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Joz Norris


Tape 52: Remix Culture In Music & Comedy

  • Tape 52: Remix Culture In Music & Comedy

Looking Out Of My Window Project – Results:

First up, last week I said I’d practice looking out of my window at the life of my street for half an hour every morning before doing anything else, with no distractions like looking at my phone, to exercise my muscle for “being in the world,” off the back of an exercise I read about in Oliver Burkeman’s excellent Four Thousand WeeksHere are my findings:

Day One – A man parks in the Doctor’s bay outside the post office. Goes in, comes out with a paper. Picks up a bag of firewood as if considering buying it. Puts it back down, gets in his car, drives away.

Day Two – Started feeling a bit twitchy five minutes in. Realised if any of the people who live in the flats on the opposite side of the road looked out of their windows, I’d look pretty weird just staring down at the post office for half an hour like this. Started feeling embarrassed. Abandoned the project.

Maybe I’m just a real slave to the culture of immediacy. Maybe I should just try Headspace or something. Oh well, Day One was pretty fun. Wonder why the doctor decided not to buy firewood??

Remix Culture

Onto my thoughts for this week’s Tape. So, without wishing to sound too much like someone going through a midlife crisis (sounds too early, but I’ll probably have a massive heart attack at 64 because of all the coffee, energy drinks and workaholicism, so it does check out), this week I’ve been listening to Endtroducing….. by DJ Shadow, and reading up on the stalled development of instrumental hip-hop in the 90s and, that’s right, applying this thinking to my feelings about comedy! That’s what this week’s newsletter is about! So, quick music history lesson:

In 1991 novelty 60s pop band the Turtles sued De La Soul for a staggering amount of money for sampling their music without permission on their album 3 Feet High And Rising. The Turtles dismissed sampling as an art form in its entirety, saying “anybody who can honestly say sampling is some sort of creativity has never done anything creative.” The case was settled out of court, and De La Soul lost a lot of money. At the time, hip-hop was developing more or less equally between rap on the one hand, and sampling on the other. The status of sampling as a legitimately accepted creative method for making original work was seriously undermined as a result of the lawsuit, with a lot of sampling artists subsequently nervous about what they could and couldn’t get away with using. As a result, hip-hop pivoted heavily into rap, which only needed one or two samples per song and so was easier to clear, and the idea of true sampling-as-collage died away for several years. Endtroducing….. was one of the albums that restored legitimacy to sampling as an art form, being a collage of hundreds of old records few people had heard, all chopped up and mixed into brand new songs. There are almost certainly artists sampled on it who to this day have no idea that their music has been heard by millions.

All this got me thinking about today’s online comedy landscape. I’d love to know what percentage of the comedy people make and release online consists, effectively, of sampling – usually of the news, but often of other pop-culture staples mixed together with unexpected other sources to create something unusual or unlikely. Cassetteboy is of course the gold standard for this, although for representative samples of just how broadly you can cast your net, from cherished 80s cartoons to that day’s rolling news cycle, the Twitter feed of my good buddy Matthew Highton is an excellent primer in this sort of thing. The SkewerMichael SpicerAlasdair Beckett-King and Rosie Holt are other good recent examples, while John-Luke Roberts’ absurdly meta podcast Sound Heap is a remix of the concept of remix culture. The Turtles succeeded in slowing down the growth of sampling and remix culture for a few years, but it was ultimately a battle they couldn’t hope to win – the idea of the world’s artistic output becoming part of a bigger and bigger palette of influences and sources for future artists to draw from, chop up, remix and present as a new thing is an inevitable part of how culture progresses.

The album cover of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. Terrible album cover, imho.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this basic model for how art in general, and comedy in particular, functions is nothing new – it’s not something that has specifically been enabled or created by developments in technology, though obviously that has magnified it and sped it up. I’ve often watched the online output of people like Matt and Rosie and admired it from a distance, but categorised it in my head as a genre of comedy I “don’t know how” to make, because my own technical editing skills are limited, so I don’t know how I’d easily and intuitively go about chopping up existing sources and rearranging them into something new. To me, “remix”-based comedy previously felt like a distinct genre all of its own. I now realise than in truth, it’s a specific development of an element of the creative process that holds true across everything people make. For instance, despite my lack of technical know-how that prevents me from self-identifying as a “remix” artist, I’ve effectively been doing exactly that with music in my shows for over a decade now.

Every show I’ve ever written has been written while listening to music, and I’ve ended up (sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously) coming up with stories, ideas, games, images, routines, setpieces that serve as intuitive expressions of how that music made me feel in the moment of listening to it. Sometimes I end up removing the music itself from the finished routine, other times I leave it in because the idea doesn’t “make sense” to me without it. Either way, the finished show is, effectively, a collage of different pieces of music and my tonal, emotional reactions to them. My Mr Fruit Salad show was explicit about this – the show’s entire structure involved Mr Fruit Salad trying to “find his theme tune,” cycling through a seemingly endless playlist of random, looping, emotionally dissonant tracks (most of them sourced from one compilation of elevator music), to each of which I performed some sort of self-contained routine that expressed what I felt to be the emotional centre of that piece of music. The reason I never “officially” filmed that show was because to film it officially I would’ve needed to replace all the tracks with rights-free sound-alikes, and in my mind at least, if performed with different music, the show no longer meant anything.

As ever, I’m starting to ramble, but I guess my basic thought this week is – all art, either on a conscious, surface level, or on some deeper level, involves the sampling and remixing of everything else the artist saw, heard, experienced, thought about and felt while engaged in the making of the art. Everything we make is the unique expression of how we personally responded to the things we encountered, whatever they might be. Everyone is a magpie to a certain extent, and except in the cases of outright, conscious, deliberate plagiarism (bad), it’s no bad thing that we always end up being the product of the things we see and hear. Others might encounter exactly the same sources as input, but nobody else will produce the same output, because nobody else has your own patchwork of lived experience to put those sources through. The Turtles won their own battle, but misunderstood a central truth about what creativity is, and how creative stuff is made, and ultimately lost the war in terms of the way that central truth develops with time.

A Cool New Thing In Comedy – Monkey Barrel, one of the best comedy venues in Edinburgh, have launched their Fringe programme! Absolutely loads of legends are doing it, and you can read all about it here.

What’s Made Me Laugh The Most – Alison Thea-Skot trying to describe an imaginary romantic, bucolic, pastoral scene and only being able to use the word “grass” over and over again.

Book Of The Week – The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. This is the true story of Winn losing her home of 30 years, learning her husband was terminally ill, and then the two of them walking the entire South West Coast Path together. It’s wonderful.

Film Of The Week – Ron’s Gone Wrong. This is a really fun animation about a world where everyone has horrible robot companions that optimise their social media persona, then a lonely kid gets a broken one that’s essentially a psychopath and learns the true value of friendship. It’s a lot of fun. Slightly odd ending, but basically really enjoyed it.

Album Of The Week – I guess it’s gotta be Endtroducing….. by DJ Shadow, as I’ve written about it already, and it is brilliant. Although I’ve also been listening to Reflektor by Arcade Fire, and the bit where Bowie pops up to sing literally one line is incredibly classy. I’ll hand it to both of them.

That’s all for this week! Let me know what you thought! As ever, if you wanted to send this newsletter to a friend or encourage others to subscribe, I’d hugely appreciate it! Take care of yourselves until next time,

Joz xx

PS Here’s a nice sky I spotted.

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