Perhaps today, when the terrifying sonic homogenization of the best-selling music is evident, we would be more cautious. But at the beginning of the eighties, the idea of the plasticity of pop was exciting: each album could be considered a work in progress, open to successive recreations by guerrillas.
I mean, the remixers. They inherited, surely without knowing it, the concept of the multiplicity of the original recording developed by the Jamaican producers, masters in extracting surplus value. It used to be DJs or observers who understood what worked on the dancefloors, guys like Tom Moulton, King Midas in the years of the disco music. The eighties, with the expansion of the market, facilitated the enthronement of the remix. An attempt was made to cover different niches, with mixtures for the mainstream or for more demanding clubs. Any DJ would appreciate it, especially if it lasted long enough to get away from the turntables for a bit.
In contrast to earlier times, when the artist killed if his work was touched in the least, remixers had an open bar: they received the master’s degree with all its tracks and, as surgeons, they could amputate, implant, rebuild, transplant. Technically, everything was allowed: adding new instruments or keeping only the voice, speeding up or radically transforming the recording. Aphex Twin boasted that, faced with the task of modernizing a foreign theme that did not motivate him, he sent the record company an obscure recording of his, without any relationship; it was released as a bold remix.
Although anthologies of different remixers have been published over the years, including Aphex Twin himself, the harvest was so immense that there is still room for ambitious compilations. Demon inaugurates in September a collection called Dance Masters, coordinated by another magician of the genre, Arthur Baker (please don’t just judge him for what he did with Bob Dylan). The first volume is dedicated to Shep Pettibone.
That amounts to playing it safe. Pettibone was surely the most ubiquitous of remixers in the golden years: he worked so hard that there is hardly any trace of his social life. Eclectic, the same was understood with British synth groups (Pet Shop Boys, New Order, Depeche Mode, Erasure) as with American divas (Madonna, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Gloria Gaynor). He was able to let his imagination fly in mixes that were close to 10 minutes and then make a forceful single mix It lasted for half and could even be punctured on spokes. Although they are the first, with their dramatic sense and dynamic contrasts, which cemented their reputation.
It should be noted that Shep Pettibone also signed some garbage. And that the present collection suffers from contractual obstacles, particularly regrettable in the cases of Madonna and Prince. Apart from these absences, the essential is in Dance Masters: The four-CD case contains 46 remixes, a reduced number in the future vinyl version (two double LPs). In breadth and presentation, the anthology raises the bar and makes us want to see future volumes dedicated to François Kevorkian, John Jellybean Benitez, David Morales and other Stakhanovites of the time.
At the moment, the border of Dance Masters seems to be in the dub versions that, following the Jamaican model, totally or partially dispensed with the vocal parts. A subgenre, true, but that was also integrated into that soundtrack that broke the listeners’ expectations every night.