Coined by pioneer John Oswald in the mid-eighties, ‘plunderphonics’ is music comprised entirely of samples of copyrighted music, spliced and warped to the limits of recognisability. It’s a genre of celebration and cultural catalogue — as with Oswald’s own 20-minute long Plexure (1992), a whistle-stop montage that turns a decade’s worth of CD singles into a disorientating sample carousel. It’s also an underdog in an eternal battle against snobbery within the musical establishment, and the big record companies who’ll most often rattle off cease-and-desists to its artists.
The Avalanches are primarily responsible for bringing plunderphonics into the mainstream. Their whole discography is delectable both as fresh music and as a delightful exercise in sample-spotting; they released their glorious second album last year.
An album entirely composed from TV commercial samples from the eighties and nineties.
Of similar ilk is the playful Ruckus Roboticus and the anarchic Girl Talk, both of whom skirt the line well between plunderphonic spirit and accessibility. There’s also the entrancing breaks of DJ Shadow and the ambient soundscapes of Oneohtrix Point Never’s Replica, an album entirely composed from TV commercial samples from the eighties and nineties.
Plunderphonics is a rebellion, a reclamation of that which is already successful and recognisable.
Those with a taste for the avant-garde might look to the tongue-in-cheek Negativland, whom courted ire from Island Records for their riffs on U2’s ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ (both versions of which are greatly amusing listens).
Plunderphonics is a rebellion, a reclamation of that which is already successful and recognisable — indeed, the plunderphonic subgenre of vaporwave is about turning banal, obliquely commercial music into a parody of itself. It also used to be a bit more impressive, back when every edit was performed through tape splicing; you couldn’t just load some 80s muzak into Audacity, slow it down a bit, and release it on your Bandcamp as vaporwave.
But the democratization of music-making means that the genre won’t stop growing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the pop singles of today might, in decades, be transformed into something new.