Remixers of the world unite and take over

Montreal songsmith Andrew Johnston found a new way to attract a global audience, by inviting everyone to rework his song, and hurl the occasional insult.

Andrew Johnston

In the promotion for his last record, The Wake of the Wonder Years, local songsmith Andrew Johnston went the conventional route with his first two singles, making a pair of pretty cool music videos, like this one.

With the record’s last single, “Teenage Paws,” he opted for something cheaper and more social, launching a remix contest on Indaba Music.

“It really took off,” he says. “We had people from all over the world participating and submitting stuff. It was pretty cool. There’s a whole social element to it where other people are commenting on the mixes and even the original song, saying it’s terrible and they don’t wanna remix it. Typical Internet.”

Johnston took the haters in stride, sat back and listened to the myriad ways his song was being overhauled, learning at least one valuable music lesson.

“I kind of learned what dubstep was by listening to these remixes,” he says. “There were a few remixes I really liked, there were two or three others that were super musical and took the track in a whole different direction, like avant garde free jazz, and there were a bunch of others that were well executed but not really my cup of tea. There was an overwhelming amount of stuff where you had the impression that they just took the tracks and did it paint by numbers, just put them through some music software and moved a few things around. They didn’t grasp the phrasing of the melody or even where the strong beats were supposed to be.

“In a way it’s an example of where we’re at with music. So many people have digital tools and they’re chopping up music and doing all kinds of things with it, but musicality is the most important thing.”

With Indaba, a community of remixers and fans pick five winners by popular vote, while the grand prize winner is picked by the artist and their people. In this case, the big winner got their remix pressed onto the B-side of the “Teenage Paws” seven-inch, launching this Friday.

“Fernando [Perdomo]’s remix took it in an almost jazzy direction,” says Johnston. “There’s some pretty cool jazz guitar on there, and he really changed the feel of the song, which has a fairly club sound — it’s got a danceable beat and nods to the ’80s, Hall and Oates kind of stuff. He removed the dance beat and gave it a totally different feel that was also out of leftfield, but in a really familiar, comforting way.”

Johnston is continuing to work his music career from a new angle, delving into pre-production for a series of digital singles and accompanying videos to be released monthly, rather than spend a year making an album.

“This way, I’ll have something to talk about for, like, a year.”

We’ll be hearing from him soon. ■

Andrew Johnston launches the “Teenage Paws” seven-inch single with Sunfields, Mike O’Brien and DJ Tinsoldierman at l’Escogriffe (4467 St-Denis) on Friday, May 3, 9 p.m., $5/$8

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