Soviet Music Gets Mashed Up at Disney Concert Hall
Wed, 30 May 2007 17:58:48
Amon Tobin Videos
What do Walt Disney, Joseph Stalin and underground hip-hop DJs have in common? Normally, nothing—but last Saturday, all three converged for Pravda, a unique cultural event that saw the music of the Stalin-era Soviet Union mashed up by a who's who of turntable wizards.
Held at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, Pravda was part of the venue's Shadow of Stalin series, a special set of programs devoted to the art, music and propaganda produced under the notorious Soviet dictator's brutal regime. Throughout the evening, VJs looped film clips from Soviet cinema and World War II propaganda films, but the main attraction was the DJs, and they did not disappoint. A tag-teaming J-Rocc and Peanut Butter Wolf warmed up the concert hall crowd by splicing familiar pop music samples in with their hip-hop beats and symphonic snippets from Russian composers like Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Everything from the Simpsons theme to "Rapper's Delight" to the opening beats and handclaps of Toni Basil's '80s hit "Mickey" found its way into their freewheeling mix.
After a one-of-a-kind performance by a 10-piece theremin orchestra, DJ Cut Chemist wowed the audience with some flashy scratches and cross-cuts, plus a memorable demonstration of how some modern film composers rip off the classics. "I hope John Williams isn't here tonight," Cut said, "because we're about to call him out." He then showed how passages from Williams' Star Wars music were lifted virtually note-for-note from Igor Stravinsky's 1913 symphony "The Rite of Spring" by mixing the two records together, pointing to each one to show how key passages were repeated.
A thinning crowd stayed up until 2am to catch New York turntablist DJ Spooky's set, but he had a tough act to follow in Amon Tobin, a UK-based Brazilian producer and DJ who delivered the evening's most innovative set. Punctuating long, moody orchestral passages with blasts of cavernous drum 'n' bass and wobbly breakbeats, Tobin was the only DJ on the Pravda bill who really succeeded in capturing the heartbreak and rage rumbling beneath the surface of the Stalin-era composers' military marches and stately symphonies.
Pravda was meant to celebrate artists' ability to flourish even under an oppressive regime; in the end, what it really celebrated was the increasing dexterity with which 21st century artists can find new meanings hidden in the cultural remnants of the past.
—The ARTISTdirect Staff