The Hood Internet takes mash-ups a step further

The Hood Internet’s first album of original music, “Feat” (Decon), initially comes off as a departure from the Chicago-North Carolina duo’s trademark mash-ups.

Don’t believe the hype, says Steve Reidell, who partners in the Hood Internet with Aaron Brink. 

“It’s a bit of a tangent from what the Hood Internet is known for, but Aaron and I have a history of playing in bands together, so we wanted to do something like that but still jibe with the ethos of what the Hood Internet does,” Reidell says. “We produced the skeletons of the songs and the idea was to collaborate with other musicians, the type of people who in the past we would have sampled for a Hood Internet mash-up.”

“Feat” is essentially a mix-and-match collaborative effort, with a diverse range of artists --  everyone from the New Pornographer’s A.C. Newman to hip-hop MC Psalm One – adding lyrics and melodies over the musical beds built by Reidell and Brink. Despite the wide assortment of styles represented -- a blend of electronic music, hip-hop and indie-rock -- it comes off as cohesive and fluid as one of the group’s acclaimed mix tapes, which mash together unrelated songs and genres into new shapes ideal for partying, dancing or banging on headphones.

In a way, it brings Reidell and Brink full circle. Both started out playing in more traditional rock bands in high school, college and then in Chicago, where they formed May or May Not in 2003. As a sidelight, they experimented with sample-based recordings for several years, before creating the Hood Internet web site in 2007. They posted some of their mash-ups, more as a way to amuse themselves and their friends rather than in any serious attempt to get noticed.

But one of their mash-ups, a cleverly executed combination of R. Kelly’s “I’m a Flirt” and the Broken Social Scene’s “Shoreline,” was flagged by the influential music blog Gorilla vs. Bear and “exploded attention,” Reidell says. “Suddenly people were looking into our music who weren’t just our buddies. We didn’t really intend to be DJs, but one of our friends invited us to host a party. It was a colossal mess, but fun. The whole experience encouraged us to get better.”

Though mash-ups have been around for decades, initially the province of the academic and electronic avant-garde worlds before sliding into pop during the hip-hop era, they are often perceived as gimmicky. In addition, copyright law puts most mash-ups on dicey legal ground. Yet artists such as Danger Mouse, with his 2004 “Grey Album” mix of Jay Z’s “Black Album” and the Beatles self-titled “white album,” or Girl Talk’s collage-like recombinations of pop hits, make the case for the mash-up as an art form.

“People use the phrase ‘mash-up artist’ a lot, and I raise my eyebrow at that,” Reidell says. “It begs the ‘Is it art?’ question to me. But if you’re doing it right, there is a bit of an art form to it. The cadences and pitch have to align. You can’t just carelessly slap tracks together and expect something good to happen.”

Reidell says he first heard the possibilities in the 1993 “Judgment Night” soundtrack, which brought together hip-hop and rock bands such as Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, and Slayer and Ice-T. “I thought it was ahead of its time,” he says. “It predated the rap-rock era, which wasn’t as interesting or thoughtful, with groups like Limp Bizkit.”

As fans of pop music, Reidell and Brink began doing mash-ups “just for fun --  a lot of it is designed to function in the DJ setting on the dancefloor.” With “Feat,” they tried to do something that would hold up outside the club. It posed a bigger challenge.

“The toughest part (of making this album) was aligning schedules,” Reidell says. “When we made ‘One for the Record’ with A.C. Newman and Sims, we never had either one of those guys in the room at the same time. We put down Newman’s parts first, had Sims listen to those choruses and base his writing on that. We wanted everyone to see it at every stage along the way, to feel like it was a true collaboration. There was a bit of anxiety when we passed it back to Newman whether he’d say he didn’t like it, but it worked out fine.”

The album’s casual genre-hopping might’ve been considered radical when he was a kid, Reidell says, but no more.

“I remember being in junior high and there was a distinct line between Nirvana and Dr. Dre fans,” he says. “But today, those boundaries don’t really exist. People digest singles from music blogs one at a time, and all genres seem to be in there. So our record doesn’t seem like it’s out of leftfield anymore.”

In that sense, “Feat” works more as a pop record than maybe even Reidell and Brink initially could have imagined when they started experimenting with mash-ups five years ago.

“When we started out, there was a bit of mash-up irony in that ‘Hey, look at Part A and B and now it’s C,’ ” he says. “We didn’t ignore that humor. I once mixed Kid Cudi with Cornelius and people hated it. Then Aaron mixed it with a Bon Jovi track, and people hated it even more. I went back a third time and slapped a 17-minute Sunn O))) song on it. We were trolling ourselves to a degree, just having fun with it. But whenever we put together a mix tape of our best stuff each year, or a record like this, it’s an honest attempt from two dudes who really like music. ”

The Hood Internet: 9 p.m. Friday at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., $16;

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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