What excites me most about Portishead DJ Andy Smith’s The Document, the zaniest mix-CD ever released through major-league (and probably even minor-league) distribution, is how seamlessly Smith mixes from Marvin Gaye’s “T Plays It Cool” into Tom Jones “Looking Out My Window” or from “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” into Peggy Lee’s version of “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.” This is the kind of DJ I always thought I’d be when I first started learning how to mix. Sick of hearing the same-old at this Club X, I would use my ridiculously eclectic tastes in music to spin the craziest, most all-over-the-map sets ever. Ha, fat chance!
Once you learn how difficult it is to mix two records from even the same genre together, you start to understand why you rarely hear unbridled eclecticism in the clubs. Electronic dance music dominates the dance floor because it’s, well, electronic. Or, to get technically precise for a moment here, electronic music is quantized. That is, all notes played fall on the nearest specified beat and maintain an exact rhythmic position throughout the entire song. Songs played by silly little humans, on the other hand, are by nature going to be off the beat a little (or a lot, depending on the skill of the musician) making it incredibly difficult to match the beats of two such records. Incredibly difficult but not impossible. Andy Smith does it here.
And I greatly admire the skill with which he mixes Jeru the Damaja into the Meters into the James Gang. You know (or should know) what “Cissy Strut” sounds like but you’ve never heard it in and out of “Funk #49” and “Come Clean” and that’s where all the drama of The Document lies for me. And, needless to say, I admire just the fact that Smith even knows about such records and took the time to figure out whether or not they’d work together. DJs can be a mighty myopic bunch and it’s refreshing to hear one with such a gluttonous passion for music. There’s one crucial element I’ve neglected to mention so far, an ingredient that a DJ does a lot of existential wrestling with — an audience. I’m still not sure how well The Document dances.
The question is can Smith himself find an audience for this? This isn’t to suggest that one doesn’t exist. If pressed, I’d say this would go over quite well at a Grand Royal magazine party. The Beasties & Co. would get off on the camp of Peggy Lee and the groove of the Meters that the B-Boys tried to emulate on Check Your Head.