Danger Mouse Week – Day 3: The Interlocking Traditions of Sample-Based Music

To celebrate the upcoming release of the new 33 1/3 on Danger Mouse, author Charles Fairchild discusses five key dynamics responsible for The Grey Album for Danger Mouse Week.

One of the things that always surprises me about the critical commentary on sample-based music is how little the idea of tradition has played in our understanding of it. Maybe it is just a fusty old word that we don’t have any time for given how new and shiny we are supposed to be all the time. But a tradition is a tradition; it’s there whether you like it or not. The lineage informing sample-based music is dominated by three traditions of musical practice, dub, hip hop and electronic dance music. We can learn a lot by linking contemporary sample-based music to these traditions.

1. Dub: Prince Jammy was one of the pioneers of dub, a form that the scholar Michael Veal has precisely described as an aesthetic of ‘surprise and suspense, collapse and incompletion.’


2. Electronic Dance Music: The link to dance music flows mostly through the early years of disco, especially through such figures as Walter Gibbons. Tim Lawrence has been Gibbon’s most ardent champion. His impressive and wonderfully metastasizing archive is a fantastic resource.


3. Hip Hop: Grandmaster Flash probably doesn’t need much explanation nor do the links of The Grey Album to this tradition.


Even from this comparatively limited range of materials we can see some underlying links between these traditions that can help us get beyond easy assumptions about sample-based music and dig deeper into its history. – Charles Fairchild

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