With a burgeoning number of SoundCloud artists, Bandcamp accounts, and on-demand music communities continuing to flourish online, the inclusion of “original” works within “new” material has become more apparent now than it ever has in the past. This increase goes far beyond transforming mainstream pop hits into nightclub bangers or splicing magnetic tape for experimental ends; digital platforms are beginning to encroach on the boundaries of creative commons in a way we haven’t seen before. In the absolute crudest of terms, this is hugely positive. An inventive medium has opened up for people to discover and explore fresh outlets for musical curiosity on a level playing field. However, that curious inclination often leads to delving into a limitless library of previously released tunes, and with that, the “remix” tends to take on more questionable forms.
Although it’s near impossible to track down the first instance of a bona fide remix, the act itself stems from the proliferation of technology that allowed for the alteration of specific layers of recorded sound, a practice that adjusted over time with taste and inquisitiveness. Since then, there has existed a distinction between the intended recording and the subsequent variations brought about through musique concrète, Jamaican dub, and pop music, to name but a few contributing genres. Where that becomes interesting, in the context of producers like SAINT PEPSI, Nmesh, and Mediafired, is not only in the style that these digital practitioners incorporate (a continually evolving blend of eccojams, screws, and plunderphonics), but also in the songs they choose to pilfer from.
One of vaporwave’s key components is its source material, which is essentially corporate muzak — that melody you get when the water company puts you on hold, the stuff you hear coming from hidden speakers in hotel restrooms, a background loop on the last team-building presentation you sat through — it differs remarkably from what SAINT PEPSI has been releasing of late, but it often gets tarred with the same brush. This may well be a consequence of the online communities forged through Vektroid’s versatile 2011/2012 streak, when she released her brilliant Macintosh Plus album just four months before the equally inspiring, yet extraordinarily soulless 情報デスクVIRTUAL release. Strictly defined, one of these is a “vaporwave” release (the latter), while the other is apparently not (the former), even though the manner in which the samples are distorted remains similar across the board.
But despite the fact that our SAINT PEPSI faction are employing the same chopped-and-screwed techniques as artists working with vaporwave, the former bunch tend to avoid sampling muzak, per se, while favoring R&B, soul, and pop music as their primary source material: Mediafired employed the use of Queen in last year’s exemplary The Pathway Through Whatever; Nmesh opened up Nu.wav Hallucinations with a sample from Berlin; and on his latest release, SAINT PEPSI borrows from Enchantment, Rose Royce, and The Whispers, among others. These are eccojams, a DJ Screw offshoot grounded in Chuck Person’s 2010 cassette, Eccojams Vol. 1, which gave rise to a particular breed of remix that “plunders” from pop culture of the past and the present in a fashion that John Oswald most famously deemed “plunderphonics.”
Whatever the inspirational driving force might be for Ryan DeRobertis, the man behind SAINT PEPSI, he is proving to be a prolific artist, hellbent on nailing his streamlined production measures sooner rather than later. HIT VIBES is his sixth full-length release this year, and it’s set alongside a whole batch of new tunes, most recently a spectacular edit of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” His latest offering comes a mere three months after the crushed disco allure of STUDIO 54, but it differentiates itself massively from anything he has recorded to date. HIT VIBES is a huge improvement on past material, which was often intriguing but frequently muddled and fragmented (see: LASER TAG ZERO or WORLD TOUR). Conversely, this album embodies a radiant, feel-good summer selection that permeates through the album’s very core; these jams just beg you to take the day off work, crack open the Pimms, and invite everyone you know over for a barbecue. It’s brilliantly well executed, meticulously arranged, and beyond all else, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
Entwined with dialogue from Woody Allen’s musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You, HIT VIBES melds the bulk of its sources from R&B, soul, funk, and disco. But unlike most of the grooves on January’s EMPIRE BUILDING, the cuts are crisp, smooth, and exercise a degree of subtlety through their sequencing. Unless you are familiar with “A Chance for Hope” by Live Band or “Fresh Cut” by Rose Royce, you could take “Have Faith” at face value as an original recording — even in light of the trademark sway effect that pulls the track out of its elevated Northern Soul direction for a few seconds before launching seamlessly back into it. Then there’s the sensational “Around,” which features a tempo-skewed “Wait Until Tonight (My Love)” by Phil Fearon and Galaxy — it opens with a rumble and builds into a full-frontal, pitch-shifted rendition of the original. The impact is remarkable, working as a unique demonstration of how well-defined and refreshing DeRobertis’ production measures can be, and when they come in the context of an album that retains excellent momentum throughout, the feeling it exposes is wonderful.
SAINT PEPSI might be conforming to the stylistic tropes of various appropriation techniques while testing the water as a self-proclaimed vaporwave musician, but the album’s success lies in the producer shedding any micro-genre attributes while bearing a concrete idea as to what he wants his final product to sound like. Of course, these were fantastic songs before they were included here, but the way they have been mixed with programmable synths and drum patterns, and the manner in which the record has been sequenced as a whole, makes for a stunning accomplishment. Sure, it’s upbeat and fast-paced in most places, but there are a couple of slow burners on here as well (the turn-the-lights-down hum of “Together” and the gorgeous flow of “miss you”), which give the album astonishing energy as it feeds into Allen’s dialogue. With HIT VIBES, SAINT PEPSI has not only found a winning formula, but he has raised the bar for contemporaries toying in a similar domain. At a time when the concept of the “remix” itself is being remixed, a shimmering new milestone has been chiseled from the vapor, and with his newly formed collective New Generation, the artist responsible shows absolutely no sign of slowing down.