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

"Back then, we called ourselves Esenem [pronounced "S&M"] for Schulz and McSpadden," says Schulz. "Our very first collaboration, 'Dream State,' came out on a cool underground label out of L.A. called Crap Records." Lucky for them, the record's fortunes didn't torpedo down the toilet, and got the team a lot of positive attention.

Schulz and McSpadden began releasing their own work on Plastik Records and pitching the A&R reps they knew at major labels for a shot at a high-profile remix. But when they finally scored a hit, it wasn't with their weapon of choice.

"I'd been bugging Epic Records to give us a project. At first, when I heard who it was, I said 'no way,'" Schulz recalls with feigned horror. "Then the A&R rep played it to me over the phone and I was amazed that she really could sing." The song was a remake of Sylvester's "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and the artist was Sandra Bernhard. "It was our first paycheck and first Top 20 record on the Billboard dance chart," says McSpadden, grinning.

Ironically, where Bernhard trod, ex-gal pal Madonna was soon to follow.
"A friend at Warner Bros./Sire Records was trying to get us to play 'Love Don't Live Here Anymore' at the club," remembers Schulz. "I laughed at him because it was a slow ballad. But I knew of all these bootlegs floating around of a Sade ballad that was remixed so I said, 'What's the possibility of hooking me up with an a cappella track of the song and letting us do a remix?' I was really surprised when we got the DAT tape of Madonna's vocals in the mail.

"Then, I thought it would just be something we'd have to play when we do a gig or event somewhere so we'd have something that no one else in the world would have, an exclusive remix of Madonna. I didn't think it would ever come out."

Warner Bros. sent Plastik's remix to Madonna while she was on location for Evita, and she reportedly loved what she heard and approved its release. "They did 1,000, 2,000 copies that went to DJs and radio stations to see if it might stick to the wall," says McSpadden.

It did. In New York record specialty shops, Plastik's Madonna remix is stuck on the wall with a $200 price tag. "And we had, like, 20 of 'em we gave away to friends," mourns Schulz.

McSpadden says there is talk of releasing the remix as the B-side to Madonna's next single from the Evita soundtrack.

With that kind of star power dressing up their resumes, Schulz and McSpadden say they're getting more selective about who they let in their speakers.

"We've been trying to barometer the artists we work with now," says McSpadden. "We used to do anything, even something that wasn't that great, just to get our foot in the door and build some credibility with our friends at the label. If you can take something that's absolutely horrendous and make it awesome, you get a lot of credibility. How many times have you heard a cool remix of a horrible song? Armand Van Heldon did remixes of Ace of Base and made a name for himself because he just tore it out, y'know?"

"We went about it the wrong way when we were doing horrible artists," says Schulz. "We were trying to enhance the artists, when in reality what the artist needed was a complete butchering job. We should've enhanced us, done our flavor, and just used the artist's vocal samples."

With all the incoming remixes, the pair often likes to enlist the help of a small number of musician friends, particularly keyboardists, like Roger Wade, who specializes in changing chord sequences, and Rodney "R.K." Jackson and Brian Stewart, who add gospel and jazz flourishes to Plastik's arsenal. Neither Schulz nor McSpadden considers himself "a player," but both express a desire to work with more live instruments on future releases.

It's now a few minutes after opening on a Friday night at the Works--time to see how the Poe remix holds up. Like a two-in-the-morning kind of song. If the "Hello" remix sounds too innocuous to the early birds straggling into the club, it's back to the mixing board. Schulz goes on a tour of favorite spots to stand in the club to watch the crowd and check for woofer vibration. He's happy with what he sees and feels. The remix is ready.

Next, it's back to the DJ booth to spin some of his new favorites. Many of the European releases Schulz plays favor long "dropouts," where the music stands suspended in silence for what seems like an eternity.

"When people are X'ing, a five-minute dropout can seem like 30 seconds," he grins, head bopping up and down to the reestablished beat. "A good light man can take that and turn it into a moment. It's a breather after constant beats all night long."

A good dance remix, Schulz explains, will take a few minutes to establish the beat before the vocals come in--giving a club DJ time to mix one remix in as he takes the other out. Once the hook is set, the pretty, tripped-out vocals come in for a while, then give way to an interlude that gives the DJ the opportunity to either mix the record out or let it play for another cycle, depending on the crowd's vibe.

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