We’ve all been there. I’ve goosebumped with the best of them to that Beatles ‘Come Together’ bootleg the d’n’b top boys are playing right now. I’ve been singing Kings Of Tomorrow’s ‘Finally’ over Layo & Bushwacka’s ‘Love Story’ since my beard was bumfluff. And to say Fixate’s jungle shake-up of Double 99’s speed garage classic ‘Ripgroove’ is the absolute bollocks is something of an understatement. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule; the rule that says: bootlegs are cheap gimmicks that play into the hand of the instantly gratified and don’t push the music we love forward at all, and at least 90 per cent of them are unnecessary.
I’m not talking about the longstanding tradition of the deeply dug re-edit, and I’m definitely not talking about sample culture, the craft that all dance music is founded on. These are entirely different art forms that involve extensive musical knowledge and reference points and creativity. Precision-excavated samples, and re-edits (good re-edits anyway, like those of, say, The Reflex, who seeks out original stems with the relentlessness of a TV detective) tap back entirely different genres and eras. They join dots, tell a story and galvanise the links in dance music and DJ culture’s history. They do what the best DJs always do: educate, and open new doors. That Fixate refix joins the dots between a 20-year-old speed garage record and both modern and traditional jungle techniques so well that it’ll will soon be released as an official remix. He respected the original producers by not giving it away for a few poxy likes or follows.
A far cry from well dug edits, the bootlegs that inspired this admittedly pompous rant include crass affairs that flip current mainstream chart songs or big tunes from other genres in the pursuit of instant gratification. A trance reboot of Cardi B, a dubstep remix of Drake – ‘unders night’ specials that encourage laziness from both the DJ and the crowd. No-one’s being educated. No doors are being opened. They are cheap, tacky tricks.
Look at the phenomenon that was Fisher’s ‘Losing It’ last year. His track is currently victim to hundreds of bootlegs in every possible genre. And every single one I’ve heard is awful. ‘Losing It’ simply wasn’t made to be ‘gabbered’ or ‘dubstepped’ up. If Fisher wanted a screechy bassline or cheesy EDM remix of his tune, he’d have commissioned one. He made the tune, it was massive and he’s now a bona fide Ibiza headliner. Let’s give him props, not ride off his wave and cash in on his hype. If a track’s not the style of music you DJ, go and find (or make) something original that is. Thousands of new tunes are released each week, so dig harder. Don’t be lazy.
And then there are the tribute bootlegs: ‘homages’ to artists who would probably rather you didn’t pay them respect by bouncing on something they’ve spent weeks or months making. This ranges from the painfully tasteless ‘tribute’ bootlegs for artists who have passed away (such as the recent stream of possibly well-intentioned ‘homages’ to Keith Flint), to those inflicted on the music the bootlegging perpetrator came through on: classics or tracks over 10 years old within the same genre, vandalised without any blessing from the original artist. Often it’s the equivalent of painting go-faster stripes on a Cheetah. Sometimes you can’t improve on nature.
“Yeah, but I’m just sticking my own little twist on it, man, making it suitable for my sets. I didn’t quite like the drums on the original, the production isn’t up to today’s standards…” these are all justifications I’ve heard. But riddle me this: if the production of that classic is so dated, how come Kenny Dope is still playing it? Or Sven Väth, or Andy C, or Nina Kraviz? These DJs, and many, many more, are renowned for digging out foundational tracks, classics and obscurities and putting them in a modern context. They’re not playing bootlegs, they’re playing an original and they have the timing, the chops and the reference points (and an understanding of the mixer’s EQ and gain) to make those tracks work in the mix.
We’ve never had so many machines to make edits and on-the-fly rearrangements in the mix. We’re actively being encouraged to creatively ‘fuck with’ the material in our sets – but that doesn’t mean you should bounce it down into a crappy MP3, put a donk on it and give away on social media so you can get attention from something that’s about two per cent yours.
And if – if! – your ‘little twist’ and additional production really do give the tune a new coat of armour and refreshed relevance and works in your set, then great. Keep it to yourself, get in touch with the artist or label responsible for it and ask for their blessing. They might consider releasing it as a remix or do a collaboration. Or they might simply ask you not to include it on mixes or radio because it’s not authorised and it’s shit.
But better still, just don’t make bootlegs. Don’t bite on someone else’s banger, aim to make tracks so good that people want to bite on yours.
Dave Jenkins is UKF Editor and a regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter