The Strangest Of Bedfellows – Can Indie Music Become The New Sampling Treasure Trove?


New contributor Delta Ellisor talks about the untapped potential of indie music in sampling her thoughts on it becoming the next great pool for producers.

There is no doubt that in recent years, the marriage of sampling with some of the more obscure genres of music has proved increasingly popular as artists try to establish themselves as distinctive from the constant crop of ‘new talent’ that the hip hop and rap worlds spew forth on an almost weekly basis. There are few who haven’t heard Numb/Encore from Jay Z and nu-metal pioneers Linkin Park, on their 2004 mash up ‘Collision Course’ – there are also not many who haven’t heard of Lil’ Wayne’s potentially ill-advised foray into metal music with the long awaited and poorly received ‘Rebirth’. There are even fewer that haven’t experienced the far more accomplished mixture of electronica masters Daft Punk and Yeezy himself on the inimitable ‘Stronger’.

However, in my intrepid foray into hip hop’s recent sampling history, I came across Lupe Fiasco’s ‘The Show Goes On’, around 2 years late of course, which was a huge commercial success and hitherto, the artist’s biggest hit worldwide. However, as listenable as the track is, the sample that had been shoehorned into the track was, itself, the reason for my immediate interest, as it became evident very clearly that the melody I was hearing was a snippet from indie music curmudgeons Modest Mouse’s 2004 track ‘Float On’.  As someone who has a protracted history in alternative music, the track was instantly identifiable and, seemingly, strikingly misplaced. And yet this, one of the most atypically indie tracks of the past 15 years, had been dissected, reworded, and remoulded into a feasible and aurally stimulating backdrop for one of the biggest hip hop hits of that year.  The marriage of indie music and hip hop has begun in earnest with the output of artists such as MIA and Frank Ocean…but in sampling terms? Why had I never considered this before?

It turns out Lupe has form in this area. ’The National Anthem’, a cut from 2009’s ‘Enemy of the State: A Love Story’, takes a track of the same name from that most maligned and contentious of indie music standards, Radiohead’s Kid A, and simply makes it a backdrop for what turns out to be a surprisingly pleasurable marriage of rap, saxophone and Thom Yorke. There is very little manipulation of the track itself, but Lupe’s staccato flow fits like a glove around Phil Selwood’s master beats and Colin Greenwood’s vicious bass. Again, on paper, these two artists are the strangest of strange bedfellows, but this irresistible stroke of genius was impossible to listen to only once.

It seems there really is beauty behind the external beast of indie rock music. Whilst in and of itself, it is a fairly pretentious sport, it seems that if you remove the select cuts of many of its favourite extrusions, you will find that they are ripe for manipulation.

Take MGMT’s 2008 Grammy nominated single ‘Kids’. Voted ‘Song of the Year’ by NME, from the album voted ‘Album of the Year’ by the same magazine, this was the year’s seminal indie track, though justifiably anyone reading this is unlikely to have touched upon it in their time spent alone with a playlist. However, in 2009, the American rap/hip-pop duo Chiddy Bang took the synth refrain from the track, cut it up, sprayed in some distortion, elaborated the  bass and like magic they had the breakthrough hit from their early mix tape ‘The Swelly Express’.  Whilst the track itself may not, for everyone, be the most impeccable example of hip hop from the past 5 years, it was a commercial and critical success and showed that even tracks deemed inaccessible and unlistenable by some, as long as they have that tuneful burst, can be twisted and pulled into something with the right beats, the right breaks and just the right attitude.

How long will it be until someone takes the bass drum driven opening bars of Everything Everything’s ‘Cough Cough’ and makes them the basis of a bare bones but brutal freestyle? How far do we have to look to see the synth backdrop and lauded vocal refrain of M83’s Midnight City mixed up as a loop teamed with a dirty beat and angry words? These may be artists that you haven’t heard of…or maybe they are artists that you have seen mentioned and avoided because of the connotations of their genre. However, look beyond the surface and it is becoming increasingly obvious that there is a reservoir of stellar samples waiting to be found.

I’m no producer, as I’m sure has been made clear here. However, from one outside the fence looking in, in the vain hope of gaining knowledge from a distance, the potential benefit of a melody heavy, instrumentally driven genre, to one which is able to take those productions and transform them into new masterpieces for a new audience is self-evident. Lupe wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last, but he has been a rarity. Go find more examples and see for yourselves.

Then just try it.

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