“When I sample something, it’s because there’s something ingenious about it. And if it isn’t the group as a whole, it’s that song. Or, even if it isn’t the song as a whole, it’s a genius moment or an accident or something that makes it just utterly unique to the other trillions of hours of records that I’ve plowed through…”
- Joshua Paul Davis, as told to Eliot Wilder
Plenty has been made of the Internet demystifying pop culture - from the right torrent on the right forum we can find the product, the process and more criticism than should ever have been generated, all in one fell swoop. But I didn’t realise until just recently, when I stumbled across a string of inter-related YouTube clips, how it’s capable of comprehensively unlocking a mystery.
I came to DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing circa 17, via a non-threatening suburban white guy hip-hop trail of stuff like The Beastie Boys and Beck. Their records were vibrant, funny - and more than a little kitsch, unabashedly a mash-up of their reference points. Even if I couldn’t identify all the source material, I got the sense it was harking back reverently to it. They were parties. I don’t like to think too much at parties.
Endtroducing, by comparison, presented this swelling, dark, majestic mystery. Its reputation preceded it - essential album, built from the ground-up with samples, yadda yadda - but there was still nothing to prewarn me. Like the best horror films (or scores, more appropriately) it thrives on creeping, pensive tension. The ADHD collages of the Dust Brothers are abstracted to occasional moments of levity, rising out of the meniscus for a minute or two before the overwhelming mood resumes. More than anything, it has a totality where other creations from second-hand sound seemed patchwork by their very nature. It resists picking at its stitches - its samples too arcane, too messed with, or just too plain decontextualised to tease out. It wouldn’t yield its secrets.
Flash forward several years, of course, and the box is wide open (see below).
I have two gut instincts, one good, one that follows from it, a little bummed out: 1. Even with its constituent pieces lain bare on YouTube groups, this is still a formidable work. The mystery is still in the alchemy. It’s in the fact you can spot the pieces, but not necessarily the joins. 2. Thanks to YouTube and everything that came with it, samplers potentially have access to a vaster, richer library than what a thousand crate-digging sessions could have ever uprooted. But we seem to be getting less of these sort of creations, not more. And while we’re still getting all sorts of delicious confectionery out of disparate sources (www.waitwhatmusic.com/files/notoriousxx.html - download this right now), and there’s no doubt that the vibe of Entroducing has trickled down into every vaguely progressive waystation between electronica and rock, I wonder if all of us (Shadow included) are paralysed by choice now. Those certain, serendipitous ties - a haphazard brilliance borne of scarcity - can’t be formed again.
The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.