From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
A remix is an alternative version of a song, different from the original version. The concept has been especially important in the music genres reggae, dub, dance music and electronic music while remix culture has been of importance in in postmodern theory.
A song may be remixed to give a song that wasn't popular a second chance at radio and club play, or to alter a song to suit a specific music genre or radio format. Remixes should not be confused with edits, which usually involve shortening a final stereo master for marketing purposes.
Roots of the remix
Since the beginnings of recorded sound in the late 19th century, certain people have enjoyed the ability to rearrange the normal listening experience with technology. With the advent of easily editable magnetic tape in the 1940s and 1950s, such alterations became more common. In those decades the experimental genre of musique concrète used tape loops of music and environmental sounds to create sound compositions that were the forerunners of electronic music. Less artistically lofty edits produced medleys or novelty recordings of various types.
Modern remixing had its roots in the dance hall culture of late-1960s/early-1970s Jamaica. The fluid evolution of music that encompassed ska, rocksteady, reggae and dub was embraced by local mixing wizards who deconstructed and rebuilt tracks to suit the tastes of their audience. Producers and engineers like Ruddy Redwood, King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry popularized stripped-down instrumental mixes (which they called "versions") of reggae tunes. At first they simply dropped the vocal tracks, but soon more sophisticated effects were created, dropping separate instrumental tracks in and out of the mix, isolating and repeating hooks, and adding various effects like echo, reverberation and delay.
At the same time, DJs in early discotheques were performing similar tricks with disco songs (using loops and tape edits) to get dancers on the floor and keep them there. One noteworthy figure was Tom Moulton who invented the dance remix as we now know it. Though not a DJ (a popular misconception), Mr. Moulton had begun his career by making a home-made mix tape for a Fire Island dance club in the late 1960s. His tapes eventually became popular and he came to the attention of the music industry in New York City. At first Mr. Moulton was simply called upon to improve the aesthetics of dance-oriented recordings before release ("I didn't do the remix, I did the mix" - Tom Moulton). Eventually, he moved from being a "fix it" man on pop records to specializing in remixes for the dance floor. Along the way, he invented the breakdown section and the 12-inch single vinyl format. Walter Gibbons provided the dance version of the first commercial 12-inch single ("10 Percent", by Double Exposure). Contrary to popular belief, Gibbons did not mix the record! In fact his version was a skillful re-edit of the original mix (paving the way for later editing greats such as John Morales and The Latin Rascals). Moulton, Gibbons and their contemporaries (Jim Burgess, Tee Scott, and later Larry Levan and Shep Pettibone) at Salsoul Records would prove to be the most influential group of remixers for the disco era. The Salsoul catalog is seen (especially in Great Britain and Europe) as being the "canon" for the disco mixer's art form. Pettibone is among a very small number of remixers whose work would successfully transition from the Disco era to the House era (he is certainly the most high profile remixer to do so). His contemporaries included Arthur Baker and Francois Kevorkian.
Contemporaneously to disco, in the mid-1970s, the Jamaican and Bronx remix cultures met, energizing both. Key figures included Kool DJ Herc (an apocryphal figure whose identity and actual accomplishments are controversial) and DJ Grandmaster Flash. Cutting (alternating between duplicate copies of the same record) and scratching (manually moving the vinyl record beneath the turntable needle) became part of the culture, creating what Slate magazine called "real-time, live-action collage". One of the first mainstream successes of this style of remix was the 1983 track "Rockit" by Herbie Hancock, as remixed by Grand Mixer D.ST. Malcolm McLaren and the creative team behind ZTT Records would feature the "cut up" style of hip hop on such records as "Duck Rock".
Early pop remixes were fairly simple; in the 1980s, "extended mixes" of songs were released to clubs and commercial outlets on vinyl 12-inch singles. These typically had a duration of six to seven minutes, and often consisted of the original song with 8 or 16 bars of instruments inserted, often after the second chorus; some were as simplistic as two copies of the song stitched end to end. As the cost and availability of new technologies allowed, many of the bands who were involved in their own production (such as Depeche Mode and Duran Duran) experimented with more intricate versions of the extended mix. Madonna began her career writing music for dance clubs and used remixes extensively to propel her career; one of her early boyfriends was noted DJ John Jellybean Benitez, who created several memorable mixes of her work.
Art of Noise took the remix styles to an extreme -- creating new music entirely using samples. They were among the first popular groups to truly harness the potential that had been unleashed by Kraftwerk and Giorgio Moroder (as well as composer Jean Michel Jarre) with their synthesizer-based compositions. Contemporaneous to Art of Noise was the seminal body of work by Yello (composed, arranged and mixed by Boris Blank). Primarily because they featured sampled and sequenced sounds, Yello and Art of Noise would produce a great deal of influential work for the next phase. Others such as Cabaret Voltaire and the aforementioned Jarre (whose Zoolook was an epic usage of sampling and sequencing) were equally influential in this era).
After the rise of dance music in the late 1980s, a new form of remix was popularised, where the vocals would be kept and the instruments would be replaced, often with matching backing in the house music idiom. A clear example of this approach is Roberta Flack's 1989 ballad "Uh Oh Look Out", which Chicago House great Steve "Silk" Hurley dramatically reworked into a boisterous floor-filler by stripping away all the instrumental tracks and substituting a minimalist, sequenced "track" to underpin her vocal delivery. The art of the remix gradually evolved, and soon avant-garde artists such as Aphex Twin were creating more experimental remixes of songs (relying on the groundwork of Cabaret Voltaire and the others), which varied radically from their original sound and were not guided by pragmatic considerations such as sales or danceability, but were created for "art's sake".
In the 1990s, with the rise of powerful home computers with audio capabilities came the mash-up, an unsolicited, unofficial (and often legally dubious) remix created by "underground remixers" who edit two or more recordings (often of wildly different songs) together. Underground mixing is more difficult than the typical official remix, because clean copies of separated tracks such as vocals or individual instruments are usually not available to the public. Some artists (such as Björk and Public Enemy) embraced this trend and outspokenly sanctioned fan remixing of their work; there was once a web site which hosted hundreds of unofficial remixes of Björk's songs, all made using only various officially-sanctioned mixes.