|“Jon Spencer Blues Explosion + 12 Producers = The Avant Acme
Ever since bedroom recluses began releasing four-track vinyl opuses, indie rock has been the realm of a singular vision, or at least a single producer. Meanwhile, just about every other form of pop music is increasingly producer-driven; in the case of hip-hop, that can mean an army of trackmasters per song. In 1995, long before it was fashionable for rockers to dabble in sonic scrambling, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion asked a handful of rap and dance innovators to rework their old music for the Experimental Remixes EP. For their forward-looking new record, Acme, the band went a step further, starting from scratch with a dozen technicians – from indie stalwarts to high-tech cut-ups. “A lot of the songs are edited from different people’s mixes,” says Spencer. “If you try to trace some of this stuff back to its origins, it gets pretty confusing.” Here’s a guide to the four main chefs spiking the soup.
The Purist: Steve Albini
Who: Chicago-based recording engineer (Nirvana, Jesus Lizard, PJ Harvey, Bush, Page & Plant); Shellac guitarist; former Big Black front man. What: Recorded basic tracks for seven songs.
M.O.: “My skill is providing accurate recordings. If I’m asked to provide a lot of conceptual ideas, I’m out of my element. My take on remixing is that at best it’s pointless, and at worse it’s very destructive.”
Always the Skeptic: “Doing a record in this manner is ordinarily something I’d have no interest in, but I have a lot of respect for the way the Blues Explosion do things. My fundamental perspective is that if something sounds good and is representative of what the band is about, you need a pretty compelling reason to fuck around with it. Records I’ve recorded have been remixed by others, and the results are always unflattering.”
The B-Boy: Dan “the Automator” Nakamura
Who: Bay Area hip-hop producer best known for Dr. Octagon project. Also collaborated with Cornershop, Prince Paul, Dust Brother Mike Simpson, Jack Drag, and others.
What: Mixed or co-mixed six songs; added turntable scratches. “‘Talk About the Blues’ was literally a four-bar demo that I turned into a song by putting it through a sampler,” Nakamura says. “It was a total hip-hop production.”
M.O.: “First, I figure out where people should be going with stuff versus where they are going. The Blues Explosion told me they thought what I did was basically punk rock. I said, ‘Well, no, it’s hip-hop,’ but they said it had a punk-rock attitude.”
The Fat Boys Connection: “For ‘Do You Wanna Get Heavy?’ I said we should use a human beatbox, and they said, ‘No, Russell [Simins] is our drummer.’ But five minutes later, Russell was playing bass, and they wanted a human beatbox. We wound up sampling one.”
The Impressionist: Calvin Johnson
Who: Olympia, Washington-based songwriter/producer; member, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System, Halo Benders; president and founder, K Records. Contributed to JSBE’s Experimental Remixes. What: Recorded “Calvin” and “Talk About the Blues.” Played the band Lee Dorsey and Toni Braxton records for inspiration.
M.O.: Home studio allows for songs to evolve gradually and with maximum procrastination. Bands jam in the living room; Johnson chills behind the boards in the basement.
Organically Grown Samples: “The songs came about by me playing them a record and asking what they thought of it. If they liked it, we’d come up with a song inspired by it. With the modern process, you’d just sample the sound, but our way was more organic.”
The Firestarter: Alec Empire
Who: Berlin-based Atari Teenage Riot leader and Digital Hardcore Recordings founder; remixed Bjork, Buffalo Daughter, Mogwai. What: co-mixed “Attack,” adding live synth squeals while the Automator scratched. Did unspeakable things to a Roland synthesizer.
M.O.: “Sometimes producers like to clean up what bands do, but I like to push the extreme.”
About That Roland: “When Jon was doing vocals, I nearly fell asleep. At 2:00 A.M., they said, ‘We should do this tomorrow, we are tired.’ I said, ‘No, let’s do it now!” But I forgot about the different American voltage, and when I plugged in my synths – kapow! The studio filled with smoke.” “