"We've always used the limitations of the band as a creative tool almost."
U2 Lists: Top 5 U2 Remixers
January 24, 2013
[Ed. note: This is the 46th in a "U2 Lists" series, where @U2 staffers pick a topic and share their personal rankings on something U2-related.]
As a U2 fan, it's easy to find strong opinions on the band's work. You can debate about what decade they made their best music in or which tour was the most heavenly or which band member is the most valuable/is the most talented/has the worst hair (I still vote for Larry's greasy slick-backed Vertigo tour mess). However, one topic seems to especially irritate some U2 fans: remixes. Remixes can offer new perspectives on songs that were previously familiar. In the hands of a talented remixer, previously hidden currents in the song are brought to the top and explored. The band has had some insipid, downright bad remixes. They unfortunately rely on them more and more as B-side filler, rather than releasing original material. In a couple cases, they've made entire U2.com fan club exclusive releases out of them. I don't know of a single person who would say The B-Sides 1990-2000 was better than The B-Sides 1980-1990. The nadir are the assorted "Mofo" remixes.
For good or ill, remixes have become a standard part of U2's catalog. Some of these remixes have become fundamental parts of major U2 productions, such as the Fish Out Of Water remix of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" (which U2 opened shows with for the final leg of the U2 360 tour) or the Perfecto remix of "Lemon" (the soundtrack of the intermission for part of PopMart). U2 have also built relationships with their remixers that have lasted beyond specific eras or tracks. Here are U2's best remixers.
Paul Oakenfold is a British remixer who got his musical start in the late 1970s playing soul music in Covent Garden in London. After moving into remixing in Ibiza, Spain, in the 1980s he collaborated with U2 for the first time on the Perfecto remix of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" in 1992. Both that and his remix of "Lemon" scored higher in the charts than the studio versions of the songs. His last U2 remix was in 2001 with "Beautiful Day," but he obviously has fans in the U2 camp and I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest to see the Perfecto name gracing some U2 remixes in the future.
My favorite Perfecto remixes are for "Mysterious Ways," "Even Better Than The Real Thing" and "Beautiful Day." I don't like that he repeated the same verse twice in the "Mysterious Ways" remix, but he evidently got some sweet new guitar work from The Edge that didn't appear in the studio version of the song. He also gave the remix a soaring, lifted quality that contrasted well with the down-to-earth hip-shaking of the album version. His remix of "Even Better Than The Real Thing" completely captured the dance club ethos that influenced so much of Achtung Baby. Hearing Edge's signature guitar riff through the programmed beats and choral backing vocals creates a perfect complement to the rock version on the album.
The Perfecto remix of "Beautiful Day" gets off to a slow start, but Oakenfold made the superb decision to accent Edge's undulating guitars that move through the stratosphere of the bridge in the studio version. In the Perfecto remix, they're much more present in the choruses and are brought to the front of the bridge in a way that really reinforces the lyrics of the bridge: "See the world in green and blue, see China right in front of you, see the canyons broken by clouds, see the tuna fleets clearing the sea out." The bridge is the purest moment that has ever happened in a U2 remix.
Fish Out Of Water/Matt Paul and Declan Gaffney
Matt Paul and Declan Gaffney are English remixers who uses the collaborative name Fish Out Of Water. They have worked with artists such as Foals, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Hot Chip and Babyshambles.
The Fish Out Of Water remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" is pretty forgettable, but the remix of "Get On Your Boots" is one of the best things to come out of the song. It harkens back to some of the "Staring At The Sun" remixes that came during the Pop era. It's lumbering, sleazy undeniable, and it gets grime on everything it touches, much like many of the remixes from the the album.
Fish Out Of Water really knocked it out of the park with their remix of "Even Better Than The Real Thing." Always one of my favorite U2 songs due to its rolling, cyclical energy and fantastic lyrics, the track had almost seemed forgotten by the band after its appearances early during the Elevation tour. Larry, bless his heart, suggested they bring it back for when they were getting ready to launch the final leg of the U2 360 tour. This is a remix truly worthy of the title "Even Better Than The Real Thing." It maintains the rolling, circular feel of the Achtung Baby version, but with a new rhythm and guitars and electronic effects that give a wonderful effect of elevating and descending, similar to Jacknife Lee's 7-inch remix of "Vertigo." It's a bit of a shame that it sounds too tinny and that they dropped the fantastic "We're free to fly the crimson sky, the sun won't melt our wings tonight" from the remix, but when Edge's guitars started repeating at the start of a U2 360 show, it was pee-your-pants exciting.
Quick tip of the hat to Trent Reznor for the genius move of taking "I Will Follow's" bass line and putting it into his remix of "Vertigo."
François Kevorkian is a French DJ, remixer and producer. He worked in New York clubs in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including Club 54. He has remixed songs for Depeche Mode, Moloko, Kraftwerk, Goldfrapp, LCD Soundsystem and Mick Jagger.
The Kevorkian remixes of "Two Hearts Beat As One" and "New Year's Day" got U2 started on their remix kick. They followed up with his Celtic Dub remix of "Wire" in 1985 and the 12-inch Vocal remix of "Wire," although that didn't get released until the Unforgettable Fire remaster in 2009. What I appreciate the most about Kevorkian's remixes is that they were not as heavy-handed as many of the more recent U2 remixes. His versions were almost immediately recognizable as their namesakes, even if certain structures in the songs were missing or altered. One thing U2 do with some of their remixes that I love is adding material to them that isn't in the studio versions of the songs. For instance, vocals are added or changed in the soundtrack remix of "Stay (Faraway, So Close!)," the Howie B, Hairy B remix of "Discothèque" and the Butch Vig remixes of "Dirty Day." There are new guitars in the Perfecto remix of "Mysterious Ways." Kevorkian found perhaps the most effective use of this tactic in U2's remix history with the new opening vocals in his remix of "New Year's Day":
You won't hold me, hold me down
The new image of a prisoner in his cell still fits well with the prior images of revolution and protest. This is a perfect example of a worthy remix, a track that adds to the overall understanding of the song rather than just muddling it.
Andy Holt is a British artist who worked with U2 on remixes of "Magnificent" and "Vertigo." His remixes of those songs weren't bad by any means, but they also weren't particularly revelatory or unique. However, his work shone for millions of fans at U2 concerts when the band decided to use a combination of his Kick The Darkness remix and Dirty South's remix of "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" on their U2 360 tour. Although the studio version of the song has grown on me, I was very underwhelmed by "I'll Go Crazy..." when No Line On The Horizon first came out. It seemed like a generic, limply safe song surrounded by more ambitious works.
When it got its dance club remake for the tour, though, I was an instant convert. The band played the both the album and the remix versions at an early U2 360 show and it wasn't even a contest. Bono and Larry in particular played up the new vocal and drumming opportunities the remix offered. Combined with the giant clapping images of the band on the video screen and the mirrorball effect, this remix became an island of dance energy in the middle of a rock concert ocean. From a band that people love to say is too predictable these days, it was very surprising.
Here's a link to our forums with the story of how the remix came to be a part of the show.
(c) @U2/Ryan, 2013