For the August edition of the collective collab blog, T&E writers discuss their favorite use of sampling in music. This post covers samples from popular music to the obscure oddities.
Song: “Eccojam A6”
Artist: Chuck Person (aka Oneohtrix Point Never)
Album: Chuck Person’s Eccojams Vol. 1
I feel fortunate that the album that introduced me to “vaporwave” is also widely credited with pioneering the movement itself. For those unfamiliar, vaporwave is a musical genre directly related to “plunderphonics,” a term coined by composer John Oswald in 1985 to describe music mostly (if not entirely) comprised of sampled material. Oswald himself contributed some great music in this vein (example), but his works end up sounding more psychotic and punishing than your favorite grindcore band. Vaporwave, or "echo jams" as Daniel Lopatin (aka Chuck Person aka Oneohtrix Point Never) calls them, are different. They’re usually sourced from 1980s music and, more importantly, they’re slowed down (à la DJ Screw). Slowed way down. Like… I’m going to sit on this couch and partake in my favorite depressant slowed down. The song that first hooked me was the sixth track on the A-side (they’re all untitled), which samples “Lonely” by Janet Jackson. It’s maddeningly beautiful. It’s meditative, magical, and explains in three short minutes why so many musicians and fans have embraced vaporwave.
Song: “On Sight”
Artist: Kanye West
There’s no dispute that Kanye West has one of the best ears for sampling. It’s how he succeeded as a hip hop producer in his early days (incidentally, taking the approach opposite to DJ Screw, he sped up his favorite records) and it’s how he’s still producing some of the best sounds in the mainstream music industry. You got Chaka Khan on his debut single, Curtis Mayfield and Ray Charles on his second album, and Daft Punk on his third—each of the legends reworked into a brand new hip hop classic. In 2010, Kanye took his creativity and knack for sampling to incredible new heights with My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which somehow transformed snippets of King Crimson, Aphex Twin, and Bon Iver into viable background beats. But it was the album that came after that one that has the most interesting sample. “On Sight” kicks off Yeezus with a delicious, analog synthesizer sound that’s as massive as it is vicious. If you’re in polite company, maybe you turn it down. If you’re by yourself, you turn it the hell up. The beat continues for a full minute—brutal, abrasive, equally high-pitched as it is low-pitched—before bowing out to a sample. Of what? Like a choir of angels on earth, the Holy Name of Mary Choral Family singing, “he'll give us what we need / it may not be what we want.” And then it’s back to the beat.
Song: “lose yourself to dance”
Artist: Daftside (aka Darkside)
Album: Random Access Memories Memories
Daft Punk spent over $1 million and several years refining its ideas, laying down compositions, and recording orchestras, celebrated session musicians, and stars like Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams before finally releasing Random Access Memories—a full eight years after their previous studio album. A month later, electronic music duo Darkside (a collaboration of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington) remixed the entire thing and uploaded it to SoundCloud. Ordering of the tracks went out the window (with the formerly last song, “Contact,” appearing first) and no track was spared the “drop it in Ableton and fuck around” treatment. “Give Life Back to Music,” originally Daft Punk’s bombastic opening track, fizzled into a fuzzy, crinkly little ditty that could almost be considered vaporwave. “Get Lucky,” designed to be a theme song for the summer of 2013, got stripped down just the same. What Daftside did to the album’s other single, “Lose Yourself to Dance,” should earn the “remix” a place in the museum of sound right next to John Cage’s “4’33.” It’s not a remix. It’s literally just a sample of Pharrell singing the title “lose yourself to dance.” Clocking in at two seconds long, the track is one of the most hilarious musical jokes ever made, and by default one of the most interesting samples.
Album: The Milk of Human Kindness
There ain’t a bad song on this album. And like most works by Caribou (one of the monikers of Dan Snaith, who has also gone by Manitoba and Daphni), nearly every song on the album is written by Snaith himself—except for “Subotnick.” Presumably an homage to influential electronic music composer Morton Subotnick, the track puzzlingly doesn’t include a sample from Subotnick’s famous work Silver Apples of the Moon, which surely could have worked for the album. Instead, he turned to 1970 soul single “Love on a Two-Way Street” performed by the Moments, and it maybe even works better than an actual Subotnick sample would have. On an album that has been described as "folktronica" and "neo-psychedelia,” the sample’s humble piano, sexy guitar chords, and epic string section (so typical for an old 45) somehow come together for a fitting one-minute instrumental near the beginning of the album. So that makes it surprising on two counts: one because I still don’t get the Morton Subotnick reference and two because it doesn’t even matter.
Artist: Mariah Carey
There seem to be two main kinds of sampling. The first (as in my first two choices above) lifts from obscure pieces or lesser-known songs by popular artists. The other kind (as in my second two choices) lifts from a song that is (or was) well-known and popular. The risk with this latter option, in a best case-scenario, is that you’ll be accused of musical laziness. This risk is amplified if you literally lift the entire beat from the original song: why would anyone listen to your version when they could just listen to the original? That’s the amazing thing about Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.” The song heavily samples Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” which was composed by Talking Heads members and easily ranks as one of the greatest pieces of music from the 1980s. And yet, Mariah somehow owns it. Don’t shoot me: I’m not saying it’s better than the original. But it’s close. And compared to the hundreds of other (largely hip hop) artists that have sampled the song—Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy, 2Pac, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, Mark Morrison, Ice Cube, Warren G—Mariah’s version stands supreme. Combine that fantastically funky groove with her divine vocals, and you have a pop masterpiece.
Song: “Love Without Sound”
Artist: White Noise
Album: An Electric Storm
One of the most criminally overlooked people in music history is Delia Derbyshire, an electronic and music concrète composer from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Delia innovated the art of sampling in the late 60's by recording various sounds onto tape, splicing and rearranging the tapes by hand to create a sequence, and using analog equipment to manipulate the pitch and speed in order to create an entirely new sound from the original sample.
Although her solo work was prolific in and of itself, I think the most fascinating use of sampling came from the experimental project White Noise - consisting of Delia, fellow BBC Radiophonic collaborator Brian Hodgson, and electronic engineer David Vorhaus. The track "Love Without Sound", which is my absolute favorite use of sampling ever, manipulates the listener into a false understanding of what they are listening to. For example, the violin and cello sounds in the song are actually just altered edits of Vorhaus playing the double bass.
On surface level, the other samples in the song don't seem to have any relation to each other...a sound clip of a woman having an orgasm, a door creaking, a heart beating...but they're all tied together through a string of dissonant synth sounds (from the EMS Synthi VCS3, the first British synthesizer) to create an overall theme of descent into madness. The samples pull the listener into a manic rabbit hole, and the fact that this advanced use of sampling was done in 1969 never ceases to blow my mind.
Song: “What Would I Want? Sky”
Artist: Animal Collective
Album: Fall Be Kind EP
Already years deep into an Animal Collective obsession, I remember being camped out in my dorm’s study lounge my freshman year of college, gushing through my initial listen of Fall Be Kind. “What Would I Want? Sky” is a standout track off of the acclaimed EP and uniquely features the first legally licensed Grateful Dead sample. It’s a sweet feat indeed, but the boys of AnCo could not have played it cooler. Rather than flaunting the cleared sample, the first half of the track is colored with chanting backed by the sound of breaking glass chimes, sans sample. It’s only after a proper three minute buildup that a shining moment of clarity occurs, and the track seamlessly molds together. Unbroken Chain loops in the background for the remainder of the track (albeit its lyrics chopped and screwed in true AC fashion) while Avey Tare calls upon the trials and tribulations of the modern thinking brain…essentially, the questions that arise from just being. It’s a vulnerable and glimmering track any human can relate to, and remains one of my all time favorite songs to this day.
Song: “Gang Starz”
Artist: The Jacka
Album: What Happened To The World (Street Album)
I feel guilty in admitting that I never realized this song sampled a riff from Opeth's "To Bid You Farewell." The Jacka, may he rest in peace, is a Bay Area hip hop legend, and Opeth have been one of my favorite bands for years. Still, even after finding out Opeth was behind this beat, it's hard to make the connection between the two. "To Bid You Farewell" is the ten minute long, largely acoustic song that closes Opeth's second album, Morningrise. The song is a largely smooth and relaxing introspection on loss, and the riff sounds almost unrecognizable in a song about the darkness of life in the hood. Hats off to Cheeze on da Slap, The Jacka's producer on this track. He took one classy Mikael Akerfeldt idea and made it sound like some cold GANGSTA shit.
Song: “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”
Artist: The Weeknd
Album: House of Balloons
This song is from before The Weeknd became one of the biggest pop stars of today. He shows off his 80s post-punk influence with a sample from "Happy House" by Siouxsie and the Banshees. The main guitar riff creeps through the first half of the song, while The Weeknd thinks outside the box and gives the hook a totally different meaning. The original is a woman's sarcastic, cynical commentary of the supposed ideal of the perfect family life in the 1980s. This song flips this message on its head to portray a haunting image of a drug-fuelled, sex-heavy party house. The Weeknd does have one thing in common with Siouxsie Sioux - he absolutely does not sound like he's in a happy place. It's a genius use of a sample.
Artist: Nine Inch Nails
Album: The Downward Spiral
I didn't write about this song in my selection of baby making music last month, but somehow I still ended up writing about it here anyway. The iconic drum beat that carries this song is a heavily distorted sample of the opening drums from Iggy Pop's "Nightclubbing". The original has a sleazy, drunken swing vibe in 12/8 time, but you can barely pick up on that when Trent Reznor blurs the bass and snare drums, adds fuzz, and turns it into a sexually driven, bass-heavy stomp. The end result wipes Iggy Pop's original fingerprints completely off the song and becomes the centerpiece for one of the most iconic songs of the 1990s.
Song: “The Deadly Rhythm”
Album: The Shape of Punk to Come
Refused gets my final spot because I would have never realized that the main guitar riff was lifted from Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man" if someone hadn't pointed it out to me. I'm not sure if this counts as a true sample per se since it involves copying guitar riffs, but I think Refused did enough to the original to make it their own, so to dismiss it as a simple case of jacked riffs wouldn't be appropriate here. The riff is distorted, ripped apart, placed into a jazzy, erratic song structure, and played at a frantic pace to the point where it's unrecognizable - at least until the breakdown towards the end at around 3:20, when it's slowed down and you can finally hear traces of the bluesy original.
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