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Basement Jaxx may well be the most misunderstood act in the history of house music. Nowadays they are probably best known known for their bells, whistles and the kitchen sink take on stadium house, a divisive sound that has taken them to the heights of The Hollywood Bowl but written off their underground acclaim.

And yet trace the duo’s history back — past 2014’s Junto, 2005’s massive-selling The Singles compilation, 2004’s Grammy-winning Kish Kash — and you find a band whose work for their own Atlantic Jaxx label was adored by underground DJs and consumed in dodgy South London pubs; a duo who pioneered a very English take on house, one that added the South American and Jamaican sounds of London to the US deep house template.

You will, in short, find one of the most intriguing and overlooked catalogues in British dance music, one that is ripe for reappraisal, as we pass the 20th anniversary of the duo first bothering the charts with Samba Magic.

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Chicas

It seems strange in 2014, when record collectors have picked over everything from pre-Revolutionary Russian vocal 78s to Vietnamese soul, that the musical history of Spain is still largely unknown internationally.

After all, some 800,000 British people live in Spain and millions more come to the country every year. What’s more, the musical histories of France, Germany and Italy – countries that many British people once turned their noses up musically – have all been mined to considerable acclaim, turning up wonders of Yé Yé, Krautrock and giallo respectively.

So why not Spain? There is, of course, the country’s troubled recent history: while Britain basked in the summer of love Spain was living under a military dictatorship that had no great love for pop music and would censor records that didn’t meet with its nationalist, pro-Catholic views.

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Daftclub

The global release of Human After All: Remixes this month means that Daft Punk now have as many remix albums to their name as decent studio long players (Human After All and the Tron Soundtrack being excepted on the grounds of inconsistency and boredom, respectively).

There’s nothing too unusual about that for a dance act, you might think, other than the fact that remixes of Daft Punk tracks are consistently awful and merit more being forgotten than being neatly packed up for history.

OK, so I’m being slightly unfair: there are a handful of very good Daft Punk remixes – Ian Pooley and DJ Sneak’s takes on Burnin’, Armand van Helden’s remix of Da Funk, Todd Edwards’ unreleased take on Face to Face and Diplo’s lively remix of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.

But by God they are outnumbered by nonsense and these three remix albums are – at their very best – a disappointment.

Why should this be? The choice of remixers has a fair amount to do with it. The Tron remixes are a case apart – of which more later – but the band have typically supported new French producers by asking them to remix their tracks. This is admirable but the results – as seen on Cosmo Vitelli’s rinkydinkily awful remix of Face to Face or Jess & Crabbe’s artless take on Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger – are frequently so horrid that you have to wonder if the producers were overwhelmed by the task of remixing such an important act. Too much respect for the source material is rarely a good thing in a remix, after all.

But the sheer number of bad Daft Punk remixes – many of them from big, respected names –  makes this idea somewhat lacking. Even Daft Punk – themselves brilliant remixers – have struggled to remix their own material, as seen on the aimless head banging of their Maximum Overdrive mix of Robot Rock or Aerodynamite, a so-so remake of Aerodynamic.

Instead, I think the answer may come down to the specifics of Daft Punk’s music. Unlike, say, Aphex Twin or Squarepusher Daft Punk don’t radically remake electronic music in their image, pushing the boundaries of production. Instead, they do the basics of dance music – a small number of brilliant elements manipulated for maximum dance effect – very well indeed.

Take Robot Rock: there’s hardly anything to it, a couple of samples, a simple vocal and some filters. But these are assembled in such an intuitively perfect way that the song itself is excellent and could happily go on past its 4.46 length.

For remixers this poses a problem. The art of the remix typically involves taking the basic elements of a song and manipulating them in new and interesting ways to bring out otherwise understated elements. But Daft Punk’s tracks have few elements to play around with and are already perfectly aligned. So how are you going to remix them, particularly if you operate in the same basic style (house and techno) as the French duo? 

“Speaking as a songwriter, I think the reason why they’re difficult to remix is because they are primarily producers and their recordings’ strength is the production (try playing any of their tracks acoustically and you’ll find it quite unfulfilling),” says songwriter and journalist Helienne Lindvall.

“The best remixes tend to be those where the production of the original recording can be improved, where the strength lies in the melody hooks. A good example, I think, is Haim’s Falling – of which the Duke Dumont remix is widely considered to be better than the original.  Daft Punk, however, have already largely distilled the sonic picture to its essentials.”

The remixes of Daft Punk tracks that do work manage to do this, teasing some element out of the original song but never straying too far from the template. Ian Pooley’s mix of Burnin’, for example, plays around with the original’s elastic bass line to great effect, while Todd Edwards’ remix of Face to Face (a track that he co-produced, of course) is really just a tweak on the original track, speeding it up a touch and giving the drums more Edwards swing.

Armand van Helden’s Ten Minutes Of Funk mix of Da Funk is the exception to this rule, in that it genuinely sounds like a departure from the original track, which is sped up significantly, gilded with house drums and stretched over 10 minutes. Nonetheless, the remix keeps very true to the spirit of the original tune and to Daft Punk themselves, adding a sample of Tata Vega’s Get It Up For Love which feels like it could have come from the French duo’s own record boxes. Not for nothing did Daft Punk include this remix in their early live sets.

It is a masterful remix but – for some strange reason – you won’t find it on any of the group’s three remix albums. So what is there instead?

Daft Club

Daft Club was Daft Punk’s first remix album, born from an interesting, if ultimately failed, attempt at an early online fan club model. People who bought early copies of Daft Punk’s 2001 album Discovery received a card giving them membership to the club and allowing them to download various Daft Punk odds and sods from the official site, including several remixes. That the Daft Club failed was probably more due to the lack of broadband than a lack of interest. But fail it did and in 2003 the album was properly released.

On paper, Daft Club has a lot to recommend it: an unreleased track in Ouverture and remixes from the likes of NERD, Basement Jaxx, Slum Village and Daft Punk themselves. In practice, though, Daft Club proved a real disappointment: the big boys above never really clicked with the material (Basement Jaxx’s remix of Phoenix is clunkingly AWFUL) and the album gets bogged down in a wave of pointless remixes from smaller, briefly popular house producers, including Demon, Jess & Crabbe, Cosmo Vitelli and Boris Dlugosch. What’s more – with all respect in the world to Romanthony – his Unplugged mix of One More Time would probably have been better left in the studio.

The album, then, might not be quite as bad as an infamous Pitchfork review made it out to be – “To listen to Daft Club front-to-back is – and it’s pointless to exaggerate here – to watch a loved one be physically dismembered,” the reviewer opined – but it adds precisely nothing to your love or understanding of Daft Punk.

Human After All: Remixes

Human After All: Remixes, originally released in 2006 in Japan, then put on sale to the wider world earlier this month – in theory makes a lot of sense. Back in 2006 dance music was getting interesting again, with many producers taking their lead from the rockisms of Human After All, released the year before.

So surely getting a load of those new producers together – including Justice, SebastiAn and Digitalism – to remix tracks from Human After All would be a good move? Add in Daft Punk’s own Maximum Overdrive mix of Robot Rock, plus, in the 2014 release, Le Knight Club’s (aka Guy-Man from Daft Punk) mix of Technoloogic and you had to have a winner, right?

But no… Human After All: Remixes may well be the band’s best remix album but  – as we’ve already established – that’s not such an accolade. Most of the remixes are OK  – a 6/10 deal – but there’s nothing essential here, no radical reinvention that will make you see the album in a new light. That had to wait until the following year, when the band’s Alive 2007 tour successfully dragged Human After All out of the critical mire, mashing the songs together with classics from the Daft Punk catalogue.

It probably didn’t help that there’s are only a handful of really great tracks on Human After All to work from. But even so Digitalism, Justice and SebastiAn should hang their heads in shame at their mixes of Technologic and Human After All, while Soulwax’s take on Robot Rock is, essentially, the original but a little longer. It’s slick, maybe. But not very good.

Tron: Legacy Reconfigured

If you want a real Daft Punk remix stinker, though, look no further than Tron: Legacy Reconfigured, a remix album released in 2011 to coincide with the home video release of Tron: Legacy (hoooray!).

So bad is it, in fact, that former Daft Punk manager Pedro Winter felt moved to write a note of complaint, accusing Disney Records of taking “my robots friends so far away from good taste?”

“Of course some of it is nice, and you know there are some of my friends on this CD. But this is not enough!” he added.

“A masterpiece like TRON soundtrack deserved the best and I am sad to discover the A&R at Disney records is apparently buying most of his electronic music in airports stores…”

Ooof. He does, however, have a pretty good point on the airports: a stranger, less fitting line up of remixers for Daft Punk would be difficult to find that the motley crew on Legacy Reconfigured, which includes The Crystal Method, Moby, Paul Oakenfold, Kaskade, Avicii and Sander Kleinenberg.

I know… I know.

On the positive side, there was some vaguely appropriate names in Boyz Noize and M83 and three good if strange choices in Photek, Com Truise and Pretty Lights. But who the hell The Glitch Mob, Teddybears and Ki:Theory are – and what on earth they’re doing on a Daft Punk album – remains a mystery to this day.

And the results…. well they are as bad as you might expect. Although the unexpected bonus is that the remixers have been chose with so little care and attention that it doesn’t feel like listening to Daft Punk at all. Which is something of a silver lining in the circumstances.

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3001xtra

In 2011, when I was news editor for Music Week, 1Xtra invited me along to its playlist meeting. It was at a time when the station – along with sister station Radio 1 – was trying to throw off some of the secrecy of how it put together the playlist and I was the second journalist to be invited along to the meeting.

Three years is a long time in music, of course: music fashions change and staff move on (and whatever did happen to The Bullitts?). But I think a lot of what is in this article remains valid – the relationship the station has with R1, the obsessions with stats, grime versus dubstep (which led to an almighty argument in the meeting, if I remember rightly) and the various concerns over commerciality and artist backgrounds.

 So I’ve reposted it here for you enjoyment or otherwise.

Inside the 1Xtra playlist meeting

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Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys have spent most of the last two decades as forlornly separate entities, united by history but divided by everything from lawsuits to mental health problems.

And yet throughout this time the two parties have done pretty much everything other than reunite: Brian toured much-loved Beach Boys album Pet Sounds and even re-recorded legendary lost release Smile as a solo project, while The Beach Boys lumbered on under the leadership of Mike Love, taking the perfect pop songs that a teenage Wilson wrote in the 60s to arenas around the world.

As such, it was both a relief and a worry when Wilson announced that he would be getting back with The Beach Boys for a tour and album to mark their 50th anniversary. A relief because, at the end of it all, you feel that Brian Wilson really should be at the helm of The Beach Boys, the band he formed back in 1961 and drove to imperial pop stardom.

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Discovery, Daft Punk’s second album, was in its own quiet way one of the most influential releases of the Noughties.

Released in 2001, the album saw the Daft Punk duo lurch away from the filtered disco loops and Chicago-via-Paris house production that had become their trademark into something a whole lot stranger.

Or that was how it sounded at the time, anyway. It sound odd to say it, now that everyone from Kanye West to Jazmine Sullivan has sampled tracks from Discovery, but in 2001 the album’s mix of rock guitars, autotuned vocals and shiny synths left many a critic disappointed.

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I’ve always been fascinated by different musical genres. It used to be driven by a desire to create my own but lately – sadly maybe – it’s more of an academic exercise.

It is, however, a pretty fascinating question. Most people with a reasonable knowledge of modern music could distinguish dubstep from drum and bass or house from techno but do we ever really stop to think why?

These thoughts were triggered again this summer by the emergence (for me, anyway) of both footwork and moombahton, two recognised “new” genres of music.

The latter, in particular, was instructive. Moombahton was apparently created when DJ / producer Dave Nada slowed down the Afrojack remix of the Silvio Ecomo and DJ Chuckie song Moombah to 108 beats per minute to play to a crown that had been enjoying the previous DJ’s reggaeton set.

Liking the results, Nada then went off to the studio to record a five-track EP that echoed the slowed down Dutch house sound.

But why on earth would this constitute a new genre? And, if it does, how can we all create our own genres?

The key lies in slowing down the drums. Musical genres – and I’m largely talking about dance music here, surely the most genre conscious of any type of music – largely come down to the drums and a combination of speed and style.

Of course, it’s not just that – most music genres have their own particular palette of sounds too. But consider: what differentiates the bass-line-obsessed dubstep from the similarly bass-line-obsessed drum and bass but the drums?

Similarly what fundamental difference is there between 174 BPM hard house and 174 BPM drum and bass, other than the former’s straight up four to the floor beats and the latter’s shuffling step?

I should probably put in a massive disclaimer here: many times it just isn’t that simple. House and (US) garage, for example use the same sounds and have largely identical beats and are only separated by garage’s use of “proper” songs with a recognised verse / chorus structure.

Nevertheless, the dance spectrum can still be largely charted by BPM, from hip hop’s low 80s, to house at 125, techno at 135, drum and bass at 174 and gabber at 200+.

What’s more, I’m prepared to bet that if you sped up a techno record to 174 BPM and added drum and bass percussion most people would identify it as drum and bass, while if you took the same record, slowed it down a little and added a breakbeat it would go down as breakbeat / breaks / whatever they’re calling it these days.

How then to create your own musical genre? Again, the example of moombahton is telling: by slowing down a particular track enough Nada “created” something with its own individual feel.

It won’t always work, of course, but in this case he lucked out.

But so what? If it had just stopped there we would be talking about one slowed down song (or rather, we probably wouldn’t be talking about it, but you get the idea) rather than a whole new genre.

But it didn’t stop there. Nada liked the sound and went out to re-create it. And that, effectively, is the key to creating a genre: create one slightly odd song and it’s just that; create five slightly odd songs that all sound the same, give them a name, and you have a new genre on your hands.

But how to create something “slightly odd”? Your easiest way by far is to play about with the drums that define a genre. So, slow something down so it sounds a bit weird, à la moombahton. Or speed something up, as the old rave DJs did to house, hip hop and funk records to create drum and bass.

Now set out to re-create the slowed down / speeded up original. You won’t manage it, of course, but in doing so the sound of your own genre – or as close as you’re likely to get to it – should gradually become apparent.

Speed up reggae to 240 BPM, for example. Or slow down techno to 60 BPM. It might not sound very good. But it will undoubtedly sound different.

Now give your nascent genre a name and get spreading the word.

Chances are it will come to nothing – but who knows? 20 years from now you too could be earning large money from piss poor DJ sets, raking in the bookings as the godfather  and general keeper of the flame of your own particular genre.

And that, surely, beats working for a living.

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