Inside The Hood Internet’s mindblowing mashup for the ages
interviewby Chris Zacharia
‘They used to call it bastard pop’ says Steve Reidell, one half of DJ duo The Hood Internet.
‘And it’s true, you’re bastardising its original form. There’s inherent humour in mashups, but for us it was more about making a cohesive musical piece.’
A sprawling, riotous remix of every year from 1975 to 2005: The Hood Internet’s latest mashup is their most cohesive yet. And it’s not only one of the most ambitious remixes of all time – it might just be the best.
Founded in 2003 in Chicago, The Hood Internet (aka Steve Reidell and Aaron Brink) have been dropping remixes for almost as long as the genre has existed. Since then, they’ve playfully mashed pop with r’n’b, rock with soul, hip hop with techno. Their mixtapes blended irreverent iconoclasm with clever contrasts and sheer playfulness, winning the duo a cult following. If you were at university in the late 2000s, their danceable, let-the-world-burn mashups of MGMT and Lil Kim, or Phoenix and R Kelly, were the coolest stuff you could have on the stereo. Tuning in to see what kind of blasphemy they’d cook up next, you’d find yourself going, ‘Damn, this is catchier than the original…’. Come for the irony, stay for the beat.
Now, The Hood Internet have gone further. Taking each year as a standalone track, they began remixing the songs – and music videos – of every year in pop music, from 1979 onwards, fitting fifty or so songs into three minutes of music. Michael Jackson rocks out to The Buggles. Run DMC’s hooks soar with Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al. Madonna, John Mayer, Prince: they’re all here, they’re all partying, and it’s irresistible. And, with each year released weekly during the pandemic lockdowns, The Hood Internet’s project brought a dose of joy at a difficult time – including for me.
‘Thanks’ says Steve, when I tell them. ‘So many people have said, ‘This has made the lockdown easier’. People get a lot of nostalgia in a short amount of time. Not just, ‘This was the best year for music’, but it reminds people of things, it brings up songs that they’ve forgotten about.’
‘We actually started in 2019, before we knew there would be a lockdown’ Steve continues. ‘We wanted to do something more focused, not just mixing A and B, not just mashing up the most recent hits into a mixtape. Aaron asked, what if we focused on a particular year in time, doing a batch of them was the first thing. It was his idea of starting in ‘79…’
‘I think 1979 was a pivotal year for music’ Aaron says. ‘I was reading a Beastie Boys biography, and it really exposes that era in New York: how different sounds were converging, with breakthroughs for hip hop, new wave, and electronic. It was a transitional year that set up the ’80s but also music videos. MTV hadn’t quite started, but the type of music videos that they were playing started in this era. From the start, we thought of this as a video series.’
Watching them, you can see why. They’re like time capsules, synching together the biggest hits of the year, a slice of the past garbed in glamour. Look: there’s Suggs, recast as a backing vocalist for The Clash. There’s Madonna, doing a call-and-response duet with Phil Collins. The hairdos, the outfits, the dancing – in one 30-minute blur of colour and noise, the entire 1980s flies by like a flickbook.
‘We think of decades as ‘this is what the 80s sound like’ and ‘this is what the 90s sound like’’ Aaron explains, ‘but half decades are just as unique. Early 80s is very different to late 80s, for example.’
While the 1980s remixes (available as a single decade-spanning track via Soundcloud) are complex and daring, the challenge of remixing each year got harder when The Hood Internet turned to the 1990s. ‘As you get into the 90s, there’s more emphasis on less synthesised sounds, real drums, real instruments, that kind of thing’ says Steve. ‘There’s a wider range of tempos. It’s hard for it to blend together, a bigger challenge than the 1980s…’
So do they agree that the ‘80s was the most homogeneous decade for music? ‘Yes, definitely’ Steve says. ‘Hits from the 80s rely on drum machines and keyboard sounds. Synthesised sounds blend more easily as there’s more similarity’. Listening to both their 80s and 90s mixtapes, I have to agree: the 80s ones flow with a deceptive smoothness, enveloping you into their star-studded pop bacchanal.
‘But the 90s were more fun for the videos’ Steve interjects, ‘because the videos are so much more elaborate. And more challenging.’
‘It’s more diverse when you get to the 90s’ Aaron agrees. ‘But fitting it together was harder. Because the ’90s were my teenage years, I was much more protective of my favourite songs, like – ‘I can’t leave this song out!’ Whereas for the 80s, choosing which tracks to include was much simpler.’
Actually building the tracks themselves was less straightforward. Listening to their mixtape of the entire 1990s – featuring over 600 songs – it’s hard not to come away asking yourself, how on earth would you go about doing this? ‘In the early days, we kept it simple’ Steve laughs. ‘Mashups can be very simple. They can get complex through micro editing, but the general concept – mixing 2-3 things and aligning their keys and tempo, and making the outcome come together – is straightforward. Plus, Aaron had a history of playing in bands, and as we progressed we started producing, say, the drums ourselves, and not just culling them from other people’s material. But for all that, making these gigantic three or four minute bursts has been far, far more complex.’
Which year was the hardest? ‘I think it was…’88? It’s usually not about whether it was a good year or a bad year for music’ Steve explains, anticipating my next question. ‘Usually what ends up happening is that a couple of pieces come together, and the challenge is building the rest around it and making it all fit together. Most of them have a little bit of an arc to them, where they build to something, for some reason 1988 took a lot of time.’
When it comes to the favourite year, Steve chooses 1987 – featuring Guns n’ Roses, Salt ‘n’ Pepa, R.E.M., George Michael, Public Enemy, and – of course – Rick Astley.
”91 and ’93 really hit a sweet spot’ says Aaron. ‘But I was really getting into music back then, so it’s hard to separate that from your personal connection with it.’
When I ask which remix DJ has been their biggest influence, the response is unanimous. ‘Girl Talk is a big influence for me, and in our work’ says Aaron. ‘Before Girl Talk, I was aware of mash ups, I’d download MP3s, but I wasn’t aware of the artist behind it. The breadth and range of his music changed that.’
‘When Napster arrived, you could find ‘x artist vs y artist’, without a DJ name or credit’ says Steve. ‘But when Night Ripper [Girl Talk’s breakthrough album] came out, it opened up people’s ears and the media in general being interested in the art of remixing itself.’
So what’s their favourite remix? Steve thinks about it for a moment. ‘The Avalanches, Since I Left You. It’s similar in terms of some of the styles, pulling from samples. I have a lot of nostalgia for, but feels fresh.’
For Aaron, it’s The Crookers version of Kid Cudi’s Day and Night. ‘I remember hearing that songs 4 times a night, every single night…it was everywhere. The remix became bigger than the original. There’s an idea that covering a song really well can make it more ‘yours’ than the composer’s. Bob Dylan wrote All Along the Watchtower, but it was Jimi Hendrix’s song, and Dylan even said so in interviews.’
As well as the evolution of the music, watching The Hood Internet’s remixes also reveals how music videos grew from simple to sophisticated. You can see the emergence of new effects, new ideas, new ways of visualising a song’s story, year by year. ‘MTV debuted in ’81’ says Steve. ‘Back in the early 70s, music videos didn’t exist. Bands used live TV performances to promote their songs instead. There are some music videos but they’re few and far between, often through public access cable television and echoed effects. You notice that there wasn’t this assumption of permanence – they thought it would be aired one time, and then it’s done’.
Now they’ve reached the 2000s, the period when The Hood Internet started – and when mashups started to influence popular music culture. The potential for things to get meta is increasing.
‘At first there was a lot of novelty’ says Aaron. ‘Back then, having the different parts of the song and mixing them together was radical. But as music has changed along with the way people consume it, people are accustomed to making art their own, reshaping it, and nowadays remixing is just one way to think about that process. That process has gotten so broad it’s hard to imagine people not interacting in that way’.
So how has the perception of remixes changed since then? ‘Part of me thinks that the perception hasn’t changed’ says Steve. ‘I remember a popular music blog declaring mashups dead in 2007. They’re dismissed as placing A and B together without thought or skill. There’s a truth to that. But the TikTok generation – the musical generation after us – is revitalising them. They’re front facing, doing a mashup performance in a short TikTok burst kind of way. We may be on a new cycle altogether’.
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