Sharps & flats

Thievery Corporation's second full-length compiles brutal dissections of songs by remix-friendly hipster outfits like Pizzicato Five, Stereolab and Gus Gus.

Published June 4, 1999 4:00PM (EDT)

David Byrne hasn't sounded groovy since his shoulder pads stopped making sense in the late '80s. But take his "Dance on Vaseline" and, like the remix duo the Thievery Corporation, lace it with erotic harmonies and dub-house rhythm, and the former Talking Head sounds like he's from another planet.

Thievery Corporation, a DJ and production duo from Washington, crafts songs by tearing apart others' work. Although there's a critical debate raging right now over the legitimacy of remixes as art, it's clear that Thievery is side-stepping questions that attempt to separate art from artifice. For them, the dance music universe -- populated by sampling machines, white labels and faceless producers -- is a place where all sound is public property. As remix artists, they can take a tepid original like Byrne's and transport it to a dubbed-out electrosphere where mid-tempo beats sip on cocktails and puff away on tight spliffs.

"Abductions and Reconstructions," Thievery's second full-length record, complies brutal dissections of songs by remix-friendly hipster outfits like Pizzicato Five, Stereolab and Gus Gus. Of the 15 remixes that work out best -- like on Waldeck's "Defenceless" -- Thievery yanks the juiciest elements out of each song and sexes them up with hazy house and dub.

Thievery transforms "Transmission Central," a composition by a phenomenal Birmingham, England, outfit called Rockers Hi-Fi, into a deep, ragga-house track, suspended in acoustic percussion and ska-style horns. They completely remove the alt-pop context from Pizzicato Five's "Porno 3003," then lift the vocals and frugally re-disperse pieces throughout the sensual, spacious, cocktail house beats. And on Black Uhuru's "Boof N Baff N Biff," Thievery Corporation immerse the song in lush Jamaican Studio One-style dub with loads of reverb and echo, then gradually knock it onto the dance floor with a swinging bass groove.

The cumulative effect is enough to squelch any of those remix debates. If they're creating new art, they're po-mo visionaries the semiotics crowd can adore and analyze to death. Meanwhile, dancers who seem to care a lot less about these issues of supposed authenticity can smile to themselves: If remixers are really thieves, the two guys in Thievery Corporation are the fucking dons.

By Amanda Nowinski

Amanda Nowinski is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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