The question as to whether a remix is a piece of art in and of itself is a naive one, mostly deliberated upon and debated by the kinds of people who believe their favorite musician writes all of his or her own music, or who cannot see the forest for the trees and the seven basic plots for the window dressing. Since its inception, all art has repurposed and re-imagined ideas as often, if not more often, than it has created original ones, and, when viewed with these eyes, the remix is not only undeniably revealed to be an art form, but one that comprises, in the vast array of its shades and definitions, great, sweeping swaths of all canons. While undeniably art, the margin for error in a re-appropriation is razor thin: performed properly, in such a way as to both alter and honour the original composition – releasing it back out into the world in a new form to strike once again with the potency of originality – a remix manages to both prolong a composition’s life while at the same time giving birth to a new one. Done poorly, a remix becomes bromidic, different drums grafted or sound excised, like a legion of its uninspiring brethren, presented to the listener as fresh and interesting and most likely rejected, like tepid water, for the unforgivable sin of boredom.
Striking the right balance of fresh interpretation and deft use of the original composition is something difficult to quantify, and even harder to critique. Should remixes be analysed in relation to their reference material, judged by how they alter and twist the strands to their own whims and predilections, whether or not they improve upon – or at least vary enough – the first song, thereby proving their worth to exist? Or should a remix be taken as a separate piece, listened to without the prejudice, bias, or onus of the original and left to stand purely upon its own merits?
By either standard, roughly half of Domino’s leviathan Motion Sickness remix compilation falls immensely short of enjoyable. With no shortage of acts and songs to choose from, it is perfectly conceivable that Domino could release something even longer than the slightly over two hour, two suite set and be able to hold listener’s interest; as it stands, only the remixes found on the second disc are worth of listening to by those with anything less than a fiendish addiction to gluttonous, boring house-lite graftings – the kind of brutal addiction that can sustain 10 or 11 minutes of mind numbing repetition – or a deep, unfoundering love and appreciation for the label’s rich history and an unshakeable belief that some of its artists’ best songs are indestructible – heavy handed, albatross-across-the-neck re-workings attached to their good names or not.
Take, for example, the fate of disc one opener ‘Beat and The Pulse’, whose plodding, cliche-ridden handling by Still Going - including a four-to-the-floor beat and the elimination of such notable song craft elements as verses, hooks, variety, and texture in favor of a drawn out, delayed release dance floor drone – is indicative of the mistreatment many of the remixes on the front side of Motion Sickness suffer, offences which become particularly egregious when they are listened to now, in a climate saturated with electronic music of various sorts. Matthew Dear’s remix of Liquid Liquid’s ‘Optimo’ manages to subdue the most interesting aspects of the original’s vibrancy and instead slowly exsanguinate the cut over a gruelling 11 minutes; while the deconstructed minimalist take Carl Craig offers on Junior Boys’ ‘Like A Child,’ albeit interesting, suffers from being just too long to grip the listener for its duration, much like Motion Sickness itself.
Shades of (famed pop art iconoclast and master re-appropriator Roy Lichtenstein)-level artistry are found on the compilation’s second set, which takes a bolder approach to the source material and produces a far more intriguing, and even enjoyable, listen as a result. (Special mention must be made of Daphni’s rendition of Hot Chip’s ‘Night and Day’, which adds a distinctive, dark, dissociative gloss to the original, but was stranded on disc one.) Second act opener ‘Orion’ is an example to the entire first half, as it not only manages to enthrall for a lengthy duration, it does so in ways that should be drawn out and diagrammed, like Lichtenstein’s Portrait of Madame Cezanne, for less talented artists to follow. Emperor Machine adds true edge, fresh muscle buttressing the catchiness that preceded it, and taking Sons and Daughters from a smoky back room and blue lit stage to a Cimmerian dance floor filled with kohl eyes, angled bobs and ribcage tattoos.
Total re-imaginings paint the second half, braver and more approachable than what preceded them; Justice completely destroyed ‘The Fallen,’ shattering it then gleefully tossing the shimmering little shards into the air, while the Beautiful Violence of Sebastien’s heavy synths give ‘Cheap and Cheerful’ the sneering, King-Hell attitude that it did not know it lacked. The Kills’ lyric, featured after an impressive build up, of “Want you to be crazy cause your boring baby when you’re straight” is a call to arms against most all of the tracks that come before it. Alan Braxe and Fred Falke provide a public access electropop take on ‘What’s Your Damage’, while Balam Acab creates a macabre, dreamy world from Twin Sister’s ‘Kimmi in a Rice Field.’
It is a shame that the aural courage displayed by so many artists is diluted by the banality of so many others; meant to be a grand celebration of remix culture and the Domino brand, Motion Sickness is, in the end, a fractured collection, juxtaposed heavily by the uninspiring, almost infuriatingly masturbatory cuts that proliferate its first segment and the far more exploratory, boldly revisionist statements made in spades on its second, which, to be fair, one surely appreciates all the more after suffering through the first.