Everything Is A Remix
If we are all musicians now, that has major implications for what we create.
This is your weekly installment of my new book, We Are All Musicians Now. To make sure you don’t miss future serializations, subscribe here. Below you’ll find Chapter 4: The Accidental Musicians (Part 8). Enjoy!
It’s a bright and cold afternoon, and I’ve been talking with hip-hop trailblazer Fab 5 Freddy for nearly an hour about my book’s thesis. As we wind down, he offers a something of a corollary that basically boils down to this: if we are all musicians now, then everything is a remix.
“The remix is at the core of the creative process from the very beginning,” he says. “West Side Story is essentially based on Romeo and Juliet, a work of Shakespeare. That’s a remix.”
Fab has followed a similar philosophy with his own work, dating back to his early days in New York. As detailed in an earlier installment of this book, he made a name for himself remixing street art and blasting it across new canvasses—famously covering subway cars with Warhol-style drawings of Campbell’s Soup cans in 1980.
More recently, Fab found his muse in remixes once again. Inspiration struck when he saw how technological advances had made it easier to incorporate new graphical elements into his visual work, particularly with what he calls his Abstract Remix series over the past decade.
“The way I make my art is very inspired by the way hip-hop has inspired the making of music,” he says. “Cutting, mixing and sampling all became tools to make modern music across the board. And I thought, ‘Wow, how incredible is all this technology that’s utilized?’ So I wanted to work in a way that was reflective of the technology that we have access to.”
Fab decided that much of the imagery within his work should be composed digitally. That meant taking found photos and graffiti—particularly the subgenre known as “wild style,” with its bold interconnecting letters—and editing the work in a computer.
One such example of his process: the Fab-designed cover of my 2018 book 3 Kings. He called it a “funky fresh” take on the old-school crowns that graffiti artists used to spray across the landscape of New York (of course, these crowns were themselves remixed from far-older-school crowns of ancient monarchs).
That creative style, in any case, has positioned Fab perfectly for the current boom in digital art. The recent run in NFTs proves there’s a market for limited edition visual art produced mostly, or even entirely, on a computer.
These works, in some cases, can sell for much more than most paint-and-canvas compositions. The most prominent example: Beeple’s $69 million sale of the virtual collage “Everydays – The First 5000 Days” at a Christie’s auction last year.
“Digital has eaten many other processes,” says Fab. “When the NFT thing popped off, I go, ‘Wait, I’m ready.’ So I haven’t dived in yet … I’ve been waiting for the hype cycle to cool down. But I’ve got digital files for all the paintings I’ve made.”
Indeed, the market for NFTs has been up, down, and constantly evolving. Perhaps the next chapter in this particular story will involve more hybrid work—pieces like Fab’s that incorporate tangible, existing art and virtual creations, all in the same piece.
In other words: a remix.
“When we really create, we look at other things that have influenced us, that have inspired us,” says Fab. “We’re not copying … we’re remixing.”