Mash-Up: Artistic Musical Creations or Blasphemy?
Interview of Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions (12-17-04)
By Ronnie

Some call it artistic musical creations, while others cry that it is blasphemy! It is all the rage in the U.K. and it has even gone mainstream, with MTV U.K. celebrating it on "MTV-Mash". This new craze is called "mash-ups" and it involves taking the vocal from one song and joining it to the instrumental track of another. For instance, take a "mash-up" like "Paperback Believer", which uses the musical track of the Monkees "I'm a Believer" with the vocals from The Beatles "Paperback Writer".

Probably the best-known of the recent mash-up's is the notorious "Grey Album" by Dangermouse, which mixed Jay-Z's "Black Album" with The Beatles "White Album". In February, when the record label EMI overreacted and blocked distribution of "The Grey Album" it pretty much created an instant hit.

And earlier this year, David Bowie had a contest in which he asked fans to create a new song using computer music software to blend or "mash up" two existing tracks - with the winner winning a car!

I recently talked with Mark Vidler of Go Home Productions, who is one of the most prominent of the "mash-up" mixers.

E.C.: I first heard your "Sgt. Smile" mix (mixing the Beatles 'Sgt. Pepper' with the then unreleased 'Smile' album) back in 2000. Was this one of your first experiments with this genre?

Mark: This was the first 'digital' mix that I created and uploaded. Around 1989 I used to do very similar things on a 4-Track Portastudio.

E.C.: Do you have a background as a musician?

Mark: Yes, I played guitar in a band called Chicane between 1990 and 1995. Based in London. We were briefly dumped in with the 'shoegazing' and 'scene that celebrates itself' type bands that the NME created. Ride, Chapterhouse, My Bloody Valentine, Revolver etc. We released 4 or 5 singles and a compilation CD, toured up and down the UK supporting bands like Spiritualized.

E.C.: Do you enjoy this work much more than being a 'regular' musician?

Mark: Nothing beats playing in a live band. I kind of miss that side of things but enjoy the 'being in control' side of production or remixing.

E.C.: Do you consider "mash-ups" a new genre? And were you one of the pioneers in the field?

Mark: Mash-ups are hardly new to be honest but I think the current 'style' of taking a vocal from one source and combining it with the music of an alternate genre is fairly recent. In the publics eyes at least. Evolution Control Committee did stuff back around '95. Public Enemy vs. Herb Alpert. Plunderphonics, Negativland etc etc It's pretty hard to be definitive, as to exactly when it started. To be honest the first of the recent style that I heard were 'Stroke Of Genius' and the Soulwax 'Too many DJ's' sets.

As for me being a pioneer? No. I was recently described as being the Elvis of Mash-Ups, which was cool...just as long as it's his '58 period. I don't quite envisage myself in a white jumpsuit.

E.C.: When did you start Go Home Productions and what were your goals?

Mark: GHP began in April 2002. Basically I just wanted to get as many of my creations heard by as many people as possible. I felt there was a good opportunity for me to kick start a career in production / remixing etc. Seems to have worked very well so far.

E.C.: I also like the cover artwork on the website for each release. Do you create these as well?

Mark: Everything on the website is created by myself. The mixes, artwork and the html. For six years prior to the full time mash-up / remix work, I was a fully fledged graphics designer.

E.C.: What about those who claim that "mash-ups" are blasphemous? Isnít just artistic expression?

Mark: People get very protective of what they love. Understandable. 'How dare you tamper with the Beatles'!!!!!!!

I made a very conscious decision to use 'popular' artists. That way, people who are new to what I'm doing will have to spend less brainpower of figuring out whatís going on. Using Ivor Cutler with some obscure 60's Psychedelic band from Ohio is hardly going to grab your average punter. Although personally it would probably interest me more........

E.C.: Danger Mouse ran into all kinds of trouble with his "Grey Album". Are there any legal issues that you have to address?

Mark: No legal issues whatsoever. The majority of artists that I have used get in contact and express their liking for what I do. Bowie, The Doors, Blondie, XTC have all given praise and encouraged me to do more. No sign of any suits just or pinstripe.

E.C.: Do you have to pay any kind of royalties to bands for using their material? Or get any kind of special permission, i.e. signed papers?

Mark: The mixes that appear on the website for a week or so are created without the artists consent in most cases, so are illegal. I tend to treat them as 'promo' mixes to showcase my production or remixing styles and have always stated that if the mixes offend the artists or record companies they will be removed immediately. When doing official remix work for labels or artists, of course papers are signed for me not to distribute the master recordings and royalties are paid to the respective artists.

E.C.: Any negative feedback from any of the artists that you have used?

Mark: I once received a mail from an official Echo & The Bunnymen fansite / forum, who on behalf of the band asked me to remove a mix of one of their tracks from my website. They could appreciate the humour gone into creating the mix (with Cher) but didn't like the fact it was a 'free' download and that anyone could reproduce the track and sell for profit.

E.C.: Do you have official releases on CD, or are all your mixes just available on the internet?

Mark: There have been several GHP releases this year on 12" vinyl. I Produced and Remixed David Bowie's last single 'Rebel Never Gets Old' and have remixed Alicia Keys next single 'Karmastition'. Also done remixes for Kasabian and Jason Downs that have seen release this year. My 'Rapture Riders' mix of The Doors and Blondie is coming out next year. I keep a few tracks on the website, rotating every once in a while but there is ongoing talks for an official GHP CD next year.

E.C.: I notice on your webpage that you have "live appearances". Do you DJ at these, or do you just play your unique mixes?

Mark: The live stuff is usually DJ sets where I hammer out a selection of my mixes. There'll probably be more of a 'live' element next year. A combination of DJ elements and live instruments. We'll see.

E.C.: How do you go about picking which artists to mix? Are there any guidelines that you use, such as not altering the pitch or speed of the original songs?

Mark: I have my favourites. In most cases one of the tracks has to be something / someone I really like. I suppose that more recently I play around with artists who I'd actually like to work with or get permission to use their stuff officially. I recently spoke to Andy Partridge of XTC (a band who I have adored since 1979) and he's very enthusiastic about doing some mixes. He told me to 'take your creative chainsaw to anything we've done'. I'd love to do something with their stuff in the vein of his 'Takeaway / The Lure Of Salvage' album from 1980 but using digital techniques of course.

Sometimes if an idea is that good, there may have to be slight pitch or tempo adjustments but to be honest I don't like to stray too far from the originals.

E.C.: I guess being a musician helps you pick out which songs will match, in regards to pitch or speed?

Mark: Yes, I think that having prior knowledge of key / tempo and song structure helps in 'imagining' combinations of tracks prior to execution. The majority of the time I may hear a track on the radio and envisage a 'partner' for it. To be honest the best 'mash-ups' I've heard over the years have been created by people who I know for sure have been involved in music prior to this trend.

E.C.: Have you had many experiments in mixing artists that sounded fine in theory, but then when you mixed them, they just didn't work?

Mark: Yes, quite a few. Sometimes these hybrid monsters appear in the warped side of the brain prior to deep sleep and in the fresh light of day manifest themselves as prime turkeys.

E.C.: How long does it normally take to complete a mix? Or are you a perfectionist, going through several "drafts" until you are satisfied?

Mark: Some ideas can be completed very quickly. The Madonna / Sex Pistols track was created in a couple of hours from start to finish. The Beach Boys / Wings mix 'I Just Wasn't Made For The Back Seat Of My Car' was worked on for a couple of weeks. I really had to edit the backing track quite severely to get it to fit. I think the best tracks I've done have usually had a few days work on.

E.C.: I imagine that the technology used for this is growing at a fantastic rate. What system do you use (or is that like a 'magician's secret'?) and are you constantly updating to a better version?

Mark: The software used to create this stuff has been widely available for at least 6 years. I've always stuck with Acid and Soundforge (now owned by Sony) beacause of their superb control of time / pitch shifting and ease of use. New software is always appearing that can execute certain procedures more effectively but these two have always been the complete package for me personally.

E.C.: The Easy Star All-Stars did an excellent job on their "Dub Side of the Moon" mix of reggae and Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". Have you ever thought about attempting such a concept using another classic album?

Mark: Sgt Smile was indeed the catalyst of a similar idea. "Brian Lennon and The Beach Beatles". I really don't think I have the patience to concentrate on 'one' album as such. I could imagine the task becoming tedious. An EP's worth maybe. 5 tracks of one artist is ample.

E.C.: The question that I've been dying to know since I first heard "Sgt. Smile" back in 2000: will you be compiling more Beatles/Smile mixes now that Smile has been officially released?

Mark: That could be a very large probability.......