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.
“People now can make the versions of songs that they want to hear,” Mr. Laposky said. “Along with this shift in production technique and sensibility, the audience for these kinds of songs is growing. Hip-hop is so established now, that when you hear a harp coupled with some synths and an 808 drum pattern, it sounds natural.”
But especially in New York, where it’s extremely hard for an unknown DJ to make a name while competing among the Steve Aoki and Mark Ronsons of the club scene, it’s important for DJs to distinguish themselves from the masses.
Mr. Gerard moved to New York from Columbia, Missouri in 1997. He started listening to hip-hop when Dr. Dre’s The Chronic came out, and made beats for his brother’s joke rap group. But it wasn’t until he came to the city, attending New York University on scholarship, that he got serious about producing and DJing. Between Comparative Literature studies, he honed his turntable skills at parties and stayed up nights making beats for rappers who would never actually use them.
It wasn’t until he made a “mash-up” of “Yeah” by Usher and “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand, that he started getting attention from popular music blogs like Discobelle and Nick Catchdubs (former Fader editor/current owner of Fools Gold Records). Cousin Cole is now becoming a recognizable DJ name. His remix of Soulja Boy’s “Crank Dat” became a surprise hit and was played on Hot 97 and Power 106. ("I’m really disappointed that I didn’t get to hear that on the radio," Mr. Gerard said. "It would’ve blown my mind. Made my day. My month. It still did.") He now has the attention of major hip-hop stars, whose engineers are recommending him to join in remix projects.
Mr. Laposky started DJing with Mr. Gerard at now-defunct bars in 2004. Mr. Laposky had a different DJ partner at the time; they called themselves the Rickshaw Brothers. On one of the fliers, Mr. Laposky introduced Mr. Gerard as “Cousin Cole” “’Cause I wasn’t exactly a brother,” Mr. Gerard said. That’s where Cousin Cole got his DJ name.
“He’s got that Midwestern earnestness that I relate to,” Mr. Laposky said. “I’m partners with him because he’s dedicated to his craft and is a perfectionist.”
“For a Neil Young song I mixed it like 10 different times,” Mr. Gerard said, “I had it mastered, I didn’t like it, and then I mixed it again. I don’t even know if I like it now, but at least it’s done.”
“Cole is someone who keeps me on my toes about DJing and producing,” Mr. Laposky added.
Mr. Laposky grew up in Cherokee, a small town in Iowa. He played basketball with an old school disco/early house DJ Willie Beamon, who turned him onto the tables. “We used to throw parties for the farm kids with a couple of cd players, a tape deck, and the local prom DJ’s sound system,” he explaine
d. He moved to Kansas City for art school in the mid-90s. There, he befriended well-known Detroit house producer Theo Parrish and bought a pair of used turntables. “I put DJing on hold for a few years when I moved to NYC in early 2001, so I could teach myself some music theory and learn the basics on a few instruments,” Mr. Laposky said. He is currently the leader of an electro-acoustic orchestra called the Oratai Ensemble and has composed soundtracks for PBS documentaries and Court TV.
“I’ve got a piece I’m composing for a young Dutch fashion darling,” Mr. Laposky said about his other projects. “I’m half-way done with recording the second album with my chamber ensemble.” Flagrant Fowl is also working on a follow-up to Tambourine Dream (TD-2, as they’d like to call it) and other remixes. “We’ve got some original bangers that will make flapper girls go crazy!” Mr. Laposky said.
The boys plan on making some hip Brooklynites go crazy this weekend by throwing a record release party at Studio B tonight. Their friends, DJs Pandemonium Jones and Rezound, will be spinning along with Pocketknife and Cousin Cole.
“It’s great to be celebrating with friends who are talented DJs and have a repertoire that encompasses the atmosphere we’re going for,” Mr. Laposky said. “I think people are going to respond to Tambourine Dream in a really positive way.”
Here is a link to Turntable Lab’s page for Tambourine Dream, where you can listen to some of the tracks and buy the EP.
Here is a link to a promotional video Mr. Laposky made for Tambourine Dream, which reworks a scene from Sofia Coppola’s Virgin Suicides.
Here is a link to Studio B. There, you can buy tickets to tonight’s shindig, where the EP and mix will be on sale.