The remix has always had two sides to its story. Onthe one are those who’ve used it as a cash cow, a formof art where established dance producers can exploittheir reputation in the name of a quick buck.
Thankfully such practices that were rife in the mid1990s are largely confined to the second hand bargainbins, and those still standing see the form as anartistic challenge, a chance to impose their ownmusical personalities on the music of others, withoutthe need to resort to formula.
Keiran Hebden belongs firmly in the lattercamp. A prolific remixer, he has an individualapproach that transforms the music he works on intotracks that are recognizably his. In particular he hasan individual flair with percussion, not justinventive or oddball rhythms, but florid drum fillsthat surround the melodic material, rarely getting inits way.
Of course Hebden explores this improvisatory stylefurther in his sessions with Steve Reid, but helargely uses it with economy in his remixes. Now andthen he overdoes it, but the most successful worksecures a tension between the relative stillness ofthe pitched sounds he retains against the morefrenetic activity of the drums. Thom Yorkefinds himself thus cast, with the remix ofRadiohead‘s Skttrbrain setting his long, drawnout vocal against a slow moving chorale, withsplintered breakbeats all around.
Within this loose template there is still plenty ofroom for Hebden to operate. The remix of His NameIs Alive’s One Year is notably empty, a barelyperceptible melody atop dislocated drum beats.Contrast that with the bluster of Madvillain‘srap in Great Day, a full accompaniment giving thetrack huge energy. Meanwhile Bonobo‘s Pick Upmoves forward in stately fashion with a DJShadow-type rhythm, while the early remix ofRothko‘s Roads Become Rivers offers a moresombre mood.
Domino’s generous package surveys not only the pickof Four Tet’s remixes over the past seven years, butcraftily adds a second disc of Hebden remixed byothers, in fact every remix he has commissioned. Thisincludes an excellent reworking of the flexible AsSerious As Your Life from Jay Dee, but evengiven the variety on show the four remixes of A Joyare a little too much to take in one sitting.
That’s a minor criticism, however, as this is anabsorbing lesson in how to respectfully treat otherpeople’s work while at the same time offering your ownperspective. In Hebden’s case this means branching outsufficiently far and wide to avoid potentially routinecover versions with ease. He’s an excellenttechnician, continually inventive and surprising, andRemixes offers an excellent companion to his studioalbums and sessions.