I spoke with video remix maestro Ian Edgar, (formerly of Eclectic Method) and Joe Sabia, digital artist, video maker and co-founder of the experimental musical video group "cdza", about the nature of remix and what it takes to make a video go viral.
Jeff Newelt: Why do you think remix is so big now?
Ian Edgar: An increasingly overwhelming amount of media, combined with easier accessible software and hardware methods of content acquisition and manipulation, makes remix inevitable. In the ‘90s, I made remixes by recording select snippets of live TV onto VHS tapes. Genres are dissolving into a weird stew in the era of ephemera. The Internet allows for joyful diving into the widest subjects, while also cultivating crazy specializations on microscopic memes and signifiers.
Joe Sabia: The Internet has made the idea of content creation both accessible and fun. Tokens of culture are being smashed together like protons in a hadron collider. By “tokens,” I refer to anything in culture that carries a meaning that other people can relate to, understand, and share an experience with. A movie, book, song, that favorite episode...
JN: Do you remember the first remixes you were exposed to?
IE: I first encountered remix in the huge explosion of dance music from ‘92-‘98 in the UK. Then hip-hop remixes featuring verses from other emcees. The first video remixes I saw that changed the game for me came from EBN (Emergency Broadcast Network). When I saw EBN I thought "That! That’s the thing I've been imagining and it already exists."
JN: Some folks might pooh-pooh remix as your primary mode of expression, asking "Why not do an ‘original’?”
IE: I prefer to disappear as an artist, let the work stand on its own. "Look at the screen, don't look at me.” Using only samples is a step in that direction...I wanted to represent my experience of being brought up on TV, watching a parade of limitless meaning-obliterating juxtapositions with every channel-flipping session. War, a tampon advert, badgers, polygamy.
JS: Some say there is no such thing as "original" work. That everything is inspired by something else. That "ideas have sex with each other,” giving life to things that have modified forms of DNA of their predecessors. And in general—whether through photo meme remixes, or video remixes —as more people consume, they, too, will want to express their own ideas in the form of art and new works. But the real gems are in the 5% of Internet remixes created by the 1% willing to spend hundreds of hours creating a remix. Because it’s in those remixes you find breathtakingly beautiful supercuts, video mashups, song remixes, clever commentaries.
JN: You've created videos that have gone viral. Did you have any more of an inkling about something that went viral than something that didn't?
IE: Hitting the exact right moment a celebrity or politician says something wacky. Sometimes, the clarity of the idea carries it—a movie remixed with its own iconic soundtrack, or something really stupid made stupider. The right place at the right time. Except, what with the Internet being one big place, using the right cultural signifier at the right time is key.
JS: A video is like an unstruck match. If the video is good, it's a good match. If the video sucks, a bad match. Maybe it’s soggy from rain. A match only functions in its role when it's struck and lit on fire. The "tipping point" of when a video lights on fire is mostly through some sort of tastemaker or influencer. A blog. Someone with lots of followers. And the match itself? Create a video that is MORE UNIQUE than anything you've ever seen. Watch many, many, many videos and categorize an index of content in your brain. Based on everything you've seen, do something different.
Jeff Newelt, AKA JahFurry, is an editor/writer for Heeb, SMITH, and ROYAL FLUSH magazines. He edited The Pekar Project, Harvey Pekar's American Splendor webcomics series, as well as Harvey Pekar's CLEVELAND graphic novel. Follow him at twitter.com/jahfurry and facebook.com/jahfurry.