Re:Generation: New Film Makes Airtight Case That DJs Are Musicians
Directed by Amir Bar Lev and produced in association with the Grammys, Re:Generation is a documentary that explores the process behind making music as a DJ and producer through an experiment that sends five DJs on a quest to work in a specific genre outside their normal output.
It sounds like something that Donald Trump would make a set of C-list celebrities do on The Apprentice, but the result is a fascinating glimpse into the intricacies underlying a DJ's art, and how impressive they can be when working from scratch.
To what lengths DJs should be considered composers is a constant debate, and the reactions of the traditional musicians to these sample-based artistes during Re:Generation tells as much about the state of the genre in the music industry as it does about the individuals chronicled. Formerly we were firmly in the category that working a turntable and cutting-and-pasting random samples was not nearly as legitimate an art form as, say, playing the guitar, but the documentary has converted us, and we can now say that a good DJ is every bit the maestro any other musician is.
Skrillex, who just took home three Grammy awards, tackled the rock genre, and chose to work with the three surviving members of The Doors. Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger appear eager in the film, sparked by the challenge of working outside their own box as much as Skrillex, who confesses a lifelong love of the iconic band.
Both elder statesmen slide easily into the loose improvisational style that was the mark of songs like "Light My Fire," with Manzarek telling Skrillex to, "Pump the motherfucker." All three lend simple vocals to the song, and the Doors take Skrillex on a walking tour of the beach areas that dominated the band's early writing sessions and atmosphere.
Doors Drummer John Densmore, recording separately from his former colleagues, is clearly more reticent. He says that, as a drummer, he fears the day when people dance only to machines, but like Krieger and Manzarek, he is still perfectly willing to live up to the name of his band and stand between the known and the unknown.
He utilizes Afro-Cuban instruments to add flair and an organic vibe to "Light My Fire," and where their relationship begins with a considerable bit of sizing up of one another, Densmore and Skrillex clearly part with a great deal of mutual appreciation.
By contrast, Pretty Lights' journey into the realm of country is so awkward as to be painful to watch. Derek Smith makes his disappointment with his assignment quite clear, being completely ignorant of country music's rich history. His reticence is mirrored in the faces of the musicians with whom he comes in contact, all of whom clearly have no respect for the saggy-panted, skewed-hat producer.
Brian Nevins Pretty Lights
Smith works with Dr. Ralph Stanley, one of the great bluegrass voices, on the folk song "Poor Wayfaring Stranger." The 84-year-old singer makes it quite clear he's not interested in Smith's direction, and Smith brings in LeAnn Rimes to a later session to achieve the vocal sounds he was looking for.
Ironically, in spite of contentious nature of the recording, Pretty Lights' finished product may be the best song featured in the film. His take on the folk classic is full of deep nuance and sadness, making for quite the experimental dance track.