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Listen Up, You!

Photo via waitwhat

If you haven’t heard of wait what yet, your playlist is due for an update. Wait what, (aka Columbia alum Charlie Kubal, CC ’08) released his first album last Thursday called The Notorious xx (click for free download), a mash up of Biggie and The xx. It’s caught on: NYMag, Prefix Mag, and the general worldwidewebz have given the mashup their kudos. Charlie, who currently lives in San Fransisco, started out DJing in high school and was once in a band called Jubala. He’s played sets at bars and house parties, but recently has been more into creating new tracks. Here’s what has to say about his music and his time at Columbia.

Columbia’s influence

Columbia played a pretty substantial role for me — I did shows on WBAR for a couple semesters, recorded tracks in my room in McBain, and got to take classes from two of the most awesome music professors you could imagine: Brad Garton and Terry Pender at the Computer Music Center on 125th. ADP and Postcrypt were both really cool venues to check out new music, too.

The Columbia music scene was definitely getting better during my time — there were some awesome artists there: Vampire Weekend obviously leading the pack, but also Supraliminal, The Stolen Cars, Live+Direct, Kane, Reni Laine, Anton Glamb, Farm to Market — lots of people doing really cool stuff.

One thing that’s tough about Columbia is the tendency, that I found, for Columbia kids’ baseline attitude to be to dislike something — there’s a unique brand of hate that Columbia kids tend to have for new things, as if an implicitly negative attitude makes your opinion more compelling. I was guilty of this too, and when the Varsity Show touched on it (my Senior year, so ’08), and it really resonated.

How would you characterize your taste in music? How do you decide who you’re going to mix?

I like a ton of different music, and think that for any given situation, activity, or emotional state, there’s an ideal musical accompaniment. I like a lot of hip-hop, some indie rock, some straight pop — it kind of runs the gamut. One thing I try really hard to do is not let an artist’s popularity influence whether I like a song — the idea of a hipster not liking a band only because they’re popular is just as absurd, to me, as a 12-year-old not liking a song because it’s not on Now 57.

As for deciding what to mix, I usually look for thematic connections. I kind of think of it as similar, in a way, to doing a literary analysis of two texts, and comparing and contrasting. My hope with tracks I make is that people see who’s being put together, don’t immediately get the connection, but then after listening they appreciate the combination.

When and how did this particular album start? Any particular reasons why you chose Biggie and The xx in particular to mix an entire album?

I did all the initial demos for this album during a three week span in January, and the project first came about by putting together Juicy and VCR. I was visiting my sisters for their birthday (they’re twins, hence: two sisters, one birthday) at Williams, and was thinking back on all their former birthdays, and for some reason conjured this image of the Super Nintendo next to the VCR that used to be in our family room. The Biggie line about ‘Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis’ from Juicy and the chorus from VCR popped into my head, and I wanted to hear what they’d sound like together.

I think of different kinds of music as perfect fits for certain situations, and in a lot of ways The xx and Biggie are opposites — you listen to Biggie at a bar or club surrounded by friends, you hear The xx most often in iPod earbuds, alone. I became really intrigued by the idea of Biggie, as ‘extroverted’ music, stripped down and put over the xx, which I think of as ‘introverted’ music, and still matching up tracks that explored some similar lyrical themes.

You talked about different kinds of nostalgia going on in juicy-r. Would you say there’s an overall theme to the album?

So for people familiar with the xx’s record, I used every track of their album, in order, when I made this project. I had a whiteboard that I basically wrote tags of adjectives for each track on the album, and then also for about 30 Biggie tracks. Some of them were obvious matches from the outset, but some took a couple demos to really get down.

As far as a theme for the album, it’s dictated a bit by the themes of The xx’s album, but part of my aim was to create something that showcased both artists in such a way that fans of just Biggie or just The xx would appreciate the contributions from the other artist. I guess you could say the theme for the album was this notion of the extrovert meets the introvert.

Why did you decide to mash up the videos as well? Are there more videos coming?

The video mashup came together kind of last minute — I thought of it at work on the Tuesday before the record came out last week, and posted it that night. Since videos can sometimes show thematic elements of the songs more clearly that the songs on their own, video mashups can be a cool way to make a stronger link between the two original works. I don’t have any plans for another video right now, but could definitely see myself putting one together in the future — either for this project or a future project.

Every month, you also put a mix together on How did this start? Where do you find you find your new songs? started actually when I was a sophomore in high school — each month, I carefully put together a mix of songs that I wanted to hear in the car that month, cramming as much as I could onto an 80 minute CD. I did things like bucket similar tracks with each other and put movie quotes or voicemails as skits to connect between different bunches of tracks.

My friends started asking me for copies of the mixes, and before long I was burning a dozen CDs and handing them out each month. When I got to college, I mailed them to friends for awhile, but no one really listens to physical CDs that much anymore, so I started the site in January 2007 to help spread music I liked to people.

I find the songs through a lot of different places: friends’ recommendations, Pandora, Hype Machine, blogs, things I hear in cafes — really, anywhere there’s music playing. I probably listen to a couple hundred new songs a month, but I’m definitely always looking for new recommendations.

Wait what has a few more one-off tracks on Facebook and plans to release more  soon, so stay tuned!

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  • alums yes, but... says:

    @alums yes, but... Did Vampire Weekend even record a demo before they graduated? I don’t think Columbia students or alums can really claim them as “obvious” artists in The Columbia music scene. You just “obviously” didn’t go to (m)any shows on campus.

    1. charlie says:

      @charlie bwog, thanks so much for covering my project — really appreciate it!

      @reply 1: “there’s a unique brand of hate that Columbia kids tend to have, as if an implicitly negative attitude makes your opinion more compelling.” VW, is, to me, the leader of the pack of awesome bands at Columbia from 05-08 — they played their first shows at ADP in 07, and got third (out of 4) bands at the ESC battle of the bands that year, I believe.

      @reply 2: word! brad garton’s the man! :)

  • woohoo says:

    @woohoo Brad Garton is the greatest Music Hum prof ever!

  • Alumette says:

    @Alumette Thanks for this bwog! Great music and I wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.

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