On a sweltering night this past summer, at a crammed two-story house party deep in the outskirts of Williamsburg, Cole Gerard dropped his remix of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” on a pair of turntables. You could hear the pounding “slow mo disco” beat (as Mr. Gerard describes it) from the rooftop, where revelers escaped for a smoke and a view of the industrial skyline. In the kitchen, Springsteen’s original plinking guitar line was the lullaby for partiers passed out on the tile floor. Spank Rock, the underground Philly party rapper, was getting a lap dance in a dark corner. The living room was packed, the air thick with sweat and cigarette smoke and hormone-induced heavy breaths from dancers making out, shouting out requests and falling off tables and sofa cushions. It’s here, where Mr. Gerard, 28, otherwise known as DJ Cousin Cole, was at the front of the room, hunched over the turntables, ending his set with Springsteen’s carnal ballad.
The original song usually stops people in their tracks, devastating them during everyday activities if it happens to come on some easy listening radio station while they’re shopping for batteries at Duane Reade and Springsteen moans, “At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head, only you can cool my desire.” But Cousin Cole had the room in rapture, dancing their hearts out to a song that normally tears it apart.
Five months later, the track is now one the highlights of Tambourine Dream, a 6-song remix EP on vinyl and an 18-song mix CD made with his DJ partner Skooby Laposky, who calls himself Pocketknife. “It has a place in a lot of people’s hearts,” Mr. Gerard admitted about “I’m On Fire.” He worked on the remix while breaking up with his last girlfriend. “It’s a slow song, but it has a really fast beat. People can’t dance to that… But I wanted to play it out, so I made the remix… Everything on [Tambourine Dream], people can dance to, and hopefully will.”
The new release, which the boys affectionately call “Tambo D,” includes beautiful remixes of songs you’ve probably listened to on your parents’ record player like Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey,” and John Lennon’s “Oh Yoko!” But it also includes a few of those MySpace/Pitchfork darlings you’ve been queuing up on the iPod (Feist’s “Gatekeeper,” Joanna Newsom’s “The Book of Right-On,” Iron and Wine’s “Each Coming Night”). Most tracks include original bass arrangements by their friend Clint Brewer and guitar, percussion and keyboards from Mr. Laposky himself. Each song has an added witty title for the remix. Beirut’s “Scenic World” is “Pocketknife’s Breathtaken Remix,” Panda Bear’s “Bros” is “Cousin Cole’s No Bro-Mo House Mix,” etc.
“We’ve received some of the best reactions from strangers who heard the remixes in sets we’ve done for places like the MoMA,” Mr. Laposky, 32, said. “People recognize the original song and respond to its new reworking. There are some upbeat ‘Tambo D’ remixes that have gotten people dancing like crazy, but all-in-all people understand the emotive qualities of the songs we chose and hone in on that. I think my girlfriend didn’t take the rough draft mix CD out of her car stereo for the entire summer.”
Tambourine Dream has been a labor of love. The DJ team, who call themselves Flagrant Fowl, started working on the project in the summer of 2006, “I decided to remix Jose Gonzalez’s cover of The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ for our first Flagrant Fowl release, Ruffle Yo Featherz, and people really responded to it,” Mr. Laposky told the Observer in an email. “I decided to remix more acoustic/folk songs because I really enjoyed adding arrangements to the original material. Most of the songs I chose only had vocals with one or two additional instruments, so they were ripe for reworking. A lot of my music is textural, so combining the acoustic instruments with the clean synths and drums really filled out the spectrum for me.”
“The remixes aren’t overdone, so these new versions should sit well with people who know the originals and respond to our versions,” he added.
The remix CD has long been a dependable promotional tool for DJs to develop a fan base, get recognition and, eventually, obtain DJ residencies and gigs. Now that software programs like Serato and Ableton have allowed any music-obsessive to himself a DJ, half-assed remixes, “refixes” and “mash-ups” have flooded the internet. Tambourine Dream, released under the Philadelphia independent label Flamin’ Hotz Records, is just one of the hundreds of mixes available at Turntable Lab, the premiere online store and remix source for working DJs. But it distinguishes itself for its distinct sound and a cherry picking of tracks that few DJs dare to remix.