BY NOW, ANYONE between 18 and 35 who has access to a PC and variable morals about digital theft has probably downloaded a bootleg mash-up. Songs like the Freelance Hellraiser's "Stroke of Genius," in which the Strokes' "Hard to Explain" became the unlikely but effective musical bed for the a cappella vocals from Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle," have become a kind of secret pop underworld. Those with a DSL line probably know of 2 Many DJ's infamous mix sessions like the available-in-stores As Heard on Radio Soulwax Pt. 2 (Pias, Belgium), where Destiny's Child go cod-Caribbean, the Velvet Underground's Moe Tucker trades drum lessons with Sly Stone, and electro-punx Adult. kiss the skulls of rockabilly-punx the Cramps. Then there's producer/mash-up artist Richard X, who links sexy modern girl pop with curdled post-punk electronics. And has gotten them in the British Top 40. Twice.
DJ Lance Lockarm, known to his mother as Brian MacDonald and, according to himself, for "grating on employees' nerves at a variety of record stores that sell used vinyl across the Pacific Northwest," is Seattle's own bootleg impresario. (Lance is also a friend, but if I ever shared drinks with Eddie Van Halen, I'd still tell him his band sucked after kicking David Lee Roth out, if you get my drift.) Like many well-known mash-up artists, Lockarm's M.O. is the "A over B" mix, but his juxtapositions carry a thematic heft rare in the field. In his work, he finds the common ecstasy between the Beach Boys' surf-rock and Spacemen 3's drone-rock, and sets the Beastie Boys adrift on My Bloody Valentine's memory bliss. Outkast's munchkin-hop "The Whole World" turns into indie jangle via the English Beat's "Save It for Later," while Public Enemy get their bounce on with M's "Pop Muzik." JanetMs. Jackson if you're nastymoonwalks with the Police in lite-disco mode, as DMX goes through Bauhaus' makeup case. And Dr. Dre and L.L. Cool J find impossible swing in the turgid industrial grind of the Swans.
Playing this fast and loose with copyright laws means you won't find any Lance Lockarm product at your local record store. (Even 2 Many DJ's legally cleared the many elements of their mix disc.) But all of the aboveand moreare available for download at LanceLockarm.com. The best of his mash-ups hint at a secret history of pop musicpaths not taken, impossible meetings, parallel universe cover bandsthat evokes the childhood fantasy of your toys springing to life on their own behind closed doors. At a time when pop offers unprecedented sonic thrills while being more blocked off by commerce than ever, the idea of DMX going darkwave-goth is as ridiculously out there as the idea of Timbaland sampling the Human League is giddily possible. (Personal to Timbo: Please sample the League's "The Black Hit of Space" immediately. Thanks.)
LOCKARM GOT HIS start several years ago. "I heard Evolution Control Committee's 'Whipped Cream Mixes,'" he says, referring to an early '90s single that mashed up, among others, Public Enemy with Herb Alpert, "and then started sniffing out similar stuff from DJ mixes from radio shows across the country." At the turn of the millennium, thanks to MP3 trading networks like Napster and cheap bootleg audio software, mash-ups changed hands from art-school circuit pranksters like the ECC and Negativland (not to mention hip-hop and post-rave DJ culture) to an unwashed bedroom massive of music and computer nerds. "I only got off my ass and did a few tracks because everyone else was starting to do it," Lockarm says, "and I didn't want to be wedgied by my friends for being a slacker again."
Lockarm notes there's been some interest from major labels in the U.S. in the wake of bootleg fever. Still, he says, "Mash-ups haven't really cracked the U.S. mainstream yet. It's entirely possible they could break any time between now and, oh, six years. But even if they follow through, I doubt they will be as spontaneous, ribald, or bizarre as the ones [from] the past year." He also realizes there's an inherent obstacle to legitimate cross-label mash-ups. "Pop music doesn't try too hard to hide that it appropriates musical ideas from the past anyway, so why should labels bother with humongous sample clearance fees for the sake of a 'genre' destined to be very short-lived, when they can bypass the rules just barelylike they have for well over a decade?"
So as great as it would be to hear something like Lockarm's "Lost Yr'self Fitter"in which Eminem's AOR self-help anthem gets into bed with Smashing Pumpkins, the Cure, and Sonic Youth to create an absolutely convincing rap-rock conference callon 107.7 The End, don't get your hopes up. "All [my currently available] MP3s are certainly a chapter that is past," Lockarm says. "I want to continue doing bootleg remixes, but they'll be straying further away from the simple 'A over B' type mixes and more into original territory." He won't be confining himself to the four-minute single, either: "Another thing I want to tackle for future projects are really bizarre mix CD-R'slike really, really long mash-up medleys of sorts."
Nevertheless, Lockarm isn't ruling out eventual pop superstardom entirely: "There's certainly a very subtle science to the current crop of pop music that I find both frightening and intriguing," he says. "And I want to know what it is, damn it!"