The song starts with some thumping kicks. You can’t help stepping in synch with the gyrating music… You hope for the cutting vocals of a pop sensation – instead, you get the familiar tune of an old favourite!
It takes you a while to recognize that you’re listening to a “remix” – the latest phenomenon to hit the Indian music industry. It’s people’s age-old fascination with serving old wine in a new bottle. Pick a golden oldie, or even a golden not-so-oldie, rip the old music, put in new beats and pulsating tones: and you get an instant best-selling hit.
The “remix” originally referred to a slightly altered, often better-sounding version of a song. Today, it has taken on the guise of a totally different, faster and thumpier version, built for one purpose – to make you dance to an otherwise mellow tune. While the original intention still lingers, much of todays music is a remix of an existing song, mellow or not. This remixing-frenzy has taken its toll on the masses, whose tastes in music are now being dictated by what is being fed to them through the television and the radio. Because much of the club-going crowd likes it, the music labels have no problem churning out albums after albums of remixed songs with the same four-to-the-floor beats, often with little to no creativity.
The origins of remixing were very benign - artists themselves released singles of their songs with altered music. Among the more prominent ones were Jagjit Singh’s “Tera chehra”
, which was released in two versions simultaneously: one a ghazal and another with pop beats; Asha Bhosle’s “Jaanam Samjha Karo”
, an exciting new mix by Leslie Lewis and Biddu’s “Boom boom”
, a remixed version of an old composition of his. This experiment was an instant hit, and soon, composers and singers from all strata were jumping on the remix bandwagon, remixing their own tunes frantically. It wasn’t long before a whole new breed of “DJs” started experimenting with remixing other people’s music. This new phenomenon of listening to old favourites in a completely new avatar has taken the whole Indian music industry by storm.
Proponents of remixed music argue that it revives old favourites, giving youngsters access to otherwise forgotten songs which they might never discover themselves. It also opens up lots of doors for collaboration between artists.
So why are genuine lovers of music frowning at it?
Purists claim it leads to stagnation. When all of the latest releases turn out to be remixed versions of existing songs, avid listeners of music are left disappointed. As Sneha, 15, says:
“There’s nothing new left to listen to these days. It’s like a hole in the ozone layer – and it’s growing!”
Some claim the blatant remixing curtails any creativity, while composers take the easier way out: that of building new music around a popular song. Others point out that this is “ruining people’s tastes” since they only get to “hear what’s on.” Somehow the DJs don’t seem to agree to it, as they keep churning out remixes after remixes. This might have a positive side-effect:
“See, by listening to the remix we get to know about the old songs… and then search for the old one, hear the original and realise that the old one is much better!” says Nayan, 18, from Bangalore.
Another new trend that has been seen of late is the so called “DJ-wars” – two or more versions of the same song released by two different DJs simultaneously! They tend to sound alike, but sell like hot cakes, scaling the charts by leaps and bounds while obviously begetting money for the producers.
A slightly more serious problem is that new and upcoming artists with original music find it hard to convince record labels. Remixes are easy to create and easy to sell, making it increasingly difficult for upcoming artists to turn the attention of music companies from the lucrative remix scene to their own music. The Indian music industry is a satellite to the movie industry. About 60% of the music released in India comes from original soundtracks of commercial cinema. Given such a huge proportion, independent musicians who are not involved in composing movie soundtracks find it difficult enough to sustain a profitable career. Remixes are a further threat to them. This is ironic because of the fact that the DJs – musicians who bail out and remix existing music rather than creating original ones - are seeing their popularity (coupled with their bank balance) soar to extraordinary levels.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the remix revolution is the quality of videos that go with it. Indian audience are mostly television-driven rather than radio-driven and what they see has a more direct impact on the market rather than what they hear. With 54% of the population of India being under the age of 25, producers cannot think of a better way to lure hormone-loaded youngsters into buying their albums. Most of the videos that accompany these songs can be classified as soft-porn. The song “Kaliyon ka chaman”
by UMI-10 kick started the trend, while DJ Harry’s remix of “Kaanta Laga”
broke all barriers. There is now an avalanche release of soft-porn videos accompanying remixes of (ironically) soothing, mellow songs. “I was pretty shocked at the change in the 90's and [also] in 2001 and '03” says Neha, an Indian from Singapore. She continues,
“Though the 'costumes' seem cool, nowadays it seems like a desperate attempt to catch up with the hyped up American/MTV world.”
People who prefer cleaner music videos are also raising concern about the recent upsurge in voyeuristic and the “dirty-old-man” videos. Songs such as “Kabhi ar kabhi par”
which featured girls barely 18 in skimpy outfits seem to be the quick and dirty way to sell albums. Add to that the downright offensive ones with implicit taglines such as “Pink pussycat”
and the picture bceomes clear about the current state of the industry. This further raises concern about where the highly prided morale of young Indian women (and men) is heading towards. Though there has been an attempt at cracking down at offensive videos via the Censor Board, it has failed miserably; the chief reason being that producers have been careful in not including anything explicitly offensive in the videos. Fortunately, not all youngsters fall into the trap.
“I don’t like remixes. No originality, no spice. Just some women in miniskirts…”
says Ananya, a college-bound from Calcutta.
A side effect of this sudden techno-ization of Indian music is the increasing imitationism. Many of the “remixes” tend to include “samples” from songs other than the one being remixed. The infamous row between Bappi Lahiri and Turth Hurts over using a sample of Lahiri’s song “Kaliyon ka chaman”
is but one example of this trend. Most of the time, the music loses touch with the vocals of the original. To the composer, it sounds like an exciting experiment; while the general population perceives it as lunacy if not done correctly.
“They do add some flavour to certain songs, but sound really stupid on slow ones. The english lyrics sound bad usually, as in a complete anti-climax to have a fast rap with a melodious Lata Mangeshkar tune,” says Neha.
This is because most remixers tend to make their compositions sound like an extension to popular western culture rather than preserving the original, Indian flavour of the song. More often than not, the beats and the music leave much to be desired. Who listens to it then? As Ananya puts it,
“[Many] of my friends do, but that’s mainly because they cannot discriminate. They like everything – so long as it has beats they can dance to, it’s OK.”
She continues, “I do see lots of remixes for tonnes of songs, but many [sound] redundant or bad.” This increasing alienization with harmony and concord is what avid listeners of music frown at.
Is there a way out of this mess?
There are a number of ways to maintain the exclusivity of remixes. Lots of international artists, Paul Oakenfold and Robbie Williams being two of the prominent ones, create covers or remixes of old songs. However, they do it only sporadically. This maintains a novelty value. The Indian government has gone so far as to restrict remixing of songs that are less than two years old. Copyright laws must be amended in accordance. A greater responsibility lies with the music companies, however. They must understand the damage being done, and take steps to resolve the issues that have sprung up. For instance, they must restrict themselves to releasing only a modest number of remix albums, and turn their attention to bringing new and upcoming artists into the limelight. It is however, a natural argument that what sells is what they produce. At this point, we, as the consumers, must also try to seek out new music ourselves.
Whether this trend continues or not remains to be seen. What’s certain is that people are gradually becoming tired of this phenomenon. As Ananya puts it, “I don’t know if this will fizzle out or not, but I hope it does!”