After months of suspense, line-up rumours and fumbled release dates, the ‘Chromatica Remix’ is finally upon us. And it might now have amassed more hype than the original. That spectacle is not without good reason. With appearances from LSDXOXO, Charli XCX, AG Cook, Arca, Shygirl and Pablo Vittar, the album promises to take us even deeper into the dark heart of the club, while celebrating underground heroes who have shaped current sounds in dance-pop.
It’s an exciting prospect that might see these songs shifting into riskier mutations of themselves, exploring sides of Gaga not heard on a mainline release so far. The contribution list is unapologetically dedicated to genres like hyperpop, house, techno – in short, music you’d hear at a messy after-party, which is exactly what the album promises to be.
But more than that, ‘Dawn Of Chromatica’ feels like a culmination of a wild period for the remix album more generally. With clubs and venues closed, the format has flourished in an unusual time. Some reasons are obvious. For one, it’s a great way to keep an album in the cultural conversation. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to milk all the deluxe editions you can out of an era. That’s part of the reason why the full-length remix had been so maligned critically in the past, barring a few outliers.
That dirty association isn’t the case any more. A new wave of remix albums have uncovered fresh artistic ground through reinvention and collaboration. Here are a few picks that underline this moment as a golden age for remix albums.
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SOPHIE – ‘Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides Non-Stop Remix Album’
If the face is the front of shop, SOPHIE’s genius remix album rips the face clean off and peaks at what lies inside. Across a gargantuan twenty-five tracks, the pioneering electronic musician performs the high-wire act of the self-remix, turning familiar tracks like ‘Ponyboy’ and ‘Pretending’ into new beasts. There are free-form ambient pieces, terrifying club bangers and everything in between.
Using her debut as a canvas, this collection is a display of her production prowess, a reflection on the self, and a critique of the remix album itself. Ear-catching samples are triggered, repeated, deconstructed and rebuilt all over again. Vocal fragments are mutated beyond recognition. Those same clips reappear tracks later, eerily laid bare to reveal something you hadn’t heard before.
With an overwhelming hour and a half of the producer at her most dangerous and playful, it’s something we’ll be unpicking for some time. The scale of SOPHIE’s legacy and impact on music is still to be fully understood, but the benchmark set by Non-Stop for remix albums is a concrete reflection of that impact. Without it, many artists would not have returned to the format so readily.
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Róisín Murphy – ‘Crooked Machine’
Remixes usually only work well as standalone tracks because they’re made by a group of artists who aren’t sharing notes. Flow isn’t on their mind. That’s not a problem on Crooked Machine, a full rework penned by Róisín Murphy’s long time collaborator Richard Barratt. His twisted take on ‘Róisín Machine’ moves like a surreal DJ set, without ever losing Murphy’s alluring vocal presence at its core. Careful attention is paid to making it a complete experience.
The project has a satisfying analogue tape hiss that gives it an otherworldly bent, diving into the darker corners of the original. The space age dub of ‘Echo Returns’ and giddy drum breaks of ‘Hardcore Jealousy’ are mesmerising, but it’s the seven-minute centrepiece ‘Crooked Madame’ that might be the highlight.
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Jessy Lanza – ‘24/7 Lanza’
The best DJs know that a killer selection often trumps technical transitions. Sometimes all you need are the tunes. That’s what propels ‘24/7 Lanza’ – a sharp remix of Jessy Lanza’s ‘All the Time’.
The clear admiration its contributors have for Lanza shines through. Every track is able to match her tone and energy while delivering something new. Foodman, Loraine James, Visible Cloaks and DJ Swisha are among its contributors, and all nail their moments. Kate NV’s version of ‘Baby Love’ is a particular standout, with its gentle atmosphere and whimsical approach to drum programming.
Like many of the best remix collections, ‘24/7 Lanza’ represents a particular sound in dance music at a particular time. It also highlights another major draw for the full-length remix: if it’s a sound you’re into, you might have just found a new collection of artists to obsess over.
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Kelela – ‘Take Me a_Part, the Remixes’
Does it hold up to the original? That’s the true test of a remix album. Kelela’s ‘Take Me a_Part’ easily passes that threshold.
The result is a living, breathing collection that allows us to dive back into the pristine world of her debut. This time, there’s an infectious party atmosphere. The record is teeming with voices, love and ideas. In her own words, the collection was a chance to represent how a “worldwide community of producers and DJs communicate through difference.”
“It’s also about the camaraderie that we experience when we find the overlaps. The same songs get to exist in these alternate realities, which means different people get to have a relationship with the music. Maybe even with each other.”
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Lyra Pramuk – ‘Delta’
Released next month, (September 24th), Lyra Pramuk’s ‘Delta’ is another bold step forward for the remix album. The artist’s debut album, ‘Fountain’, was assembled from Pramuk’s vocal alone, her voice becoming an alien landscape to explore. That feeling gains a whole new poignancy on ‘Delta’. Her vocal is given to close collaborators as an offering to be picked apart. It becomes remodelled and disembodied, stretched and magnified. It reminds of SOPHIE’s own playful exploration of self, but the extra distance between the original creator and the remixer adds a new dimension.
Remixes can occasionally sound uncanny anyway. That’s part of their strange appeal. But hearing the same voice retooled for over an hour, across dance, ambient, pop and everything in between, it’s overwhelming.
The music itself is fantastic. Contributors like Caterina Barbieri, Tygapaw, Eris Drew and Hudson Mohawke take wildly different approaches while using the same source material. There’s operatic synth odysseys, sugary pop bangers and heartfelt trance to be explored. The diversity underlines what can make the remix album so special when it’s done right.
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Words: Skye Butchard // @ohayeitsskye
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