Remixes usually disappoint me. I often imagine it’s because they’re run off quickly without the remixer having an in person musical relationship with the artist they’re remixing. I didn’t really dig either the UNKLE or Dust Brothers remixes that were done of Folk Implosion’s Natural One & Insinuation. When One Part Lullaby came out in 2000, I was really excited and flattered when Domino told us that the Chemical Brothers and Massive Attack really liked the record and wanted to do remixes of some tracks, but it was more because I really respected their own records, rather than because I thought that a remix they might do for us would be anywhere near as good as their own stuff. I mean, remixing is a great in theory, and every once in awhile I’ve heard a remix I like better than the original, like this one Dobie did of Bjork’s I Miss You, but not very often, and certainly not a whole project….until I bought this record on Scott Solter’s recommendation.
No Protection, Mad Professor’s take on Massive Attack’s second record, Protection, is a fantastic achievement. Per Wikipedia, the Professor would be 40 when it came out, and was thus probably not quite 40 when he did it. But we’ll round up to include this in this series on great records made by people who are no longer in their 20’s and 30’s.
Pretty much everything I’ve read about it agrees that it’s better than the original Massive Attack record. I agree. The cover art looks more like a classic dub album from first wave dub producers like Scientist or Lee Perry than a Massive Attack album, and that seems very much to fit the feel of who is really driving the bus on this masterpiece. However, this 1995 release is not a throwback to the late 70’s or early ’80s. It feels very dense compared to the sparseness of some other and earlier dub I love, which probably had something to do with the Professor’s embrace and mastery of new digital technology. It’s less traceable to the sounds of identifiable physical instruments, or to the sound of a particular kind of Space Echo / Echoplex style delay. It’s more like an undergrowth of vegetative proliferation where the low end is more massive because it’s not subject to the attack and decay profile of a bass guitar or a bass drum. And the treble end of the spectrum feels more abstracted as well, like it’s coming from sampling in a way that’s more influenced by hip hop production while standing totally apart from it. As one astute YouTube comment put it, it’s not so much a remix as a radical deconstruction.
I came close to getting to see Mad Professor live at Moogfest, the first time it was here in Durham several years ago. But my work schedule conflicted with his performance at the festival. I did see him hanging and dancing around the massive sound system that was set up in the dub tent of the festival outside Bull McCabe’s in downtown Durham, where our teacher’s union used to have it’s monthly Victory Friday parties. He was holding a drink and looked very down to earth and wasn’t schmoozing anybody, just digging the music. Others were swooning that he was there, including Scott, and Daniel Lanois who said onstage that it made him nearly cry to meet one of his true idols and heroes. Like Gary Numan, who appeared at the festival that same year, there was a great feeling to the Mad Professor’s presence at the festival in the sense that someone who was there from the early days of the technology was being recognized by those whose footsteps they had followed in. Scott got to go to his master class, which was during the day while I was teaching. It was a cool kind of intergenerational hand shake and salute that steered clear of the disposability that is habitual and endemic to consumer culture. I hope he comes back to Durham again, maybe I’ll call in sick next time. (Or take my class on a field trip.)