Monday, October 06, 2003
So surely Ewan Pearson is hands-down remixer of the year? There have been some great individual remixes this year - T. Raumschmiere on 2Raumwohnung, some of those listed below etc. - but Ewan's run has seriously been astonishing. At the top of the heap, the already discussed remix of Freeform Five's "Perspex Sex", aka the best nu-electro track ever; but beneath that shining jewel there's a wealth of great material. His work for Goldfrapp veers from jauntily skipping shuffletech to lumbering neo-Moroder trauma, while his mix of Playgroup's "Make It Happen" mires the original in swathes of clicking dirty static, and his refashioning of Futureshock's "Sticking Plaster" shifts dramatically from svelte, sticky disco to melodramatic electro bleeping - and I haven't even heard his reputedly brilliant makeover of Ladytron.

Perhaps the most surprising effort so far is his extended vocal mix of The Chemical Bros's "The Golden Path", which transforms the rather bloodless (if not out and out dire a la "The Test") original into a swooping, sighing electro epic, building from its opening rubbery, spiky synth riffs into a climax of sighing firefly harmonies wherein Wayne Coyne's whiny falsetto sounds, if not exactly good, then at least purposeful. It's exactly the sort of panoramic
vista that the high-profile/low-yield collaboration of the original was intended to provide, and indeed if the Chemical Bros could still manage to craft an ill-advised indie-rock crossover on a level with the best of their recent work ("Star Guitar", "Hoops", "The State We're In", "Denmark") they probably would have come up with this version in the first place, as opposed to what sounds like Grandaddy covering New Order. When all is said and done it's far from Pearson's best work (consider what he's working with here) but it's a fairly impressive salvage job, and as such demonstrates just how on-point the guy is.

It also provokes the idea that maybe Pearson is trying for something very deliberate with his electro aesthetic, which is the resurrection of the extended mix in the historically-specific, pre-techno sense of the term. Of course Pearson is in every sense a post-techno producer, and from a technical perspective his productions show a greater sensititivity to the pleasures of a house beat than most of the new generation of electro artists. Rather, what makes me think of the eighties extended mix when I listen to Pearson's mix is their sense of expansiveness, both focusing and distilling the original work down to a basic groove and yet broadening their horizons, whether it be through the addition of some eerie strings toward the end, or to cross-hatch the vocal lines, or to just keep layering and layering different, competing synth riffs until the groove plateaus in an agony/ecstasy of swirling complexity, almost as if Orbital went electroclash.

I can't quite explain how this is different to what other producers do - in fact it certainly isn't different - except to say that the results have the same feel as the best examples of the extended mix. I had quite an affecting experience last year where I was on the verge of falling asleep in the passenger seat of a car while some extended, largely instrumental versions of Tears For Fears tracks were playing; the endless looping of that haunting opening guitar figure in "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" took on a sort of becalmed intensity, resembling a ghostly apparition of the original song, a dream that I was on the verge of slipping into. And extended mixes often do appear to be dreamlike versions of their former selves - the manifest dream content expressing the latent reality of the original song, but distorted, bloated, obscured by some force of the unconscious which expresses every reality as distracted reverie, quiet intensity (a fitting example of this process at work is the extended mix of The Cure's "Lullabye", which strings along each of the original's various hooks into a slow procession through a hall of resonant images).

It's this resemblance which I look for in Pearson's work: the loving recontextualisation of each of the original song's most enticing components, the (ahem) somewhat proggish grandness of scope, the epic production which complements but is quite distinct from Jacques Du Cont's stringswept melodrama. Many people have framed nu-electro as somehow being against dance music; I disagree, if only because a good deal of the most bracingly physical music to emerge this year has come from this camp (otherwise it's all from the urban diaspora communities). But if electro has a task ahead of it that is distinct from dance, it is to wholeheartedly throw itself into investigating those musical qualities which the functionalist revolution in dance music marginalised, and reintroduce them back into the fold, working them back into the thumping heart of dance itself.


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