Despite the prevalence of remixes in the market (and, indeed, in the bpm-dictated hearts of many), I’ve never particularly seen the format as something that the ages will continue to engage and deconstruct into eternity. After all, remixes are the op-ed pieces of the musical community, second opinions on already fixed statements. Whether or not a remix is necessary—whether or not it adds interest or intrigue to something that may or may not warrant modification—is inevitable fodder for debate, just as architectural renovations bring out the junior craftsman in each casual observer.
This isn’t a radical or necessarily intelligent opinion; the plain fact that a certain stripe of musical expression works best within the confines of a club makes doubting its universality a habitual reaction. There is a place for everything, and furthermore, an unspoken set of rules and restrictions for exactly what we’ll let into our preset realms of listening.
As the duo Death From Above (DFA), James Murphy and Tim Goldsworthy muck up the easily isolated camps of the rock and the club, disco-ballers with rock star-studded belts. Murphy especially, with the high-profile assistance of his band LCD Soundsystem, has spun the integration of music snobbery and dance culture into modish gold. They’re not so much remixers du jour as remixers du décennie and have staked out pop cultural relevance both inside and outside the disco. Their crossover status from the underground to inlets of the mainstream was cemented in late 2004 when their eponymous label became part of EMI; now their taste-conscious rejections (Janet Jackson, Britney Spears) are just as headline-worthy as the projects they actually work on.
The DFA Remixes: Chapter One is the duo’s first compilation since 2004’s acclaimed DFA Compilation #2, a similarly high-quality collection of remixes, some that are now out-of-print or have been unavailable on CD/vinyl altogether. Unlike Compilation #2, Chapter One is a single-disc set (in a stingy exhibition of prolonged marketing that smacks of the major label’s involvement, Chapter Two is set for release later this year), but it almost seems to feature a streamlined version of the duo’s more accessible side.
The DFA’s knack to straddle the different worlds of musical consumption is rooted primarily in its choice of sounds and groove. Murphy and Goldsworthy stick to funky sounds that haven’t been dehumanized by the technology they employ: the clavinet in Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon” or the natural percussion in Soulwax’s “Another Excuse” and Radio 4’s “Dance to the Underground” all pulse with the undeceiving insinuation of physical touch. The Blues Explosion’s “Mars, Arizona” is a stiff-armed hint to ruthless rock ‘n’ roll iconography, its dirty bass guitar vamp and one-note piano bang serving its minimalist propulsion. Jon Spencer’s voice is naturally suited for this kind of leather-jacket electro; his glam-trash howl, singing urgently of “sweet stink”, helps the DFA blur those lines of distinction before it’s all hijacked into the present with myriad electronic twitches.
“Mars, Arizona” is one of a number of the compilation’s tracks that extend into the ten-minute ballpark. These long songs (the Chemical Brothers’ “The Boxer”, Hot Chip’s “(Just Like We) Breakdown”) unfold with a delicate subtext manufactured by the slow-building minimalism—they’re patient dedications to the mutability of the groove, never boring and always fascinating to experience. This sharp and steady modus operandi is most evident on the 12-minute remix of Gorillaz’ “Dare”, which begins in stubborn simplicity (drums, bass, vocals) only to be swallowed, in a systematic extreme, by a stubble of sustained melodic noise that climbs octaves. Maintaining the integrity of the groove but exploiting it to near-unrecognizable lengths is a stylistic tightrope that the DFA dares walk. It’s that sensation the duo traffics in, the one that bodies search out in clubs and minds, in our private spaces, find stimulating.