THE BLOG

Mashing Up, Remixing and Warping the Past

18/03/2013 13:05 GMT | Updated 18/05/2013 10:12 BST

I recently went to a Strypes gig at the Lexington pub in north London. The band, who are by all accounts doing very well and will almost certainly 'go places', were excellent. (Technically, as well as in terms of showmanship and energy). Great fun.

But I kept thinking, if their music had been heard at any point in the last 50 years they wouldn't have sounded out of place. Even their original work borrows heavily from classic rhythm and blues.

This nagging feeling of 'nothing new' reminded me of a recent lecture by the journalist Mark Fisher at the Edinburgh College of Art. Fisher's contentious position was that this generation aren't doing anything new. We are slowly cancelling out the future; we tinker, borrow and steal from the past but produce little in the way of genuine novelty. For him, there was a danger that creativity could be paralysed by the idea of all music and art from history being available at the click of a button.

Personally I think this tendency to borrow is a sign of confidence. This generation doesn't feel the need to violently react against the past. We don't feel the need to constantly do or say something new for the sake of it. Instead we can assimilate, play with and warp the past. It seems perfectly healthy for, say, Plan B to sample a bit of Shostakovich to make a point about inner city London. Or for us to soak up the borrowed, sampled and remixed art of Lichtenstein.

'Modernism' - that search for constant novelty and newness - is surely the historical anomaly, here, rather than our ability to sample from the past. The South Bank's festival, 'The Rest in Noise', has done a great job of highlighting this. The year-long festival, which looks at 20th classical music, displays the violence with which modernist artists tried to break from the past. This is the exception rather than the rule.

The violence of 20th century modernism often had a sad effect on culture. The composer John Adams recently noted this problem with regard to music. He considered how modernism left a gulf between what elites listened to, and what most people could stomach. Often modern music, by pursuing intellectual novelty over spirit or soul, became 'unlistenable', lacking in any pulse or melody.

Today, the culture of borrowing is one of the best ways to break down these barriers between elitist novelty and popular music.

This is especially true in music. An excellent example of how this can work in practice came from the BBC Concert Orchestra's 'Baroque Remixed' concert at the Camden Round House on Monday 11th. The concert, which attracted a more diverse audience than Radio 3 is used to, included world premières from Will Gregory of Goldfrapp, who produced an electrifying take on a Bach's Sarabande, and Matthew Herbert, who drew on Rameau for inspiration. Thomas Adès's Three Studies gave us a restyled version of Couperin's harpsichord music.

As Charles Hazlewood, the conductor of the BBC Concert Orchestra noted, there is something about the riffs and loops of Baroque which seem particularly ripe for sampling. We're also at such a distance in time from this music that that we can view it as an isolated whole, as opposed to something linked to the present. The music is full of potential for playful remixes, as Max Richter's reworking of Vivaldi's Four Seasons demonstrates.

The concert, presented by Lauren Laverne of 6 Music and Andrew McGregor of Radio 3, highlights the great ability of the BBC to cross genre divides. The simple idea of remixing and blending old and new; popular and elite is immensely exciting. Hopefully this won't be the last example of it. But it does require confidence and an element of experimentation - the commendable sort that resulted in Lauren Laverne doing a 'classical' playlist on 6 Music or Hazlewood's continued popular appeal and ability to attract popular musicians. Perhaps the Strypes need a dose of this as well - maybe some Wagner, Beethoven or Adams as well as classic R&B would do them some good...