AUD210 Week 7: Sampling
This week I will be talking about sampling and in particular a commercially successful electronic music artist who is, for most people, myself included, extremely synonymous with the process of sampling. That artist is a Mr Norman Cook, AKA Fatboy Slim. The song I want to talk about in particular is his 1998 hit, The Rockafeller Skank. (Cook, John Barry, Winifred Terry).
The art of sampling, that is, the process of ‘borrowing’ a whole or portion of an already recorded sound and reusing it to create an instrument or new sound in a song, was a popular method for making music of all types long before Fatboy Slim’s now iconic ‘You’ve Come A Long Way Baby’ album was released. In fact, it dates back well into the very earliest days of magnetic tape recording. It came to the forefront of commercial pop music in the 1980’s, thanks to artist’s like Peter Gabriel, but it was behind the scenes in the electronic, dance, and hip-hop communities that sampling was beginning to become the hugely popular method that it is today. Especially in the case of hip-hop, a genre that was founded on taking the middle eight, or break, from a funk or disco song, looping it, and then MC'ing over the top. In the case of electronic music, the idea of creating new instruments and sounds through the use of random pieces of audio fit the experimental nature of those early proprietors perfectly. One of the earliest, widely available pieces of equipment for sampling was Fairlight CMI.
After a successful career making music with several different outfits during the 1980’s and 90’s, Cook would begin performing as a DJ under the name Fatboy Slim in 1996. He adopted a genre of electronic music at this time called Big Beat, a style that utilised heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns. By this time, sampling had become an important trait in dance music, as the ability to ignore boundaries and fuse together different styles was very appealing to DJ’s and their fans, who were both still keen on keeping their genre as experimental and groundbreaking as possible.
In the interview above for Bose, Cook talks about his process for creating his track 'The Rockafeller Skank'. He says that at that time in his career, circa 1996, he was running a club called The House Of Love in Brighton, UK, where he was able to test his creations to a live audience. His ambition was to make tracks that made the crowd ‘go nuts’. He notes that the idea for The Rockafeller Skank was spawned when he played a track during one of his DJ sets called Sliced Tomatoes, a 1972 dancefloor hit from musical brother duo, The Just Brothers.
Cook then came up with the idea of taking the opening lines from hip-hop artist Lord Finesse‘s track Vinyl Dog Vibe. He sampled the audio, then ‘chopped it up’, mapping different syllables and words on to the keys of his keyboard so he could play them in any order and tempo he saw fit. This is, today, one of the most common uses of sampling in commercial pop music. Now that he had his hook and his riff, and after a holiday to Bali where he was inspired by surf guitar music, he added a sample of the guitar line from John Barry’s ‘Beat Girl’, which was originally composed for the 1960 British film of the same name. Cook then added a further guitar sample from the track ‘Peter Gunn’ by Art OF Noise, and a drum fill sample from Bobby Fuller Four’s ‘I Fought The Law’. He then recorded a drum beat for it, and his Frankenstien's Monster was ready for the world.
The track made it to number six in the UK Singles Chart of June 1998 and was a huge success worldwide, launching Fatboy Slim into homes of people all over, electronic music fans and not alike. This track is a very good example of sampling done right, although, for Cook, that meant it was not the payday it could’ve been. He has commented that in order to clear the rights to be able to use the samples in the song, he had to give 100% of the royalties away, with him receiving no none from the song's sales at all.
Although sampling audio for music creation remains a hotly debated legal and moral debate, it shows absolutely no sign of going away, with more and more artist’s from more and more genres using every year. I personally enjoy it when it is done respectfully and tastefully because I believe a good idea can be expanded on and enjoyed again and again if done right. There is also newer and better equipment being released all the time, meaning the use of samples will become cheaper and easier as time goes on, furthering the poplualrty and use.