E-Mix: André Anjos and the Remix Artist Collective leverage initiative, ingenuity and the Internet into an online music force

Mar 12, 2008 at 4:00 am

Downtown Greenville, Illinois, is 50 miles northeast of St. Louis, set back from Interstate 70 by several long, winding roads. On a bone-chilling January day with the imminent threat of snow, the quaint Main Street area looks like a ghost town. Nearby Greenville College — a small school affiliated with the Free Methodist Church — is still on winter break, which probably explains the dearth of activity.

André Anjos, a senior in Greenville's music business program, lives in a yellow house a few blocks away from the main drag. In keeping with the idyllic setting, the yard is equipped with a white picket fence, even if rotting pumpkins slump next to piles of dead leaves on the front steps. Skateboards lean against the wall just inside the front door. Posters of Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins and the Cure adorn a living room full of thrift-store furniture along with the requisite TV set and video-game systems.

In gray jeans and a black short-sleeved shirt with narrow white pinstripes, Anjos isn't dressed appropriately for the wintry weather, perhaps because he spent the holidays in his native Portugal. Back in Greenville he's been spending his afternoons making a record with his earnest, autumnal indie-rock band, the Silent Film. Unassuming and polite, he's almost bashful as he leads a tour of the gear-stuffed room between the living room and kitchen.

Affectionately nicknamed the "battle station," the workstation (which he shares with Karl Kling, his roommate and bandmate in the electro/new-wave project the Pragmatic) is a clash between modern and retro. On Anjos' side an oversize computer monitor on two long desks dwarfs a Dell laptop and a Mackie mixer. Two vintage analog keyboards sit to his right. One is a 1973 Univox MiniKorg; the other, a Roland Juno-60, dates from 1982. Behind him is a smorgasbord of found objects and eBay gold: Lite-Brite boards, a homemade Theremin, an old Mac and a dusty (and for the time being anyway), inoperable church organ.

Anjos flips on the Juno-60 and begins tapping out random notes and chords. "I'm not much of a keyboard player, so most of the stuff I do is real basic stuff," he says. "Have you ever seen Blade Runner? Well, if you listen to the soundtrack...." He fiddles with some buttons. Melancholic, eerie synthesizer tones — think 1970s sci-fi movies — emerge. "It's one of the main sounds in that movie; you use this for it."

The 23-year-old's fascination with neo-futuristic sounds and unorthodox textures informs his work as the founder of the Remix Artist Collective, which is better known by its acronym, the RAC. The three-person team — Anjos, Seattle-based Aaron Jasinski and Chris "Crookram" Angelovski, who lives in the Netherlands — has steadily gained recognition within the music industry since forming in late 2006.

Strangely enough, the RAC principals have never met in person. Six or seven years ago, Anjos contacted Crookram after being impressed by some songs he heard online. The pair formed a mutual admiration society, sharing homemade tracks and musical ideas via e-mail or instant messenger; Crookram helped teach Anjos about the computer software used for remixing and gave him recording tips. Similarly, Anjos befriended Jasinski after the latter won a few remixing contests through the Web site ACIDplanet.com.

For now Anjos handles the bulk of the RAC's remixing jobs, most of which involve reinterpreting indie-rock songs by infusing them with danceable beats and dreamy instrumentation. Crookram and Jasinski both have day jobs and other artistic endeavors. But in just over a year's time, the RAC has completed more than 40 remixes for a who's who of indie-rock royalty (Tegan and Sara, the Shins, Bloc Party) and hotly tipped prospects (Ra Ra Riot, Au Revoir Simone, Tokyo Police Club).

What's more, the RAC has assembled its high-profile client list and cemented its reputation mainly on the strength of its online presence. The popular gossip blog PerezHilton.com, for instance, streamed the "Shopaholic" remix Anjos made for UK hip-hop cutie Verbz. KEXP, an influential Seattle-based FM station, chose RAC's redo of Tokyo Police Club's "Be Good" as a featured selection on its "Song of the Day" podcast in late December. Online radio station WOXY.com featured an hourlong mix by Anjos on its Xtrabeats electronic music show a few weeks ago.

Along the way, the RAC has established its own brand identity. Unlike many electronic remixes, which are technical and precise to a fault, Anjos and his partners embody a unique aesthetic based around emotion and nuance, an almost intangible warmth and innate playfulness. It's hard to pinpoint what a remix from the collective might sound like — but when you do hear one, it's immediately recognizable.

"André's music has always struck me as being very powerful, and at the same time very free," Crookram comments via e-mail. "It's quite unlike my own music, which is much more reserved and melancholy. I like that contrast between our styles. André's tracks give me a glimpse into a musical world I could never create myself, but it's a world I really like nonetheless."

While attending high school in Portugal, André Anjos played guitar in a pop-rock band called Believe. Although he didn't write any of the band's songs, he did appear on national television and tour the country with the group. So he's not afraid to aim high — which is how indie superstars the Shins became the RAC's first remix subject, in January 2007.

"I just called them," Anjos says. "It was so funny. I looked up their manager's number and I was like, 'Yeah, uh, I represent a remix company, I'm very interested in remixing the Shins.' He was like, 'Let me get back to you.' A month later I hadn't heard anything. [But one day] I was in class and I feel my phone vibrating. And it was him. I got the call and it was like, 'Yeah, yeah, the guys are really interested, can we send you the files?' They really liked it."

The band liked it enough to release the song, "Sleeping Lessons," in April 2007 as the B-side of a UK single. It's actually one of the few tangible artifacts of Anjos' remixes. (Others include Tokyo Police Club's "Be Good" — which appeared on the Toronto spazz-pop wunderkinds' Smith EP — and a few seven-inch singles.) But a lack of physical product doesn't mean Anjos isn't making money. He doesn't earn royalties on his remixes, but he now commands $1,500 to $3,000 per track. Of course, he'll work at a discount if he can leverage that into access to industry contacts or the guarantee of future work. Like the smaller indie bands he remixes, Anjos understands that at this stage in his career any exposure is potentially valuable.

In fact, earlier on this January day, the popular music blog Stereogum.com gave him the go-ahead to create a remix album to commemorate the RAC's first year. The collection, which will contain new and unreleased tracks as well as old favorites, will be distributed for free on the blog.

Perched on an office chair in front of his monitor, the lanky Anjos calls to mind an elf, owing to his haircut and boyish features. He opens the already-in-progress mix via his Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) of choice, Cubase SX, an all-in-one program that allows him to command the software equivalent of analog tape machines, mixing desks and effects racks.

"Even though this remix has been released before, I want to give it something different for the album," he explains as a squelching version of Bloc Party's "Hunting for Witches" commences. Graphical representations of its various sound waveforms roll by on the screen. After a bit the track trails off, sounding like Depeche Mode scoring a horror movie. Without a pause the music segues into Au Revoir Simone's "Sad Song," a tune brimming with patty-cake handclaps, new-wave keyboards and sweet-tart vocals.

The songs on the remix album have to be cleared before they can be officially included. But Anjos can afford to be patient. In part that's due to his relationship with Stereogum. Anjos long ago realized the taste-making influence of the site, which receives 2.5 million pageviews a month. After the music-news-and-reviews Web site Pitchfork passed on the Bloc Party remix of "Witches," he sent it to Stereogum, which promptly posted it. A week later the site posted the RAC's "Be Good" remix.

"Obviously, he's talented in a way that the vast majority of people who send us stuff aren't on that level yet," says Scott Lapatine, Stereogum's co-founder and editor-in-chief. "Also, he was remixing tracks that weren't necessarily something you would think deserved a beat — bands that aren't necessarily dance-friendly or high-tempo bands."

Tokyo Police Club's manager Rich Cohen says neither he nor the band mind if blogs such as Stereogum share MP3s of their songs: "It never hurts to have more people talking about you." In fact, "Be Good" earned a spot on the KEXP podcast after the station heard it streaming on Tokyo Police Club's MySpace page.

"People are going nuts over it," Cohen says. "People were forwarding it around to their friends. The more exposure, the better for the band."

Josh Roth, manager of Ra Ra Riot (whose song "Each Year" Anjos has also remixed), echoes Cohen's share-the-wealth sentiment. "The reality is, whether we like it or not, if people want to download a song, they can find a way to download a song and an album. We'd rather support that and give people a chance [to get music] before it leaks," Roth says. "When we first released our EP on our Web site, we gave away our technical single for free and said, 'Check it out, our EP comes out in a month, hope you like the song and hope you buy the EP.'"

Of course, once an MP3 hits the Internet, there's no telling where it'll end up. But for a band such as Ra Ra Riot — which is currently unsigned and just finished recording its debut — the chance to gain new fans outweighs the potential negatives.

"Giving away that song and getting it out there helped introduce people to the band," Roth says.

But Lapatine cautions that music bloggers shouldn't feel justified in posting MP3s with abandon if they're basing their actions on the rationale that "bands make more money from people going to their shows and spending money on merchandise than they do on album sales.

"It's not really your decision to make if you don't own the song," Lapatine laughs. "We work with labels and bands wherever possible. Once you reach a certain level of popularity, there's a responsibility that comes along. If we were to post a song, it's going to hit hundreds of thousands of people. It wouldn't really be fair to us to decide the distribution model."

The art of remixing evolved from dub — specifically, early-'70s Jamaican producers such as King Tubby and Lee "Scratch" Perry, who created alternate versions of popular reggae songs using stripped-down arrangements and space-age effects. Early British punk acts such as the Clash, and new-wave bands like the B-52s, U2 and the Cure, adopted the same aesthetic in order to push their music into dance clubs, and as the '80s wore on into the 1990s, a variety of adventurous artists — among them New Order, Primal Scream, Madonna and Massive Attack — hired outside remix specialists to create alternate takes of their songs.

Then the digital home-studio revolution put the means of musical remixing into the hands of anybody with a decent PC and the right software. Certain artists have embraced this new wave of DIY; both Brian Eno and Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor even made the unmixed components of their songs available on the Internet for anyone and everyone to download and reinterpret.

André Anjos — whose clients typically send him raw song data — is a prime example of someone who has taken full advantage of this open access to information.

"The Internet has leveled the playing field for people like him to get their stuff out there," says Scott Vener, a music supervisor with HBO's Entourage, the series about making it in Hollywood that stars Jeremy Piven. "There's not just three or four distribution channels. And obviously the music blogs have been the thing that has helped André gain a fan base, or even recognition. You don't need huge marketing budgets, either, to promote yourself."

One way to get a sense of the RAC's saturation is to search for "RAC" on the Hype Machine (www.hypem.com), a site that aggregates blog posts containing downloadable MP3s. Blogs in Germany and Sweden have posted RAC remixes, and the widely read U.S. music blog BrooklynVegan dedicated an entire entry to the RAC's output late last year — to the tune of eighteen MP3s posted. Anjos is particularly proud that the RAC remix of Tegan and Sara's "Back in Your Head" was the Hype Machine's single most popular blog track on Christmas Eve 2007.

The spread of music files — remixes included — is a digital domino effect: People download an MP3 and share it with friends or other bloggers, who in turn repost it so others can discover, listen to and share the tune. Essentially these music bloggers have begun to replace the professional tastemakers of the past: record store clerks, journalists and even radio DJs.

"Music blogs are more important than radio," asserts Vener. "If you find somebody whose tastes you align with, then you can stay with that personal blog and save it, keep going back to it."

The difference now is that blogs increasingly have become a legitimate outlet for promotion, says Stereogum's Lapatine. "For many years no one knew who we were. And now a lot of bands will come to us months in advance, will have it as part of their release plans to debut something on Stereogum. The mindset of the industry is changing, such that artists and labels realize the value of blog promotion."

But for every site that, like Stereogum, gets clearance for the MP3s it posts for download, countless others post MP3s without permission. And the problem of contraband music isn't going away: As quickly as authorities shut down illegal album-download sites such as OiNK and Demonoid, other cheekily named sites (waffles.fm, what.cd) have popped up in their place.

The business of unauthorized MP3 remixes is booming as well, judging by the number of bootleg versions offered up by blogs and Web sites that specialize in dance and electronic music. These outlets help Matt Shiv, music director/on-air host at WOXY.com, expand the playlist of Xtrabeats, which he curates.

"There's a ton of people who will get ahold of the a cappella version [of a song] off a promo or something like that, and then do a mix that isn't officially released," he says. "That's becoming more frequent in the sense that there's an awful lot of up-and-coming talent right now, and it's a lot easier to do that stuff than it used to be. People are making DJ mixes and posting them online to get their name out there.

"Let's face it, even probably ten years ago you had to be a lot more entrenched in the production side of the industry to do that kind of stuff. But now with all the [software], it is a lot easier to construct something and make it listenable."

Shiv notes that widespread press and attention can ultimately be a positive thing, even if the source is an illegal release, citing as examples two high-profile renegade remix projects: Danger Mouse's The Grey Album, a mash-up of the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's The Black Album; and DJ Amplive's Rainydayz Remixes. The latter — on which hip-hop artists including Too $hort, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5 and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rapped over songs from Radiohead's album In Rainbows — was hit with a cease-and-desist order earlier this year before it could be released. But Amplive ultimately cleared the collection and was able to make Rainydayz available for free download.

"Even if they do something that isn't approved and causes some problems initially, if it's done well enough, that may turn them into somebody that everyone wants to work with," says Shiv. "Because they're like, 'Oh my God, did you hear what he did? He had Del Tha Funkee Homosapien rap over Radiohead, he did this amazing version!' Anything you can do these days to get yourself noticed over all of the other loudness that's out there.

"It's obviously only going to work for a select few. But for some people, it's certainly a great way to get themselves out there."

Anjos and the RAC have built their reputation via a cautious approach. The vast majority of their remixes are official; he'll either approach a band or a label and offer his services — or vice versa. He's also careful about not posting any MP3s until he gets clearance, and the RAC's online portfolio utilizes streaming (i.e., non-downloadable) audio.

Anjos has posted a few downloadable, just-for-fun "mini-mixes" on the RAC's blog (found on www.theremixcompany.co.uk, its official site). It was one of these, in fact, that caught the ear of Shiv and led to the Xtrabeats gig. An Anjos remix of the Who's "Baba O'Riley" also found its way from the RAC blog to other Web sites.

Anjos isn't concerned about the potential legal consequences of posting these tracks; of the mini-mixes, he says, "I'm thinking of it more like a radio-station feel. My Web site is kind of like my station: I'm just playing some of the songs I like." And if people did object to anything he posts? Anjos says no one ever has, but if they did he'd "immediately take it down." In fact, opposition to his interpretation of "Baba O'Riley" was more aesthetic than ethical.

"A lot of people were like, 'That's blasphemy! The Who would never want this!'" he says. "It was really funny. It was like, 'I'm doing this for fun! I'm not making any grand statement.'"

At the same time, he's not shy about being proactive. When he felt the RAC's remix of Tegan and Sara's "Back in Your Head" wasn't getting the promotional push it deserved, he "took matters into my own hands" and e-mailed it out to blogs himself — though he adds that he sought approval from the band before doing so.

Anjos first contacted Tokyo Police Club about doing a remix in December 2006. Back then the quartet had only sold a few thousand copies of its A Lesson in Crime EP and didn't have money to spare for remixes. (Says band manager Rich Cohen: "The fact that anyone would want to remix them seemed really cool.") But Anjos' reworkings of the band's songs struck a chord.

"So many remixes, they zoom in on one aspect of the song and you've got a really one-dimensional remix," says vocalist/bassist Dave Monks. "Or they'll simply rearrange a song, and you just kind of get a different version. But he seems to, like, take the elements of the song and rewrite something entirely different with them. His remixes are a totally new entity, a totally new piece of work."

When the group's profile did elevate — Elephant Shell, Tokyo Police Club's debut album, is set for April release on the well-regarded indie label Saddle Creek — Anjos' goodwill and talent were rewarded. Paper Bag, the label that released the band's EP, Smith, retroactively paid him for its use of "Be Good." He'll also be compensated when his recent remix of Elephant Shell's "Sixties Remake" sees the light of day.

"I feel like you can't really turn your back on people who helped you," Cohen says. "He's done these remixes for us for little to no money. In a managerial sense, I totally appreciate and want to do it and try to get him work. But I also have tried to explain to him after he's given us our remixes for no money that he should start charging people for remixing. It's a livelihood. And when you're talented, you deserve to get paid for talent. Once people start seeking you out, you have to start getting paid for your work."

This dues-paying has begun to reap dividends. Entourage's Scott Vener first noticed the RAC's Shins remix posted online. After visiting the collective's Web site, he struck up a relationship with Anjos when he saw the latter's impressive résumé. That résumé was enhanced when a snippet of "Be Good" appeared in an Entourage episode called "The Day Fu*kers."

"You have all these sort of indie artists that were considered the A-list indie bands that were lending their material to him to remix," says Vener. "You could tell he was, like, the musician's musician."

Like many kids, Anjos took piano lessons. And like many kids, he hated them. He was more enthusiastic about guitar, which he picked up in his early teens.

"I begged my parents. I wanted one of those fake guitars you buy at Wal-Mart, with the buttons and stuff," Anjos recounts. "They bring me this classical guitar and I'm like, 'What the heck?' But it got me started playing."

He proceeded to take three years of lessons from a bossa nova expert — "This 50-year-old Brazilian guy" — but he never studied music theory and considers himself self-taught.

"My approach to music doesn't make sense to anybody I know," says Anjos. "If I play a chord, I know what it is. But if I do anything more complicated, I have no clue what I'm doing; I'm just playing music. I can hear everything in my head, but I don't know how to write that down, I don't know how to tell anybody how to play it."

That quality shows in Anjos' remixes. His methodology is akin to that of a musician writing and arranging for a band. He isn't afraid to construct new melodies or use nontraditional instruments. He'll employ fluttery riffs played on a Brazilian guitar, the cavaquinho, or have his fiancée add vocal flourishes if he thinks they'll enhance a song. He's also always on the lookout for unorthodox gear; one of his latest scores was a reel-to-reel tape machine he liberated from Greenville's radio station for $75.

"Where most remixes are meant for a dance floor, the remixes that I do are more oriented towards a music lover, somebody that really enjoys a band and wants to hear the song in a different way, instead of just hearing a dance beat behind it," Anjos says. "That's what our goals are."

Though he has a slate of bands on the horizon — including up-and-comers Dead Kids and Jukebox the Ghost, and (he hopes) current buzz band Vampire Weekend — the RAC hasn't quite gotten to where Anjos wants it to be. In the future he'd like the remixing to be spread out more equally among him, Crookram and Jasinski. (Both say they're open to more work.) And he has always wanted to produce other artists; he says a few major labels have approached him, though nothing has come of that yet.

Like his remix work, Anjos considers the prospect of producing "fun."

The bands he has worked with can see why. "One time he actually sent me a bunch of his remixes, and I was having a party," says Ra Ra Riot's Roth. "All of them are just so upbeat that I was able to put that on repeat all night, because they're all so danceable and just fun."

"Whenever we talk about bands, he'll get so excited about a song. He'll talk about it in a way that I don't even necessarily understand, I just can appreciate that. You can just tell he loves doing what he does, and is thinking of new ways of working on people's music."