Plastik Surgery

Valley remix wizards Markus Schulz and C.L. McSpadden give pop hits the face-lift they need to turn heads on the dance floor

"Hello, hello, how can I reach you--huhhhh??"
The isolated voice of Atlantic recording artist Poe resonates over the monitors in DJ-turned-producer Markus Schulz's cramped home studio, located somewhere in the Mesa suburbs. A little bigger than most pantries, this sonic workshop is cluttered with state-of-the-art sampling equipment, antiquated analog keyboards and milk crates stuffed with 12-inch vinyl.

Poe's familiar query is from her recent hit "Hello." But gone is the original backing track to her Internet love plea. In its place are different, jazzier passing chords from an entirely different key.

And while the original "Hello" moved along at a conservative 92 beats per minute, Poe now administers her greeting at a bouncy 129 bpm--the effect is like a baboon heart transplanted into a turtle. Also, Poe's vocals don't even set foot onto the track until a five-minute barrage of sampled beats and phased keyboards have had their say.

Say hi to "Hello," the extended dance remix.
Whether major labels procure such remixes to help an alternative artist cross over to the dance market, or to use them as sneaky, subliminal advertising on the underground club crowd, the popularity of remixes--and the demand for same--is at an all-time high.

The recent string of dance-chart hits racked up by Valley remixers Markus Schulz, 28, and C.L. (Chris) McSpadden, 26, attests to the growing demand for underground club specialists who know what motivates people to get on the dance floor--and what keeps them there.

Tonight, Schulz is reviewing tapes of last night's Poe remix, and he isn't satisfied--particularly with the telltale verses, which he feels are starting to drag. "The verses, they aren't very late-night, like, say, two in the morning," he says, staring off into the monitors. "Right now, this sounds more like a 9:30 type song."

After much tinkering, Schulz solves the problem by editing out the song's cyber chat-room lingo completely and turning the line "don't let go"--a throwaway lyrical snippet in the original master--into a pulsating mantra.

Considering the Valley is not exactly an urban dance mecca, Schulz and McSpadden's accomplishments are remarkable. By day, they compile music for Hot Mix, a Top 40-dance radio show syndicated in 120 cities across the country, including all with an NBA basketball team. In addition, they host what Schulz describes as a "push the envelope" weekly dance-music show called The Edge Factor, which broadcasts exclusively in Phoenix on KEDJ-FM (106.3) (1 to 5 a.m. Sundays).

By night, the duo alternates between creating its own, original dance tracks and refashioning the work of others under its remix partnership, Plastik Productions. Finally, Schulz spins records at the Works every weekend.

The Plastik men are relatively anonymous in their hometown, but in Europe, remixes bearing their names and the legend "Edge Factor Mix" are eagerly anticipated by club DJs.

"People in London see 'remixed by Markus Schulz and Chris McSpadden in Arizona' and right away it has a zing to it," Schulz says. "Like if you saw something remixed by someone in Egypt. You'd be interested."

"We don't class ourselves as East or West Coast producers," continues McSpadden. "We think of us as being from Arizona. We don't even say 'Phoenix.' When you say 'Arizona,' people think of the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and that's where we get a lot of inspiration, not from the metropolitan Phoenix area."

For the last four years, Schulz and McSpadden's home studios have hosted the disembodied voices of such chanteuses as Madonna, Bette Midler and even RuPaul, as well as United Kingdom luminaries like Blue Amazon, Technotronic and Everything but the Girl.

None of the aforementioned artists has met Schulz and McSpadden in the flesh, but all signed off on the dance remixes the team sweated out in their confined house quarters. "It's always nice when the artist calls and thanks us afterwards," says Schulz. "The whole DJ-as-artist thing doesn't get as much respect as it should. When people think of DJs, they think of some guy with a drink in his hand, spinning records at a bar mitzvah."

"Yeah, people think it's just pressing a button. They don't realize there's a lot of brain work involved just getting in the right thought mode," adds McSpadden.

To that end, the duo eats at the same restaurant--the Country Glazed Ham in Scottsdale--every day because, Schulz says, ". . . it simplifies things. You don't use your creative mind to wonder 'where am I gonna eat today.' You save all that for the studio."

Once he's in the studio, Schulz says, he uses a framed poster on the wall to gauge when his bass frequencies have entered the kill zone. "When I hear it start to rattle, I know it's going to shake the siding at the Works." Anal-retentive home audiophiles flip out at the mere mention of speaker rumble, but Schulz and McSpadden embrace the taboo.

"A lot of music on the radio is meant to be background noise," McSpadden explains. "What we do is forefront music. It's music that gets your attention immediately . . ."

Schulz finishes the thought: ". . . and takes you on a wild roller-coaster ride."

Schulz's own dramatic rise began about four years ago, when they both started building home studios and comparing notes on equipment. Each had the talent and hardware to make records on his own, but decided to make a record together for a lark. McSpadden had more technical expertise and a working knowledge of musical theory, Schulz a knack for simplifying beats and stripping down mixes to lean, fighting form. The combo clicked.

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