Reviving underground eminence with his recent ragtime/hip hop set, Wu Orleans, Boston based bootlegger Bob Cronin, aka dj BC, takes a tip from his past releases and once again changes the ever shifting view on what is possible within the confines of mash-ups. Cronin established himself within the mainstream with his release of The Beastles in 2004, a collaboration that saw him fuse various tracks by the Beatles with vocals performed by the Beastie Boys. As the presence of mashups received national notoriety, Cronin gained praise for his work from the likes of Rolling Stone, Q Magazine, and Newsweek, establishing him as one of the world’s premier bootleggers. In this conversation he talks of Wu Orleans‘ reception and inspiration, the legal implications of mashups and his upcoming original release(s).
A recent article on Spin.com suggested that you were constructing Wu Orleans as “the spiritual rebirth of the storm-torn area” and concluded by taking a poll on whether or not this mashup project does its part to commemorate Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath? As mashups haven’t historically been given tons of artistic credit, especially in these terms, how does this publicity make you feel?
dj BC: Well, I am always thrilled for my mixes to get attention, as most people would be and this isn’t the first time I have gotten press, so the excitement was a little less than it was when the Beastles first came out and it was popping up in various news sources. However I really did appreciate it, as it meant that more people would hear the tunes. And it was SPIN, which I used to read in high school, so that’s pretty cool. All in all, I wasn’t that surprised, as there was a lot of buzz surrounding the Katrina aftermath and New Orleans, making this an ideal blog item.
Were there any intentions of actually creating the set as a tribute?
Well, yes and no. I love New Orleans, and I got married there last April. I’ve visited as often as I can, and my wife lived there for several years when she went to grad school at Tulane. So even before the hurricane happened, we were pretty focused on the city as we were planning the wedding: listening to the music, reading up on the city and its history, visiting NOLA to make the plans, that sort of thing. And then once the tragedy happened, it was almost all we could think about. Of course we went through with it, and we couldn’t be happier that we did — but it was touch and go for a few months!
We’d booked clarinetist Chris Burke, drummer Barry Martyn and a couple of other musicians to play our wedding. When I got a True to New Orleans CD (Chris Burke and His New Orleans Jazz) from Chris Burke, and another amazing CD from Barry Martyn, I knew I wanted to mix with those tracks. We also saw Rebirth Brass Band play when we were down there, that was a no brainer, because those guys are amazing, and of course their music is very rhythmic and really swings. “New Orleans Method” was the first track, using Chris Burke’s recording against Method Man’s somewhat goofy lyrics and easy, almost drunken rhyme flow. It seemed to me a perfect fit that cast both musics in a new light and created a new vibe.
The album concept of “Wu Orleans” came to me in a flash, really, but it follows from that first track. However it really did start to feel more and more like a tribute as I worked on it, though more of a tribute to the music and the vibrancy of the town than to the Hurricane victims or as a remembrance of a tragedy. When I was nearly finished I realized we were coming up on the anniversary, so I pushed to finish it on time, which explains some of the rougher edges.
As you have released a number of high profile mashup “albums” along the lines of the most recent Wu Orleans, and the amazing Beastles, what precautions do you take to help prevent any legal problems from arising?
I don’t really take any. I have a little message on my site, and if I get hassled by The Man, which has happened a few times, I immediately remove the songs in question and do not repost them. I guess I am living on the edge?
In a way, the more publicity you get, the higher the likelihood that someone in a high position within any number of record labels is going to see your work and take action against you. Do you believe it was a scenario along these lines that spurred action from Apple?
I suppose so. I think the record companies are trying to figure out how they can make money from this without becoming bad guys or trying to squash the scene. As of yet they have left many mashers alone, thankfully. I hope they come up with something as a lot of the bootleggers have made stuff that deserves to be released, and people like hearing it.
By the way, it wasn’t Apple who shut me down, it was EMI’s legal department. And they told me they were acting on the behalf of both the Fab Four and the B-Boys. No ill will there, mind you, just setting the record straight.
With the ever-increasing publicity surrounding your music, have there been any artists that have approached you praising your work or asking for remixes?
Yeah, John Meyers (formerly of the Pogues) and Pete Yorn have said nice things. I ended up working with John on a track and plan to do so again. I did a remix for Heaven 17 this year, and last year I did one for the Americana band Uncle Shaker, and one for Boston punk band Veronica Black Morpheous Nipple.
I am currently working on a full length album of remixes and mashups for the Boston punk/ska outfit Big D and The Kids Table.
What other opportunities have come from your mashups in the past few years?
Well, the Big D project I just mentioned is one fairly solid opportunity. I also have a couple of other “official” releases in the works, but the whole thing is so dodgy, and the releases are as of yet tentative, so I would rather not jinx it. But I have done a few talks at colleges and the like on the subject, have DJed at events, had guest DJs from around the world at Mash Ave. I have done some music work for TV. The most gratifying thing is finding out that the Beastles was spinning in NYC bars, in Paris, or that one of the tracks was on MTV Brasil, or making Rolling Stone. Very exciting!
I often look at your “Yoshimi Battles Snoop Dogg” as my favorite mashup, hands down. What is your personal favorite in terms of your own work and what makes it your favorite?
That’s tough. I love a lot of my boots. Hearing something old like Yoshimi actually makes me cringe sometimes, because that was before I was really mastering and tweaking the tracks as much as I do now. It’s tough to say. I love them all like my babies. Usually my favorites are the newest ones I have not yet released. Right now, that’s a Paul Simon/Kanye thing for Bootie, and one I have been working on for the holidays — John Lennon vs. the Jackson 5. I am probably most proud of “Summer In The City” and “Crazy 80s” as those were probably the most involved and difficult tracks I’ve made.
How much time do you spend on your bootlegs compared to what some might consider “steady work,” such as playing weddings and other such events?
A fair amount of time. I am doing music full time now so I spend at least a few hours working on music every day, sometimes more.
Have you ever been overtaken with a sense of awe while playing an event?
Yeah, when no one shows up, and I feel like a heel. I haven’t really done many huge events like that. Looking forward to spinning Bootie San Fran in October though. That’s the largest bootleg night in the world, I think.
If you had one final show to play, who would you most like to share the stage with?
Man, this is tough. Because I am a DJ, not really a live concert performer, I would feel a bit odd being up there with, for example, the Beatles. I can just picture John’s snarky comments. But honestly, I would have to say I truly envied the gig Freelance Hellraiser landed — spinning Beatles bootlegs as an opening act for Sir Paul. Now THAT would be an “is this for real” situation.