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2 Many DJs, So Little Time

Soulwax and Playgroup Rule the Mix in the Year of the Bootleg

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 12/25/2002

Like most New York City nightspots post-Guiliani, APT, a swank bar in the meatpacking district, is a no-dancing-allowed venue -- not that there's all that much space to move around in anyway. But despite a relentless downpour the spring night APT first hosted 2 Many DJs (aka David and Stephen Dewaele), the room was packed so deep you couldn't have moved much if you tried. 2 Many DJs have become the best-known, and possibly best, purveyors of mash-up bootlegs, and that night, their fusillade of inspired pairings--Missy Elliott drawling "Get Ur Freak On" over AC/DC's "Back in Black" riff, Destiny's Child's "Bootylicious" riding Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" segueing flawlessly into Royksopp's gorgeous chill-out "Eple"--had the crowd in the palms of their hands. Needless to say, people did dance. Thanks to the instantly familiar riffs, they also played air guitar. And liquid danced. And pogoed. And sang along. And every other option the music called for.

Call it a keg party run amok, or a cross between rock and rave that honors both equally. 2 Many DJs are either the world's greatest wedding jocks or future superstars, though their rise feels something like a hopeful signal that the end of the Oakenfold-Sasha-Digweed mega-DJ era is nigh. That's because they can please the crowd with popular, well-known tunes and remain completely subversive at the same time. They play what you want to hear while making it sound like nothing you've ever heard before. They're the wedding DJ as an artist--the fan's, and artisan's, ultimate revenge.

They weren't alone either. Mash-ups were the music story of the year to anyone who was paying attention. But they haven't reached critical mass here yet. In England, the Sugababes are massive thanks to a remake of "Freak Like Me," Girls on Top's mash-up of Adina Howard and Tubeway Army, and Kylie Minogue put "Can't Get You Out of My Head" over New Order's "Blue Monday" on a B-side. And obviously, not everybody is a star, much less a superstar, DJ--like much pop music, mash-ups are easy in theory but damn difficult to execute in practice. But 2 Many DJs' three volumes of As Heard on Radio Soulwax proved that pop is seldom as interesting as when its fans start fucking with its works.

Each disc is wildly different, though, to be fair, there is some overlap between them. Felix da Housecat's "Silverscreen Shower Scene," Carlos Morgan's "Shake Your Body," and the Soulwax mash-up of Salt-n-Pepa's "Push It" and the Stooges' "No Fun" each appear on the first two As Heard discs, while Pts. 2 and 3 both feature Vitalic's "La Rock 01" and Queen of Japan's "I Was Made for Loving You." But each mix has its own thrust, not the least of which being that only Pt. 2 has been officially released, each of its 45 tracks fully licensed in the Dewaeles' native Belgium. One reason the far less official and harder-to-find Pt. 1 and Pt. 3 seem a shade better is that the brothers had fewer restraints in making them. Or maybe not: 2 ManyDJs.com lists 71 tracks that were OK'd but wound up not making the cut, as well as 58 others for which permission was denied. (For Pt. 1 and Pt. 3, try OtherMusic.com.)

Because of its more legit origins Pt. 2 is a fairly traditional dance mix, heavy on electro. I'm no fan of Peaches, not to mention lousy computer-bleep remakes of "I Wanna Be Your Dog" (Dark & Grinser) and Kiss' "I Was Made for Loving You" (Queen of Japan). But the test of any compilation is whether it makes me tolerate such stuff, and this one passes. And in every case, the stretches of nondescript beats that dot the disc's landscape arrive at an unforgettable end-point. Skee-Lo's "I Wish" and the Breeders' "Cannonball" finally make the sweet, sweet love they were always meant to share; ditto ELP's "Peter Gunn Theme (Live)" and Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At."

Pt. 1, on the other hand, keeps on surprising and has far fewer dead spots. It's great fun to hear Daft Punk's "Aerodynamic" segue into the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band," and revelatory how easily the Beach Boys' a cappella track of "God Only Knows" fits over the opening of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" (Who knew the Beach Boys had rhythm?). The mock-orchestral opening of T99's early '90s rave anthem "Anasthasia" sets up Marilyn Manson's equally bombastic "The Beautiful People" like a shortstop executing a flawless double play. And the way the sequence of David Bowie's "Modern Love," Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," and Hairy Diamond's "Givin' Up" keeps speeding up before handing off the relay to Freelance Hellraiser's "A Stroke of Genius" (Christina Aguilera and the Strokes) is one of the most absurdly thrilling things I've ever heard. Pt. 3 isn't as peak-heavy, but it sustains its highs longer. It also has perhaps the most ingenious extended sequence of any of the discs: a series that begins with Garbage's "Androgyny" (Felix da Housecat Remix), ends with Modjo's "Lady," takes in "girl" and "boy" songs by Blur, Prince, the Chemical Brothers, Sabrina, Motley Crue, the Waitresses, and the Moments--and works.

Surprisingly, so does another similar project. Playgroup main man Trevor Jackson's catholicity is bound up in a specific golden age, the early '80s. And on his installment of the DJ Kicks series, he made his debt explicit. But that stark, early-'80s-as-now disc sounds like a dress rehearsal for Party-Mix Vol. 1, the most psychotic project of its kind. Over a continuous, hour-long track, Jackson runs through approximately 200 mostly early-'80s or early-'80s-identified songs, meaning that every selection gets about 18 seconds to make its impact before something else takes its place. A fan, I bought Party-Mix blind and put it on my Discman, and for the first five minutes I thought I was hallucinating. For the next five I wondered when he was going to stop fucking around and play a record through. Finally, I gave up and let it happen.

From a technical standpoint, what's most impressive about Party-Mix is that Jackson seems to maintain long patches of even rhythm without adjusting the pitch of any of the tracks he uses. As it turns out, this is the mix's artistic triumph as well. Unlike similarly microcompacted bootlegs like Osymyso's "Intro Introspection" or Sad's "100 Reasons to Be Sad," Jackson isn't playing his snippets for contrast. He's genuinely trying to keep the groove going, albeit via this completely bonkers, A.D.D.-addled method--and he's succeeding, which is even more bonkers. Certain segments have an almost classic inevitability now: Material into "The Message" into "Genius of Love" between the two- and three-minute mark, or, around 39:00, a snippet of Afrika Bambaataa's "Death Mix" segueing into Indeep's "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life." 2 Many DJs aside, no other DJ in 2002 engineered an epiphany to match it.

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