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Remix revolution: Talking reinvention and attention spans with Fraea and Paper Tiger

by Cecilia Johnson

November 01, 2016

Remixes are everywhere these days. The attention a well-made version might bring an artist is hard to overstate; just ask Lilly Wood & The Prick, who saw their “Prayer In C” hit number one on dozens of 2014 charts after Robin Schulz remixed it, or Tove Lo, whose career arguably took off thanks to Hippie Sabotage’s version of “Habits [Stay High].”

But we’re not just talking in the world of electronic dance music, where remixes have traditionally been embraced. Paper Tiger, Doomtree producer and experienced DJ, explains, “If there’s ever a single put out, there [has] always been the radio version, a club version, and two other versions that are slightly different.” According to dance music executive George Hess, remixes have enjoyed a couple bouts of mainstream success—that is, success outside of EDM. “But,” he says, he’s never seen “the deep, rich financial and all this other type of success that we’re enjoying now.”

Whereas remixes used to be at the discretion of a producer or DJ, now artists themselves are integrating the idea of a remix into the original creative process. “It used to be: you put out the single and then it became normal to put out the single and the music video,” says Drew Preiner of Fraea, a dreamy synthpop duo whose Bend Your Bones EP came out last April. “Now it’s like you have to put out the single, then the music video, then the remix.”

To some, this new step in the process might seem like a label-driven way to wring every last drop out of music — and it certainly is strategic. But even more than that, the remix as requisite belies a change in consumer behavior. “People can’t handle an EP anymore,” says Preiner’s bandmate Jessie Daley, arguing that today’s listeners are consuming music in a fundamentally different way than before due to shorter attention spans. And she might be right — a Canadian study from 2015 suggests that the attention span of humans in the age of smartphones has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to eight seconds, and we are multitasking more.

Last July, Fraea dropped a remix EP for Bend Your Bones, and all three of its tracks are rewarding listens. First, Paper Tiger shapes a tense four-and-a-half minutes of “Trouble.” Sombear picks it up with “Criminal,” braiding pitched-up vocals with dark production; lastly, Vaski takes mid-level buzzing, the kind like when you rest your head against the window of a moving car, to turn “Awake” into a club-ready jam.

In this example, remixes present a chance to expand musical networks, helping performers and producers get songs in front of the fans of another artist. Fraea and Paper Tiger traded talents for the “Trouble” remix; as Fraea put together the EP, Paper Tiger was working on In Other Words, a solo project of his that incorporated vocals from various guests. “I had actually thought about reaching out to [Daley] anyway,” he said, “but when she sent me an email about doing the remix — she’s an old friend, but she was like, ‘How much do you want for it?’” He replied, “I’ll tell you what. I’ll do the remix if you sing for me for my record.”

Networking is one reason to remix, but in and of themselves, remixes provide outlets for producers to expand their own creative process. Like any form of art, remixes can come off just as formulaic as most songs on the Top 40. But that’s where the producer shows what they can do, reimagining an original work in a new and exciting way. “Generally, when I’m working on a remix, I try to ignore what’s already been done,” Paper Tiger shares. “I will pretty much just take the vocals and run with it […] I think it’s important to make a new thing.” Preiner makes the same point. “[Some people] just take the melody and play it on a totally different instrument,” he says, “which is […] the ultimate remix.” If Preiner were to reimagine another artist’s work — he has toyed around with the process but never arrived at a satisfying result — he’d want his work to sound completely different from the original.

Preiner mentions Flume as one artist who pushes himself to reinvent a song. Talking about the Australian’s breakout remix “You & Me (feat. Eliza Doolittle),” originally by Disclosure, Preiner says, “I had to listen to the Disclosure song to find out where [the sample] was, and I couldn’t find it. I didn’t even know what he pulled that from.” Less than a year after “You & Me,” Flume released Lorde remix “Tennis Court,” and fellow producers have been borrowing his synth-bass and heavily-processed-drums style ever since.

And remixes aren’t always just easy listening — producers stretch the bounds of the song and actively challenge the listener. The Fraea conversation turns to Rihanna’s “Kiss It Better” dance remixes. Daley likes the R3HAB one, mostly because it’s so catchy. “I listened to that like 9,000 times this summer,” she says. Preiner bets on the Four Tet remix, explaining, “He totally has his own style. He’ll take a three-minute pop song […] and make it 10 minutes long, and it’ll start really quiet, and it just builds and builds and takes forever.” Daley laughs and says, “That’s why that one did not get me.” Preiner nods: “It takes a lot of patience. But when it finally gets to the end, you get this huge payoff.”

In most cases, a successful remix is a win/win/win. The artist gains some buzz and the attention of the producer’s fanbase (“It’s about exposing our music to new audiences,” Preiner says). The producer gets to fulfill their own artistic vision and goals, hopefully building a new creation along the way, and consumers can enjoy a new version of a song they love. As dance music legend Robyn puts it, “A good remix stretches the way you listen to a pop song, or a song in general.” Bring on the reinvention.

This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the November edition of The Growler.

Clean Water Land & Legacy Amendment
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.