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Essentialism, Transness, and the Art of Remixing: An Unrelated Analysis

April 25, 2023

Essentialism, Transness, and the Art of Remixing: An Unrelated Analysis

There’s something incredibly queer about remixing. To be given a pre-existing musical body, and to have the explicit goal of changing it to one’s own identity and aesthetic preferences is undeniably trans. The same can be said for Djing, a field that has seen an explosion of trans members in recent years. Given that the connection between gender identity and remixing was not always so clear even in my own mind, let’s investigate it a bit further.

Remixes were a useful pedagogical tool for me in understanding my own gender and sexuality while starting to overcome years of internalized homophobia. When I first encountered remixes, I had a very negative reaction to them. I believed that music should exist in a pure form; that a song should only be the one, essentialized thing that it is, and that any alternate versions were false and even perverse. My desire for a pure, essentialized form of music was mirrored in my understanding of gender: I saw things through a very binary lens, and I was very stuck on performing my assigned gender role. When I finally began to accept myself and reject the gender roles I had been forced into, I found myself questioning other essentialized things in my life, specifically my relationship to remixes and original songs. The more I started to appreciate remixes as a new mode of expression built on top of a substrate that seemed at times contradictory to the remix, I began to see how I could move past the substrate of my own biological condition in order to create a mode of expression that was truly authentic to me.

If we see the original song as an analogy for cisheterosexuality, then in this analogy any modifications to such a song which are based in the identity of the individual remixing the song correlate to queer actions based in a rejection of an essentialized status quo. Remixing shows us that we needn’t adhere to this status quo, but instead that we can use the substrate we are given (where the song here is analogy for our embodied experience) to create a multitude of different modes of expression. The possibilities are endless for both songs and bodies; just as we can move beyond the essentialized version of the original song, so too can we move beyond the essentialized cisheteronormative function of our bodies and accept the infinite possibility of our own self-creation. Just as we are unendingly capable of shaping a song in new ways, so too are we capable of presenting ourselves and our bodies in new ways, in both cases transcending the static nature of a seemingly immutable foundation. 

Of course, this isn’t unique to remixing, but it was a helpful example to me. In truth, any kind of artistic expression contains a hint to the creative potential of transness; to be an artist is to draw upon past experiences and other pieces of art, meaning that art, like gender expression, necessarily comes to be because of what has come before, in the same way that gender comes to be because of – not in spite of – one’s body and lived experiences. Just as samples can become the backbone to a song that completely changes their meaning, so too can a body become a canvas to a form of gender expression that is completely radical and moves beyond the cisheteronormative realm of acceptability. It seems that change and transition are both a fundamentally queer experience as well as a fundamentally human one, because to be queer is to be human, and to be human is to be queer.

I still have work to do on accepting and expressing my own queerness, but reminding myself of my own possibility through the dynamic expression of music continues to be a joyful and affirming experience. To close, I’ll share a few of my favorite remixes that I find to be meaningful in the hopes of sharing that experience and promoting expression and authenticity for all people. One ridiculously hard remix I’ve been playing recently is Manu Calmet’s remix of Sassyggirl’s ‘Gotikeo’. As the original producer of the song, it’s clear that this remix is the track Manu Calmet always wanted to make, and it’s refreshing to hear a producer get to push themselves to the limit. Another absolute banger is Charli XCX’s remix of ‘Welcome To My Island’ by Caroline Polachek. Finally, there’s no song more appropriate for this article than ‘damn! we got it bad: you’ll never guess what happens next’ by leroy, aka Jane Remover. Jane, a non-binary producer, smashes together ‘I Got It Bad’ by Addison Rae, ‘Take My Breath’ by The Weeknd, ‘Levels’ by Avicii, ‘Work’ by Rihanna, and ‘Till the World Ends’ Britney Spears. By making these songs theirs, Jane is the perfect example of queerness in music-making, showing how self-creation is not only possible, but liberating. 

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