Last week I wrote an article for The Conversation about the legacy of mash-up pop band The Avalanches, whose last record dropped shortly after the dawn of “the new millennium.” I really enjoyed working with the site and their editors were fantastic, but I ended up writing twice as much as they could print. Below is my original draft, which features a lot more history of the band, and more theorizing about how technologies like sampling, record albums and digital music have changed the way music gets produced. Basically, I don’t think a band like The Avalanches could have emerged much earlier or much later in time — their record wouldn’t have been possible in 1997, and wouldn’t have been commercially viable by 2003. It will be interesting to hear what their new album sounds like in a few weeks. Here’s the original piece:
Can The Avalanches flourish in a pop music world remade in their own image?
Sampling pioneers The Avalanches are returning with a new record 16 years after their only major release. Their first album, 2000’s Since I Left You, has been dubbed a modern classic. A joyous, witty and funky melange of more than 3,500 samples, taken from vinyl albums bought in op shops, it sold more than 600,000 copies and influenced a generation of musicians.
The Avalanche’s brand of sample-saturated electronic music was unique in 2000. And their organization as enigmatic, amorphous collective challenged conventional ideas of what a band could be.
But the Melbourne-based band are reemerging to a world of pop music remade in their own image. Sixteen years on from Since I Left You, the music industry has transformed. It brims with samples, superproducers and music that is largely produced and consumed on computers.
The cut-up aesthetic that The Avalanches used so brilliantly in songs like the unforgettable Frontier Psychiatrist can be seen all over the Internet, not just in music, but also in the form of memes and GIFs that re-purpose and re-contextualise older media in evocative or amusing ways. Sampling existing material has become one of the most common ways that people communicate online.