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Apr 02

On sampling and post-modernism

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Here’s Gavin Mueller writing in the OHJ Blog (get your permalinks fixed!) “I think sampling is one of the most potent forms of artistic expression, especially in our post-modern world.”. You just know he’s going to mention DJ Shadow and lo-and-behold he does. And here’s The Dr. from Boom Selection – “many buyers of ‘freak like me’ treat it as an original work, unaware of the component parts.”.

So where’s ‘post-modernism’ (whatever that is) there? (It is just about possible to imagine a buyer of DJ Shadow, or the Avalanches, coming to their records unaware that these are patchworks of samples, but it’s rather difficult). Treating sampling – in the broadest sense – as unoriginal misses the point, but so does fencing it off and calling it art.

DJ Shadow isn’t really trying to get you to reconsider the sound sources by “putting them into a new context” – if recontextualisation were his thing he wouldn’t be using all those private-press ice-lolly jingles, where nobody knows or cares about the original context. But songs with super-recognisable samples – like bootlegs, like Puff Daddy for that matter – aren’t doing that either. They’re daring you, who does know what’s up, to hear the song as if you dont. To hear it like the Sugababes buyers hear ‘Freak Like Me’ – out of any context, new and fresh. The secret of a sample in pop is that you forget it’s a sample – the better-known the sample, the higher the stakes are; that’s all.

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