Gemma Day talks about the untapped potential of indie music in sampling and whether it’s becoming a great pool for music producers.
In recent years, the marriage of sampling with some of the more obscure genres of music has proved more popular. Artists are trying to distinguish themselves from the constant crop of ‘new talent’ in hip hop.
There are few people who haven’t heard Numb/Encore by nu-metal pioneers Linkin Park and Jay Z. It’s the same for Lil’ Wayne’s ill-advised foray into metal music with the long-awaited but poorly-received ‘Rebirth’. And the same for Kanye’s Daft Punk-reworked, ‘Stronger’.
In my intrepid foray into hip hop’s recent sampling history, I came across Lupe Fiasco’s ‘The Show Goes On’. I was about 2 years late of course, but it was a huge commercial success and his biggest hit worldwide.
As listenable as the track is, the shoehorned sample was the reason for my immediate interest. I realised that the melody was a snippet from ‘Float On’ by indie music curmudgeons, Modest Mouse.
I have a protracted history in alternative music. The track was identifiable but felt misplaced in a striking way. That said, one of the biggest indie tracks of the past 15 years, had been dissected, reworded, and remoulded into a stimulating backdrop for one of the biggest hip hop hits of that year.
This union of indie and hip hop began in earnest with work from artists like MIA and Frank Ocean. But in sampling terms? Why had I never considered it 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 the maligned and contentious indie classic, Kid A, by Radiohead. But it created a pleasurable blend 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 masterful beats and Colin Greenwood’s vicious bass. Again, on paper, these two artists are the strangest of strange bedfellows, but the irresistible stroke of genius was impossible to leave behind.
It seems there is beauty behind the external beast of indie rock music. Whilst it is a fairly pretentious genre, if you remove the select cuts of many of its favourite extrusions, you will find music ripe for manipulation.
Take MGMT’s Grammy-nominated ‘Kids’. It was voted ‘Song of the Year’ by NME, from the album they voted as ‘Album of the Year’. It was 2008’s seminal indie track.
A year later, the American rap/hip-pop duo Chiddy Bang took the synth refrain from the track, cut it up, sprayed in some distortion, embellished the bass, and like magic, they had a breakthrough hit from their early mixtape, ‘The Swelly Express’. The track may not be the most impeccable example of hip hop from the past 5 years, but it was a commercial and critical success.
It showed that even tracks deemed inaccessible and unlistenable by some, could 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 melody and lauded vocal refrain of M83’s Midnight City mixed up as a loop teamed with a dirty beat and some angry words?
These may be artists that you haven’t heard of. Or they are artists that you have seen but avoided because of the reputation of indie music. But look beyond the surface. Indie music is growing in visibility and there is a reservoir of stellar samples waiting to be found.
I’m no producer, as I’m sure has been made clear here. But, from my side of the fence looking in, I’ve seen the potential benefit of a melody-heavy, instrument-driven genre for samplers.
Producers have the ability to take those productions and transform them into new masterpieces for a new sampling audience. 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 try it.