At first, a Yoko Ono remix project might seem like some kind of kitschy hipster joke. After all, Ono is probably one of the most famous and least listened to recording artists alive. As John Lennon once said, “Everyone knows who she is, but nobody knows what she does.” The reality, though, is that the people who do listen to her records tend to be innovative and creative, just like the select few who were hip to the Velvet Underground in the ‘60s. The remix team known as the Orange Factory (Jeremy Skaller, Robert Larow, and Ellis Miah) is certainly in that category. They were the ones who initially approached Ono with the idea of a series of remixes, and their revamped version of her “Open Your Box” made it to the top spot on the U.S. dance chart.
Since many of Ono’s songs were club-friendly in their original versions—and in fact were played in punk and new wave clubs—the idea of spinning Ono on the dance floor isn’t as strange as it might seem. Ono herself seems to be pleased with the project, recently revealing to Venus Zine that she cried when she first heard the Orange Factory’s “Open Your Box” remix because, “here are some cutting edge people really understanding me, and putting it together right.”
The latest installment, following “Open Your Box” and “Kiss Kiss Kiss”, is “Yang Yang”, a song originally released in 1973 on the album Approximately Infinite Universe. The original version was a typical ‘70s-style, funk-informed rocker featuring rolling piano, a funky bass line, and Ono (quite effectively) harmonizing with herself. In its original form, “Yang Yang” was already one of Ono’s most accessible and listenable tracks, so it’s a logical candidate for a remix. This time out, the Orange Factory’s mixes are complemented by those of Peter Rauhofer, a Grammy winner and head of *69 Records. Each provided three remixes for the “Yang Yang” maxi-single, which weighs in at an impressive 48 minutes.
The “Peter Rauhofer Ying Mix” kicks things off promisingly with loops of Ono’s breathing and moaning from the original track played over what sounds like an ominous heartbeat, gradually building to a frantic pace. It was this mix that Ono performed during a live appearance at New York City’s Roxy, and although it incorporates little of her original lyrics or melody, of the six mixes, it’s the one that best captures her avant-garde spirit. Rauhofer’s “Yang Mix” is more frenetic, but thankfully focuses more on drum and bass than the annoying bells and whistles that sometimes plague dance remixes. This version picks up on a few lines from the original lyrics, but loops them in such a way (“I hate you / Where did it go wrong?”) as to give the incorrect impression that the original song was about love gone bad. The final of Rauhofer’s three mixes, the “Yang Dub”, is exactly what it sounds like—a hypnotic, repetitive version of the “Yang Mix”. The repetition of the keyboard flourishes found in the “Yang Mix” fills out the sound, but otherwise this is the most dispensable of Rauhofer’s mixes.
Of the three mixes by the Orange Factory, the 10 1/2-minute “Pump Mix” is the most effective—actually, it’s the best of all six tracks on the single. Unlike Rauhofer’s mixes, it retains the melody from the original song, and uses many of Ono’s vocals, although they are treated with mechanical effects. It also contains the deepest, throbbing bass of all the remixes, making it a dance floor sizzler. The “Down & Dirty Mix” also uses Ono’s verses, but contains annoying washes of synthesizer that repeat on cue, rather than at key moments where they could be used to create sonic tension. The effect is a robotic, inevitable sound rather than one of excitement and unpredictability, making the mix the dullest on the single. The “Down & Dirty Dub” is actually an improvement, omitting the trebly elements in favor of a less cluttered sound, but the way snippets of Ono’s moaning are altered to sound orgasmic is almost laughable; after all, this is the work of an experimental songwriter, not “Love to Love You Baby”.
When all is said and done, of all the “Yang Yang” remixes, it is only Rauhofer’s “Ying Mix” and the Orange Factory’s “Pump Mix” that capture any of the spirit of Ono’s original recording. The sad truth is that in an age where “remixers” actually create new music containing a few elements of the song they are “remixing”, anything can be made club-ready. While it’s heartening that Ono’s music may be finding a new audience of club-goers, it’s a shame they aren’t getting the real deal. But at least they will dance.