “I could simply say: you should never remix something you don’t really like, even it’s not completely true though: one thing that is intriguing in the practice of remixing is that you can find things you like and are worth to work on also in songs that are really far from your tastes… So, let’s say that is better to avoid the material in which you can’t find even a single separated track/file that is inspiring to you and or sounds pretty good to your ears: by starting a new remix, it’s important that you are feeling that there is at least a small ‘key’ through which you can enter in the right mood and build a song you can love. If this is not happening, it is definitely better to stop!”

Scott agrees: – “Never remix something you can’t envision yourself working on. There’s plenty of mixes out there that feel uninspired, no need to continue adding onto that smouldering pile.”



Tim : “Well, I have been told that you should never remix tracks or bands that you love but I find that to put in the time and effort it requires to make a good remix it helps if I love the music I am lucky enough to be asked to work with; I recently remixed port-royal’s Anna Ustinova and I loved the track from the moment I heard it.

In order to do a track justice you have to have some connection with the music. Not that you need to make music that sounds like the original but I think that you need to have some feeling for the original in order to make something new that is successful. A house remix of Tim Buckley would probably sound terrible though even then I wouldn’t say it shouldn’t be attempted just that I am not sure that it would be that good.

So, I think that as long as you have this empathy with the source material then I don’t see that there is anything that shouldn’t be remixed. That is not to say that the results of all remixes are great but that there is no harm in trying anything, if it doesn’t work it is no big deal – it is music not something sacred, if you don’t like it then don’t listen!”

Thomas : “Perhaps if the original-track has political statements that I totally disagree. Then I would keep my hands from it.

Otherwise, never say never.”

WIG in action

Worm Is Green in action

There you have it. I for one would never have dreamt in a million years that the processes and pursuits of remixing could be so naturalistic. Perhaps we need to constantly remind ourselves that all the studios and software, mp3s and mixers are just media , peripheral items allowing artists to create art – art being one of the things separating the human from the animal.

A recent reggae assignment opened my mind to this. Revisiting the 70’s golden era of dub reggae it dawned on me, dub itself is a only kind of remix. All those beloved King Tubby mixes and Lee Perry , ‘Upsetter’ versions of Bob Marley etc, were just the same, they were striving for the heart and soul of the music. They were the first remixes that stood out for themselves. I should have realised this before being so sceptical about today’s mixes.

There’s a delicious phrase I recall from literature (although I’ve drawn a blank as to the source), along the lines ‘everything we learn, we already knew’ , which to my mind means that there’s a separation between being told something and truly understanding it. We need, sometimes, a re-enforcement or repetition. (Like remembering names at parties, they say if you use a strangers name two or three times in quick succession, it’s more likely to stick. You’ve learned it but you already knew it.) So maybe when you hear a remix it somehow opens up some kind of further understanding of the original.

And maybe… I already knew that?

On a personal level I have learned (or re-learned) something over the course of this assignment which is to be open to all possibilities. We shouldn’t prejudge remixing. There’s quality there. It isn’t mechanical. It isn’t cynical. It isn’t necessarily music industry filler. It’s something creative and positive – one artist’s re-imagination of the other and as can be seen from the answers above, the emotional core of the music is sacrosanct.

~[sic] Magazine wishes to thank all the contributors to this article. Bitcrush’s From Arcs To Embers is out now on the n5MD label.~

Bersarin Quartett

Worm Is Green



Vanessa van Basten




From Arcs To Embers