Get Your Bootleg On: A Mashup Mystery Solved

Photo (partial) found on Start

It began as a simple message board for bedroom DJs. Partnerships were formed, skills were developed, and in some cases, careers were launched.

"Are you gonna be my…motherfucker?" The song's apparently rhetorical refrain poured out of the Honda Element's speakers as we cruised down a short stretch of California's Highway One, about to enter the S-curve-laden roads that would lead us back to San Francisco from an all-too-short trip through the breathtaking hiking trails of Point Reyes National Seashore.

The basis for the mashup was Jet's 2003 hit, "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" We knew that much. But we couldn't be quite sure of the origins of the profane addition to the song. Outkast? Prince? The tune wore out its welcome long before we could come to a conclusion – so we switched to the next track.

We'd been playing this game ever since I'd slipped the mysterious disc into the CD player, grateful to have found an addition to the limited selection of music that Sarah had in her car. You can only listen to Bon Iver so many times before you start feeling like you're trapped in a Wisconsin cabin – and seeing as we were enjoying an unseasonably warm Bay Area day, I wanted something a little more celebratory.

Sarah claimed to have no idea where the disc, marked with nothing but "GYBO 5", had come from, or even how long it had been sitting in the side-door compartment, in a case also holding five installments of Zadie Smith's On Beauty. When the first song, a bastardization of "Y.M.C.A." ("G…Y…BO"), blasted out of the speakers, I could see why she might want to deny any knowledge of the thing. Thankfully, that was the lowest point. As the ever-creative mashups and covers rolled on ("Eleanor Rigby" with a dub twist, a girl-punk version of Naked Eyes' "Always Something There to Remind Me", etc.), we debated what the strange word/acronym on the CD could mean; I was convinced that Billy Blanks was involved.

Like all slightly ridiculous things, the CD eventually came to an end, and it was back to Blood Bank. But while the music wasn't particularly memorable, I couldn't quite get the thing out of my head. Soon after getting home from my vacation, I googled "GYBO" and found Gybo5.

Get Your Bootleg On began as a simple message board back in 2002, a way for bedroom DJs to showcase, discuss and critique each other's creations (mashups/bootlegs are the main focus, but there's also a fair amount of remixes and original songs). Partnerships were formed, skills were developed, and in some cases, careers were launched. According to the GYBO history page, some board members have gone on to do official work for the likes of David Bowie, Britney Spears and Pharrell Williams.

The site has evolved into a community with some 16,000 members and many more lurkers, featuring blogs, articles, interviews, polls and more. The whole thing's run by a guy known as McSleazy, but the goal is for the content to be produced entirely by the community members; the front page of the site won't update unless someone contributes.

The user-powered model is nothing revolutionary at this point, and there's no shortage of platforms for the aspiring creative -- but that doesn't make GYBO's success as a collaborative community any less impressive. Spend some time on the forums, and you'll witness very little of the kind of trolling and destructive behavior that plagues most community sites where contributors hide behind anonymous handles and avatars. There's some criticism and snarkiness, sure, but it's generally more constructive than what passes for acceptable commentary on, say, YouTube.

Users seem to realize that if they hope to get useful feedback on their work, they need to give it, too. Take the "Tweaks" section, for example; producers post samples of works in progress ("Fugees vs. Big Rock Candy Mountain – horns?"), asking for help in polishing them into some kind of finished product.

Despite the commercial success enjoyed by a small portion of GYBO's contributors, I'd guess that most of those posting here don't expect, or even particularly crave, any wider recognition for their work beyond the appreciation of their peers. The most prolific posters clearly have a passion for what they do, but what they do is based in having fun with music, not making a buck off it.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the regular challenges presented on the forum. The recent 1950s Challenge, which asked users to create or a mash-up or remix containing (or covering) at least one tune that was released anywhere in the world in the 1950s, inspired creations like “Wonderful Poison” (Johnny Mathis vs. Praga Khan) and “Dizz and the Boyz Getz to the Beach” (Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz mixed with the Beach Boys). It's not all good but, like the random CD we found in the car, it's never short on entertainment value.

I've typically reserved only a minimal amount of respect and attention for mashups – why waste time with derivative, gimmicky creations (clever as they may be) when I could focus on the originals, the serious stuff? But a community like this, full of people with endless appreciation for a broad range of original music, makes me reconsider that dismissive view – especially because it's clear that many of these DJs are engaging with songs on a much more intense level than I ever have. And the offbeat takes on popular-music trends, the melding of genres, the tinkering with tempos and distortion of voices – they all serve as needed reminders not to take this whole music thing too seriously.

That sentiment was perfect for a long, winding drive near the beginning of my week-long vacation, when I was still vaguely thinking about the work I'd just left behind. The found CD's unpredictability was also good preparation for a week during which I had very little control over the music I heard – something I'm not at all used to, but which was kind of liberating. Every once in a while, I think we all need to take a vacation from our normal listening habits, even if only to reaffirm our stated preferences. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, right?

I haven't given enough of my time to GYBO to consider it a full-fledged vacation – I'd call it more of a weekend trip – but I've seen (and heard) enough to recommend it as a destination if you need some quick musical refreshment. You'll return from your excursion with at least a smile on your face. You might even start contributing your own stuff and have it end up in the hands of some unsuspecting travelers looking for a diversion.

If you do end up getting really into the site, though, you might not want to go texting your friends about how much you love GYBO. According to Urban Dictionary, the term has another interesting definition – and it's got very little to do with aerobic exercise.

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