Listening to a remix album without the benefit of having heard the source material is something of a challenge. But it’s also the best possible test of a remixer’s competence: shorn of any prejudicial preconceptions, do the remixes hold up? A remix has to hold up on its own just like any other composition, but sometimes even good remixes can get unfairly denigrated for perceived uselessness. This is especially common if the source material is perceived as inviolate (see the horrible reception that greeted the Neptunes’ interesting reimagining of “Sympathy for the Devil”), and conversely a bad remix of a good song can often skate by on positive associations (Daft Punk’s anticlimactic remix of “Take Me Out”, for instance). So although it’s hardly the normal state of affairs—I’m thinking the primary fanbase for an album like Giggles in the Dark will be fans who have already heard the material being remixed, originally released on Lesbians on Ecstasy’s self-titled debut—it’s a successful experiment, in that I am quite happily surprised by the quality on display here. My curiosity has been piqued as to the quality of the Lesbians’ original material, which is as it should be. A good remix manages the neat trick of succeeding on its own terms while also shining a complimentary light on its source.
Judging by the remixed product, I would guess that Lesbians on Ecstasy occupy a similar niche as post-riot grrrl dance rockers Le Tigre (who appear here with a remix of “Revolt”)—that is, grungy punk riffage and cheap electro insouciance appear in equal measure. There’s an endearing handmade quality to these mixes that’s a pleasurable counter to the smooth professionalism of mainstream dance music. Though there’s always been something slightly dodgy about the concept of welding punk to electronic music, historically the forms have always hewed closer than many suspect—early British rave was quite anarchic in conception. There’s something similarly anarchic in these remixes, which seem dedicated to employing the same stereotype-disrupting gender-queer sensibilities that exploded across punk music to conventional dance pop.
The results are gratifying, and certainly act as a pleasant corrective to the self-serious portentousness at play in the multitude of micro-genres that make up modern dance. Le Tigre’s mix of “Revolt” is actually one of the lesser efforts offered here, a slightly pat application of Le Tigre’s comparatively sophisticated pop sensibilities that comes off as flaccid in comparison to other mixes. The Scream Club remix of “Tell Me Does She Love the Bass” is far more convincing, applying phat old-school breakbeats and distorted bass to create a violent bolt of dark energy redolent of early, grunge-influenced Death in Vegas. Similarly, Sean Kosa’s Jealous Mix of the same track welds fuzzy guitars to a hammering house beat for a menacing effect (the dubby, distorted vocals don’t hurt any). DJ Ai’s “Queens of Hanson Brothers Noise Mix” is just disjointed and unfocused enough to seem seriously weird, but not weird enough that it loses its manic, propulsive focus.
I’m not quite so sold on the remixes of “Summer Luv” by Tracy and the Plastics and Jody Bleyle. Both mixes arrive at a similar, strangely disconnected and disjointed synth-heavy outcome that seems vaguely reminiscent, in terms of execution, of alt-pop acts like Some Water and Sun. The disconnect between the lo-fi musical beds and the deadpan, faux-sincere vocals creates a slightly problematic listening experience (the whole thing seems rather like an elaborate tribute to Grease). But the album recovers, as the Katastrophe mix of “Manipulation” manages to evoke the likes of Tricky and Portishead through its use of dub-heavy percussion and dissonant melodic elements. The vocal, describing a litany of theoretical psychological torture against a prospective girlfriend, might have been cheeky in its original incarnation, but the new context makes it seem sexy and downright sinister.
The folks who contributed to Giggles in the Dark can congratulate themselves for a job well done. There’s a high likelihood based on the material here that not only will I be on the lookout for more music by Lesbians on Ecstasy, but a few of these remixers as well. In particular, I think that Scream Club, Katastrophe, and Kids on TV (who contribute an abrasive mix of “Bitchsy”) might bear further investigation.