Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blur, "Bugman", And What It Means To Be A Band

It can be difficult to know exactly how a band's sound comes together. There are so many inputs (band members, producers, and engineers to name a few) that it can can be close to impossible to tell where a band is deriving its influences. Sure, some of that information can be revealed via documentaries, or (as is the case with The Strokes) solo side projects. Still, understanding how each member of a band adds to the sound, or sees the band's sound themselves, can be a real enigma. With their 1999 release 13, and the subsequent single for "Coffee + TV", Blur managed to pretty much solve that enigma in a unique way that still has us smiling almost a decade later. How exactly did they reveal the pieces that unify to create Blur? In short: remixes.

13 contains a track entitled "Bugman" that is a brief piece of managed chaos. It manages to combine fat distorted riffs, a straight ahead rock beat, synth blips (including it seems, a power drill), screamy lead vocals, and sacharrine sweet back ups (sha na na etc.). In short, it is wholly unique and embodies Blur's late 90's sound completely.

Of course, this begs the question: how did the band arrive at such a diverse, ecclectic sound, and what did it mean to each band member? The four Blurites managed to answer this in an original, and thoroughly enjoyable manner. As the flipside of "Coffee + TV", the band released four mixes of "Bugman", each one created by one of the band's four members. Jokingly assigned alternate titles, the four remixes give some pretty solid insight into each band member's perspective on the song, and ultimately a look into how the final track came to be.

First off is "Trade Stylee", bassist Alex James' remix. It is unquestionably the "dance mix" of the four. The focus is strongly on the record's rhythm elements (bass included), and turns the track into something of a club anthem. It largely loses any of the chaotic guitar, and instead focuses on a steady groove, with synth elements and focus on the backups paired with Damon Albarn's higher vocal parts.

"Trade Stylee" is followed by a highly divergent mix by guitarist Graham Coxon, entitled "Metal Hip Slop". It will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with Coxon's solo work that his remix has something of a lo-fi demo feel. It's underpinned by a steady, droning drum loop which gradually builds layer upon layer of guitar chaos, until it reaches a murky head mixed with saxophone samples. Finally, it pulls back to the original drum beat to wrap up as it started. The mix is something of an abstraction of the song, and probably qualifies (along with "Coyote") as one of the more experimental remixes of the song.

Next up is Damon Albarn's mix, titled "X-Offender", and jokingly subtitled "Control Freak Remix". (See what we said about revealing band dynamics?) At this point, Albarn's solo career in Gorillaz is so well established, that the synthy, mellow vibe of this track will surprise almost no one. The vocals are a drastically different take from the album version, and the instrumentation is largely driven by a synth/drum loop. If you've heard Albarn's Democrazy record, you'll recognize this track as being a more refined example of his standard demo methodology. It's best described as the guts of the track in their most raw form.

The final track is drummer Dave Rowntree's entry, and it's unquestionably the source of the album version's electronic assets. Entitled "Coyote", Rowntree's entry is an exercise in sampling, electronics, blips, and bloops. Almost all the elements are taken from the original mix, but they're in heavily manipulated form, offering up a take that is at the same time brilliant and extremely difficult. If you were wondering where the echoing vocal manipulations at the end of the album version come from, it's unquestionably Rowntree's influence.

The thing that makes Blur such a great band is that they transcend genres, and offer up a truly unique sound. They're part rock band, part dance band, and part experimental masterminds. Their sound isn't just unique, it also transforms from record to record, and offers listeners something that can't be had anywhere else. How a good band become a great one is always a source of mystery, and probably has to do a lot with luck. In releasing these remixes, Blur managed to not only give listeners a musical portrait of themselves, but also to lend some truly deep insight into how the pieces of Blur come together to manage greatness.

mp3: Blur - Bugman
mp3: Blur - Trade Stylee (Alex's Remix)

mp3: Blur - Metal Hip Slop (Graham's Remix)

mp3: Blur - X-Offender (Damon / Control Freak Remix)

mp3: Blur - Coyote (Dave's Remix)


Anonymous said...

Thank you! I've been looking for these downloads forever!

Anonymous said...

yeah this is awesome and I don't think I would have been able to find them.