Mash ups - The good, the bad and the ugly.
A mash up is a special tool in the DJ’s arsenal, which when used correctly can have a similar effect to pouring petrol onto an already flaming dance floor.
Here’s how a mash up works: The vocals (referred to as the aCapella) are layered over the top of the instrumental part of a completely different song, and the result is essentially an entirely new track with its own identity and flavour. Indeed, people often comment that a well-conceived mash up is ‘better than the original’, that is, in a best-case scenario they can be greater than the sum of their parts.
Before we go into the top five mash ups, let’s take a brief look at how mash ups are actually made. The first step is sourcing the ACapella and instrumental. With the advent of the Internet this became a lot more time efficient, but in the olden days this meant searching through crate after crate and dark dusty corners of record stores. Many artists release an ACapella version of certain tracks to be used by DJs, producers and remixers. Getting hold of this studio recorded Acapella is the best-case scenario as the vocals will be crystal clear and clean.
The second option is to use one of the ‘after market’ ACapellas that float around the interweb. These have basically been created by taking the original track, and using audio engineering software to reduce the frequencies that contain the instrumentals, thereby extracting the vocals. Unfortunately this isn’t an exact science, and often a tiny amount of the instrumental will remain (resulting in a slightly muddy sound), or a tiny amount of the vocal will be removed (resulting in a hollow sound). However, in the many cases where the Artist hasn’t released a studio aCapella there isn’t any other option, so you have to make do.
Once the two tracks have been sourced, there’s quite a lot of work that goes into aligning – that is, matching the phrasing of the vocal with the beat and chord structure of the instrumental. In a live scenario (with a little rehearsal), it may be possible to achieve this on the fly, simple by playing each part on separate decks and using the jog wheel and tempo sliders to slightly manipulate the tracks until they fall into alignment (keeping them aligned is another story). Anyway, this is all a little technical, but I thought it might be interesting to anyone whose thinking of getting into making mash ups.
As a listener or client, all you need to know is that they sound awesome and make you dance.
Our first entry is not a Mash up, rather, it is an artist whose name has become synonymous with the Genre. In the early 2000s, as Mash Ups and bootlegs were experiencing a surge in popularity, Greg Gillis (stage name Girl Talk) emerged as a figurehead of the genre. He has released five albums, each of which can be listened to both as individual tracks or one contiguous DJ mix. His work borrows heavily from radio friendly pop of the 70s to 90s, often overlaid with classical hip-hop from Wu Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls and the like. All of Girl Talks work can be downloaded on a free or ‘pay what you want’ basis at this link; and is essential listening for anyone with an interest in the Mash Up genre.
Bitter Sweet Dirt of Your Shoulders – The Verve + Jay Z
The iconic Violin motif from the Verve’s ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ is possibly the most frequently used sample in the Mash Up genre, and perhaps the most successful example of its use with Jay Z’s ‘Dirt Off Your Shoulders’. Check it out.
The Office Theme + Hustler Musik (Lil Wayne)
One of the great joys of Mash Ups is watching the crowd’s delight at a really unlikely pairing that, against the odds, fit together brilliantly. This is one of those. I’m also a huge fan of the Office, so I couldn’t leave this one out. Unfortunately its difficult to credit this work properly, because its been floating around the internet for a number of years, but many thanks to Clockwork – whoever you are – we love your work.
Royals (Lorde) + Paper Planes (M.I.A) – DJ Mike Biggz
Two incredibly fierce women collide in this dance floor filling banger. It opens with the very familiar and urgent chords which define M.I.A’s beat, but then surprises us with Lorde’s remarkably self assured (for a 17 year old) vocal – I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh’. Royals was the track of 2013, and Paper Planes is even older (2008), but I think this Mashup will still feel fresh for another ten years.
YMCA (Village People) + Shake that Ass (Eminem)
While the production on this mashup isn’t particularly tight, it more than makes up for it with its fun factor. Eminem’s tracks (including this one) are infamously tongue in cheek, so it somehow makes sense for it to be paired up with the flamboyant Village People. And its catchy as hell – everyone report to the dance floor!
A FINAL WORD FOR DJS
Like remixes and edits, Mashups are a tool to be used sparingly. If every second track you play is a mashup, you’ve gone wrong and your audience will quickly loose interest. Basically, they’ll think you’re “trying to be too clever”. When you drop a mashup you’re loosing some recognisability, which is the most important quality in what you choose to play. If the mashup is made up of something iconic like the YMCA, the audience is going to be hanging out for the chorus, and if it doesn’t arrive then they’ll be disappointed and leave the dance floor. Therefore its sometimes a good idea to blend the original track in with the mashup, so you briefly subvert expectations but then return to something that is familiar and interactive.
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