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And at its very best, DJing can even be a kind of folkloric project, which brings us to the astonishing collaboration between Z-Trip and DJ P., Uneasy Listening Volume 1.
It's hard to decide how best to describe Uneasy Listening. Z-Trip once overlaid an a cappella version of Christina Aguilera's "Genie in a Bottle" with AC/DC's "Back in Black," and the result was even funnier than it looks on paper. Was it smartass? Yup. Was it technically accomplished? Uh-huh. Was it satire of a high order? In its entirety, yes it was. Did the obvious incongruity make you laugh? You bet. Did it make something new of both tracks? Boy howdy.
This, in a nutshell, is the idea behind Uneasy Listening, which eviscerates and then rebuilds a grab bag of songs from the collective memory of pop and rock from the 1960s forward, over about 75 minutes. Everything from "Rhinestone Cowboy" (which kicks off the disc; right away, you know this ain't your momma's remix) and "Sweet Dreams" to "Run Like Hell" and "Like a Prayer" goes into that heady stew. What results is an utterly seamless flow, a mélange of snips and verses from Top 40 radio, carefully and ingeniously layered, and propped up by a steady framework of always-morphing beats and breaks.
Uneasy Listening, after its own tweaked fashion, may be the most creative DJ/remix album in recent memory. It's hands-down the most ambitious, and undoubtedly the most eclectic. Case in point: Track 6 (all tracks are untitled and all songs are unlisted, so happy hunting) begins with the bass synth line from Newcleus' "Jam On It," which is soon overlaid with Bruce Hornsby's "The Way It Is," and then topped off with thin slices from Run-DMC's "It's Like That." Other highlights? A smooth-as-silk merging of Midnight Oil's "Beds Are Burning" with Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls"; a riotous beats-and-scratch heavy version of "Dust in the Wind," which cries out to be played to your smartest friends; and a bass-laden spin of the Who's late-period nugget "Eminence Front" that out-funks the original. Hyperbole be damned; this is no less than the history of popular music over the last 30 years, laced with about 80 pounds of C4, and detonated.
And this is the key: DJs Z-Trip and P. bring us all along on the ride. This isn't any in-joke, esoteric diggin' in the crates, this is your record collection . . . and yours, and yours, and mine . . . taken from us and vivisected and handed back. It's funny, it's erudite, it's technically superb, and it's undeniably Art of a high order.
There are precedents for Uneasy Listening, of course, but the most relevant ones surprisingly don't emerge from DJ culture. In form and function, the collaboration between Z-Trip and P. displays a sensibility similar to Andy Warhol's pop art of the mid-1960s; the nearest musical comparisons aren't other DJ compilations but the pastiche artistry of Negativland's Helter Stupid and the Residents' Third Reich & Roll. As with those records, the end result of Uneasy Listening isn't simply the tweaking of familiar songs; it's a significantly altered perception of contemporary pop history, and the recognition that no song, no artist, no album, composes in a vacuum.
That the disc ends with "Yesterday" only makes the listening more poignant. If Z-Trip wants to leave behind a real gift to Valley audiences, this "limited-edition" pressing will soon be followed by a larger one. This is a CD that begs to be heard by any popular music fan with a working knowledge of the art form's history. -- Eric Waggoner
DJ Z-Trip is scheduled to perform on Tuesday, July 3 at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe,with Johnny D., the Hammertoes, DJ Example and special guests. Showtime is 8 p.m.