Friday, December 18, 2009
#15. 'You'll never be alone again'
Justice vs. Simian "We Are Your Friends"
A good remix can take a mediocre song and make it better. A great remix can transform a horrible song into something that borders on listenable. The best remixes though, are the ones that completely alter their source song's meaning or tone through nothing more than a reshuffling of elements into a different context. The decade has had plenty of these remixes, from Alan Braxe and Fred Falke's reimagining of Kelis' "Bossy" as an upbeat club stomper to...um, Braxe and Falke's smoothed-edges revitalization of Death From Above 1979's "Black History Month" (really like those two apparently) to either Girl Talk album's recasting of every single song ever into an ADD-sufferer's wet dream of a party mix (though the latter lose their novelty after a few listens), and if you throw in mash ups there's a whole cottage industry based on taking parts of two or more songs and using them to accentuate the best parts of each constituent piece. However, I can't think of a better example of a remix completely turning its source material on its head than the work Justice did to Simian's 2001 single "Never Be Alone" in the form of "We Are Your Friends"
Before they became Simian Mobile Disco, Simian were pretty much a poor man's Phoenix to my ears, and while "Never Be Alone" wasn't a bad single per se, it was pretty faceless in the end. The verses had a decent build up and the chorus - incidentally the only part of the song that was conserved for "We Are Your Friends" - was pretty great, but the song as a while wasn't at all essential. So what do Justice, in their first high profile move on the electronic scene as far as I can tell, do? The isolate the chorus, pump up the driving rhythm, add some more danceable elements to the track and transform it into a four and a half minute ball of danceable paranoia. Seriously, the remix adds such a high degree of claustrophobia to the proceedings that what was once a chorus about the joys of community and friendship took on an undeniably menacing edge. The lyric's been reduced to a repeated assurance of 'We! Are! Your Friends!/You'll! Never Be Alone Again!' but the way the track's been rendered makes that sound like the worst possible outcome you could ask for. It's a testament to Justice's prowess here that they seemed to do so little to the source material yet made it do a complete tonal 180 into darkness.
So where does the darkness come from? As I said, Justice don't appear to do much to the source material but what they do do makes the remix work much better than it would have otherwise. The only real addition to the mix is that bass line, which is at once rubbery and yet menacing in its way (especially later in the song), otherwise Justice seem to take the elements of the "Never Be Alone" chorus and re-prioritize them. The slight keyboard chords that act as an underpinning of the original are pumped up to the front of the mix and rendered to sound much more minor and even slightly dissonant, the guitar is dropped out and the percussion is either rerecorded or overdubbed with some more club-friendly rhythms. Of course the main element is still Simon Lord's vocal, but that only appears to change thanks to the new environment its placed it. On its own there's not a single change in either its delivery or cadence, but the re-assembled bed that Justice lay it over take it from exalted communalism to unfriendly advance without so much as a hint of effort. That seems to be Justice's stock and trade: their most foreboding material sounds effortless while their happier stuff sounds strained, and in the end both are equally catchy. "We Are Your Friends" was probably the first indication that they were a group worth watching. They turned someone else's great chorus into what might as well be their first great song, and knowing where it all came from only manages to make it seem more impressive.