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Remix Culture & The New Web Transformation

September 29, 2011 | Filed under Digital & Tech Trends, E-commerce & Fashion Trends

One of the things the Internet has accomplished more then any other medium is the extent of interactivity possible.  Almost every other medium elicits a passive process where we ingest visual or audio content but it doesn’t usually allow us to alter or change it.  The Internet and the rapid expansion of technology has truly created an almost universal remix culture that has increasingly become more interactive and easier to accomplish as time goes on.  Literally the same week a rap album comes out the chopped & screwed version pops up on YouTube and mixtape sites, sometimes even with more acclaim then the original.  YouTube itself is literally overflowing with every type of “remix” you can fathom, from Funny or Die esque meme parodies, to video mashups and collages that could span 50 years of visuals in 3 minutes.  The more technology advances, the more established and advanced this remix culture becomes.

The interactive element of the Internet is one of the main reasons people are so attracted to it.  Television, films, and to a lesser extent music has always been almost entirely passive mediums where the viewer is never allowed to alter any aspect of the original content.  Before digital audio software became so affordable and easy to use, even music remixes were relegated to professional musicians or at least serious music hobbyists.  Now because of the way culture exists on the Internet the passive nature of all these mediums has become completely reversed.  Not only do some companies and artists encourage interpretations of their creative output, but some aspects of culture are entirely based on this concept.

Rap music is probably the genre most associated with the remix.  It’s literally the only genre based on sampling, which is inherently a version of remixing.  The earliest rap songs from the late 70s were for the most part based on breakbeats from disco records, and from then on rap culture has engulfed every other genre into a seamless melange that sounds distinctly like itself while still resembling aspects of every genre it’s based on.  The Internet has created an environment for every single medium that rap could only achieve with music.  Now instead of sampling old funk or some obscure idm record, people sample TV shows, movies, webcam snippets, images; literally anything that can be replicated and reproduced in byte form.

One of the most widespread current trends within remix culture is the new-web Tumblr aesthetic.  Tumblrs are very similar to a concept of a blog minus the inherent structure and organization that comes with regular blogging.  When a Tumblr is really executed well it’s a perfect pastiche of anything and everything you can imagine, very often with little to no explanation of the context or an inferred cultural message.  Very often you’ll see YouTube clips next to a soundcloud demo underneath some 70s fashion advert and then a collage of webcam images superimposed over the exact time stamped dialogue of the webcam exchange.

That’s why the Tumblr aesthetic is such a great example of the new remix culture and the almost universal sampling that takes place in every facet of the web.  They encompass everything the author is thinking about or wants to think about all in one place without needing to be placed within the canon or properly contextualized for the audience.  I think that’s one reason Tumblrs and remix culture in general is so attractive to the web audience; people don’t need or want to have these cultural mashups explained to them and its possible the explanation might even ruin some of the mystique behind them.  Just like a song or film or piece of art that you might enjoy on a visceral level, sometimes the unanswered questions that Tumblrs often propose are the most exciting and innovative aspects about them.

Another facet of the new-web remix culture is defintely video collages, and the homemade music videos that currently populate YouTube.  Video collages are new videos specifically cobbled together from the remnents of old clips, whether they’re derived from dusty VHS tapes, a DVR archive, or even old scratchy Super 8 transfers.  Video collages are one of the best examples of the current remix culture and a definitive cousin / accompaniment to the Tumblr aesthetic.  Video collages have almost become the defacto visual element for the qusasi-nostalgic aesthetic of certain Internet based music genres, especially the tongue in cheek “chillwave” and some dream pop (or even dreamwave) and ambient electronic sub-genres.

That’s what the new-web culture has become; people that sample sounds from old songs and then make a video for their track sampling old videos they found in a thrift store or even some rubbish bin.  The new remix culture is creating an entirely new medium based on the detritus of the old.  Even record labels and media conglomerates can benefit from this recent massive trend of remix culture.  By letting people put their own spin on a record label’s hit single or maybe even remix a television skit or commercial, it gives them a more direct and personal relationship with the media that’s impossible to create from passive participation.

Instead of thinking about remix culture and audience reinterpretations of media as a threat to the original concept, some companies can actually benefit from these ideas and very often people will develop a much deeper and more visceral appreciation for the media by personally interacting with it.  Remix culture provides a level of interactivity that can potentially benefit everyone that’s involved, but most importantly it helps to advance and perpetuate the experimental nature of creative mediums which has become one of the most important tenets of new-web culture and the Internet as a whole.

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