Tracks and Songs; Songs and Tracks.
by Andrew Duke
Tracks and songs. Songs and tracks. These two elements are intended to be pieces in the puzzle that is the mix, yet where once they complemented one another and were woven by the DJ into what would become our soundtrack for the evening, they've now become different styles of their own. What happened to the days before the remix and the track, when the short version of a song was simply reedited for longer dancefloor play? This would become the A side of that single's twelve inch, backed usually by an instrumental or reprise, bonus beats, and perhaps an acapella when the song was vocal-based. Why? Because it was the DJ who did the remixing=--live-with these versions, never creating the same result twice, because it was the DJ whose goal was to bring about something new and unique, made exclusively for those dancers in attendance.
Here in 1998, as electronic music continues to subdivide like some foreign organism into more and more niches and "next big thing"s, the biggest problem seems to be the number of producers who create only DJ tools, and not songs, and that there are DJs who will play complete sets of what are essentially bonus beats 1998-style. How often do we hear the word "monotonous" in reference to 4/4 one-bar loop tracks? Too often. As Kevin Saunderson said in a recent In The Mix interview, many DJs play only tracky material because it is so easy to mix. This is probably best explained by the explosion in DJ culture, the change from days past when the DJ was the music lover who got a gig because of the size of his/her collection, to a time when the urge to "be a DJ" has never been stronger. Does Saunderson play only songs in his set and avoid the loop tracks entirely? No, not at all. He uses them for transitions from one part of his set to another, to add another layer to what the crowd is hearing and stamp his individuality on the flow as he reworks the original. And yes, he's not afraid to play a short tracky set at times. Many others in the industry, including label owners, musicians, DJs, and music consumers, agree: we have to bring back the song to electronic music if it is to survive. As Interdimensional Transmissions' BMG said, sometimes all there is to a track is the amount of music between one kick drum and the next. Music must be made memorable, something that stays with the listener after hearing it, something tangible, not just a fleeting bar of sound that is forgotten in the time it takes the DJ to bring another track into the mix.
Should we blame Jeff Mills for the plethora of track-based cuts currently being recorded, released, and spun worldwide? With the superstar status Mills have attained, many want to be just like him. Record tracks like his. DJ a set like he does. Neil Landstrumm puts it rather succinctly when he says that Mills hysteria has peaked to the point where Mills could release a turd and people would buy it, he could record and play anything and fans would say, "that's amazing." The problem is that reproduction of someone's ideas and inspiration-taking what you've heard and using it as a catalyst for your own creativity--are two separate affairs. Mills has never asked anyone to record tracks with his blueprint, yet there are now more labels releasing material a la Mills than ever before. What people fail to realize is Mills records for himself-to be used as a snatch of sound in his sonic whirlwind. DJs who play a tracks-only set must keep this in mind and work harder to play more cuts to make their mixes more interesting and give them more movement. A track is not designed to be played in full, it is a component that needs more input, an opportunity, a chance to work another track or a song in and invent individuality Mills' Purpose Maker is a complement to his more song-based Axis. What he promotes is a truism beyond the world of music-the need for balance. Tracks and songs. Songs and tracks.