· 9 min read
King Vision Ultra on "SHOOK WORLD" and Remix Culture
Written and Produced by Geng aka King Vision Ultra
As part of our collection of sample and stem packs available to subscribers in The Zone, we are asking contributing artists to provide a written statement on the sounds their contributing in relation to their recent record releases. To start this series, we have Purple Tape Pedigree mastermind and New York experimental hip-hop staple Geng aka King Vision Ultra here to discuss his latest album SHOOK WORLD, which in and of itself is an album of Algiers' Shook samples with original recordings layered on top, and to reflect on remix culture as a whole.
Can you tell us about the song you chose to share your stems with Klang from your recent release? You had so many collaborators on this, what made you choose this one versus the several others?
I chose two songs off of SHOOK WORLD actually, "Shatterproof" and "Please Leave (Nu Surveillance State Gentrifier Tears)," because they both come from the same stem source, Algiers' "Everybody Shatter." I thought it'd be interesting to show an instance of two new works emerging from one song - 2 stems of said song, really - especially since there's no sample guide for SHOOK WORLD other than an asterisk by each track which contains samples/elements of Algiers' (forthcoming) Shook. One is an upper-70 bpm Blade Runner meets Larry Smith drum machine rap futureshock type stomper that Amani [Fela] went dummy on, the other being a snarling doom/drone guitar crawl.
The first night I tapped into the album stem folder that Algiers sent to me, I just started from the top, "Everybody Shatter" being the opener to Shook. I had heard the song many times by that point, but now I was listening through the individual layers and catching little elements which enticed me, those less in the foreground. Within an hour, I had two sketches made, sort of a crossroads moment like, "where do I take this?" in the back of my head, i wanted both disparate roads to live on the same body of work, because why not give the listener a twist or two?
"Please Leave..." is pretty much a high-strummed guitar moment towards the end of the "synth" stem I chose, brought down in tempo and pitch, ran through a stack of amp and overdrive/distortion plug-ins, layered and panned a bunch of times at different octaves, and essentially chopped to a loose (as in not on the grid), through-composed, trudging riff - I was imagining both BORIS and CORRUPTED in terms of vibe and melody here. some gnarly shit. I already knew that I was going to employ a turntablism element over the doomy drone guitar, like why not? So I hit up my man Marcus and gave him only "textural Teminator X meets Mr. Len of Company Flow type cuts, definitely NOT DJ Premier this-is-real-hip-hop worship."
He did a couple passes and sent them through and i worked parts of those passes in, added some efx and panning, while also adding this collage of youtube rips of various gentrifiers, tourists, and neighborhood/apt tour vloggers complaining about crime, the displaced, "showtime" dancers on the (subway) train, threatening young new yorkers – primarily black and brown folks - with police violence after violating standard respect codes and their boundaries, and sharing sobb stories about having (wanting) to leave to go start some euro-utopian, low waste lifestyle, making kombucha and ceramic pottery somewhere "green."i have no issues with kombucha nor ceramic pottery.
"Shatterproof" lived as only a sinister guitar loop for a few days. I had to let it sit and come back to it when the ideas brewed up as that melody is so crazy to me. I slowed it down and ran it through an amplifier or overdrive efx stack to give it more "umph." maybe a little reverb and delay to add space. now I'm a pivotal point...if I threw a dusty drum break underneath, it'd be a Griselda type beat (although none of those cats are doing texture like this), and like, how much drum does it really need? I started with layering in sounds from other parts of the same synth stem and some from the "keys" stem: the latter having this heavy synth rise and some echo'ing saxophone runs. those added to the landscape here, some extra spice. Next came the frantic hi-hats...seeming like less of a commitment to locking the loop into a pocket, as the skittering nature of the sample - sped up and pitch tuned - speaks more towards the textural than the metronomic.
No sample snitching but I think the hats come from the theme music to an old cops & robbers TV show-slash-legendary breakbeat. **Another textural addition are sounds I lifted from a trailer to a beloved anime film, haunting and punctuating the riff as an echo'y fog. next came a clap from one of my favorite 80's rap groups/producers. I played it on the keys, simple, holding to the downbeat. we're getting somewhere. it needed a low end. throughout SHOOK WORLD, I employ a lot of multi note bass line samples, instead of single note tones. I like that because the sample of a bassline adds swing to the rhythm, much like sampling a drum break. I quickly recalled a very open bass from a well-known Labi Siffre song and boom, sample, truncate, tune, layer, filter, overdrive. All of that then spoke to me. It sounded like Graffiti Rock in some Syd Mead cyberpunk world. I sent it out in a beat pack to a handful of the lyricists and amani hit me back right away like, "that Shatterproof, yea." We recorded and then I got busy with the drops and fx and mixing the track around his verse and hook. The rest is in the mix.
*That's the thing for me, as someone who works with other preexisting sound material. My sampling practice coincides with my love of texture and space. I adore the grit, the fuzz, the hiss, the “warmth,” the crackle and pop, the medium-specific artifacts added onto a sound recording. The way sound makes us feel or see something, regardless of synesthesia. People call it “sound design”...sure... I don't just want the idea to exist as the idea. Even if it's a straightforward soul loop, I want it to sing, or growl. I want the listener to know that loop spent time in my world. We had a conversation and are changed because of it.
How do you feel about remix culture, especially online where music has become so decommodified and demonetized? Are you comfortable with people taking your tracks apart piece by piece now for their own work?
I think remix culture is whatever the fuck it is gonna be. there's some really innovative and great, and some utterly atrocious shit out there. cold facts. of course I come in from a hip hop/sampling perspective, so there's always a nod to the rebellious or the renegade, the old make-something-else-out-of-something-which-pre-exists idea. being an early 80's baby, and a DJ in the mid-90's, I come from the era of blend tapes (love to Kid Capri, Ron G, Lazy K, G-Bo the Pro & Double R, all the ill dancehall selectors, etc.) - taking an acapella off one 12" vinyl single or white label/bootleg and throwing it over a different instrumental. this was done on 2 or more turntables, or sometimes you got slick and added a cassette or cd player to the mix because you didn't have the means for a 3rd, shit...even a 2nd, deck! it was done live, first, then mixtapes started getting slick with the cassette 4-tracks and multilayering their blends. things changed since the digital age and the 2000's especially.
Technology and access accelerates things and we get shit like "mash-up" culture, where multi-track recording software/DAW's were being used to remix and make essentially new 12" edits to be played as soon as you can export the file. that shit was corny for the most part, I think because the people doing it were corny. shit was too on-the-nose like, "hey we're gonna put a played-out rap song (i.e. 50 Cent "In Da Club") over a played-out 80's song (Joan Jett "I Love Rock & Roll"), YEA!" I'll never be jackin' the Grey Album, never heard that goofy shit, ever. cut to the current day, stemming software is pretty easy to find as is DJ and beat making apparatus.
I'm a fan of well-done flips by some beat heads, and even re-edits of classic funk & soul that you see pressed up on 45 with an extended or open drum break for the DJ blending or sampling utility. people are remixing things you find on the internet/social media... I've done a few flips as KVU. I love that you can warp a YouTube video in Ableton and lock it to any BPM you want. shout out my bro Wavy Bagels who did a crazy flip of Ice Spice over a time-stretched "Faded Lady" with a Jersey club type feel ("smoochum"), and shout out Keenyn Omari for doing what seemed like a flip a day for a year or two straight...he was doing Funk Flex freestyles and Colors performances on his IG.
the thing I really don't fuck with is people taking access as a pass... access doesn't actually mean ACCESS. the old saying of "not everything is for everybody," whether remixing or sampling even. some folks take that as "sample within your culture" which is kinda weird and not really what that means, not to me or anyone who's really left the house, but it does mean be smart and don't go taking someone else's sacred ritual just because it sounds cool over your noisy experi-club track you wanna play at Creepy Teepee fest. "be smart," lol.
in my sampling history class, we talk about appropriation/theft, and it comes up...it's fluid and really isn't worth making a list of do's and don'ts because that shifts from each lived experience, but people need to move with respect for others instead of this weird colonial "i'ma take it" bullshit. a lot of white beat makers especially need to get smacked silly...cookin soul and those types. that's a whole convo in itself...same shit as European Discogs resellers who mine only "spiritual jazz" and essentially gentrify the recorded legacy of said musical form so most folks get priced out and they can sit on the aesthetics for a post on IG. don't be out here on no goofy shit.
Lastly, I think the language around "remixing" is a little muddy at this point. how do we identify that. to me, not everything is a remix just because it uses elements of a pre-existing recording. otherwise, every rap record with a sample - or okay, discernible loop - would be considered a remix, right? false. and what about interpolations/replaying loops or moments off an older record? that's partly why SHOOK WORLD isn't a remix album. all I did on those tracks is take single elements of Algiers' songs and make some entirely new shit out of that, same as I would if I were lifting things off of a Alice Coltrane record...that's just sampling. none of us, since the first email, expected me to simply build something new around a recognizable and mostly in-tact core element of the original song - be it the vocals or melody/riff. they basically said, "make this shit true to you, add your people, be free to do whatever you want with these sounds."
Are there any words of encouragement you can give folks when approaching your work as a remixable project? What do you hope for us to hear? What do you hope for us to find useful?
go the fuck in. have fun. don't just rearrange things, make something new. change shit. flip it on its head. make it as far away from the original idea as possible.