History of Remixing Music

Roots of the Remix

The culture of remix owes its existence largely to advancements in technology, which has enabled high quality mixing of music. Magnetic tapes and multi-track recording allow people to play around with their music and alter them according to their tastes. During the 1940s and 1950s, people realized that they could manipulate their tapes and create compositions that were substantially different from the original versions. While professionals created high quality alternate versions, others mixed and edited recordings to create medleys, also called novelty recordings.

The modern remixing culture however started around the 1960s and 1970s. Jamaica, which is one of the biggest music hubs even today, was where local people really took to creating new music by reconstructing and rebuilding tracks. It was witnessed in the then upcoming music genres such as ska, reggae, dub, and rocksteady. People like King Tubby, Lee Perry or Scratch, Ruddy Redwood took remixing to the professional levels. They preferred creating pure instrumental versions by subduing vocals completely. Later, they and other mixers starting creating more complex audio effects such as repeating hooks, delay, echoing, manipulating the turn table, etc.
If you love dance remixes, then you have Tom Moulton to thank for it, who practically invented the culture. Moulton original created homemade mix tapes for the dance club called the Fire Island in the 1960s. His works became very popular, and he became more popular in New York City. He is not a DJ as most people think him to be. He starting getting calls from recording companies to give their songs a more dance oriented aesthetic.

These were not actually remixes, but original versions of the song. In other words, he fixed other people’s songs, so that they could make people dance to it. He also invented the 12-inch single vinyl format, which provided a wider dynamic range for discos.

‘Ten Percent’ by Double Exposure was the first song recorded in this format, and Walter Gibbons provided the recording. This was not a remix, but simply a re-edit of the original ‘Ten Percent’ song. Others who were heavily influenced the remix industry along with Gibbons and Moulton include Larry Levan, Tee Scott, Jim Burgess, and Shep Pettibone. They gave the Disco era a big boost and a new meaning. The Salsoul catalog, developed by the latter two is considered to be the bible for disco mixers. Pettibone, Francois Kevorkian and Pettibone took remixing from the Disco era to the House era, and popularized the art-form considerably.

At the same time, Moulton was taking dance mixes to the next level. Jamaicans who have immigrated to Bronx were setting the foundations of modern day hip hop music. They too were very influenced by the arts of disco and remix. Artists such as Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc popularized cutting and scratching as an addition to the remix artist’s toolkit. Scratching refers to direct manipulation of a vinyl record by moving it beneath the turntable. Cutting refers to using two copies of the same recording and then alternating between them to create a discontinuous effect. Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” was in 1983, remixed by D.ST. Malcolm McLaren. It was perhaps the first remix to become successful in mainstream music. The “Duck Rock” from ZTT records is another remix success story which went on to popularize “cut up” hip hop music.