Frequencies: Amplive

HIGH SCOREDaring Radiohead, Zion-I and electronic makeovers advance Amplive's game
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HIGH SCOREDaring Radiohead, Zion-I and electronic makeovers advance Amplive's game

Nothing brings a music project to a screeching halt like a corporate smackdown. Late last year, Amplive received a cease and desist letter from Warner/Chappell — the suits behind Radiohead's In Rainbows — informing him that his Rainydayz Remixes record “created musical arrangements/remixes” without proper approval. So he suspended the project and turned to the Internet. The Oakland, Calif., producer and co-founder of hip-hop group Zion-I posted a video on YouTube declaring his adoration for Radiohead's music and their ingenious “name-your-price” strategy.

“I was scared. I didn't know it was going to be that serious. I really like Radiohead,” says Amplive, who asked Thom Yorke to give the project a chance. “But after talking with everybody, it felt like it was the best thing that could've happened. It got everybody's attention.”

The dispute spread like wildfire — thanks in part due to scenester blogs Stereogum and Pitchfork — and fans began posting “Free Amplive” images on the Internet. While the “Free Amplive” campaign paled in comparison to Martha Stewart's or Winona Ryder's, the message was loud and clear: Rainydayz Remixes needed to be heard. Ultimately, an agreement was reached between both parties, and the songs were made available for free. Going up against Radiohead may have been the best thing to happen to Amplive and Zion-I.

“I was happy that people took the time to listen and support me — it was like a movement,” he says. “I'm known in the hip-hop community, but in the indie scene and to hardcore Radiohead fans they don't know who I am. This kind of opened the door to them. The Internet is a monster.”

But this wasn't just some kid in a bedroom creating mash-ups for his friends. At the mention of Radiohead, Too $hort, MC Zumbi of Zion-I, Chali 2na of Jurassic 5, Codany Holiday and Del the Funky Homosapien jumped at the opportunity to collaborate for Rainydayz.

“The track ‘Nudez’ is actually a remix of a Zion-I song called ‘Don't Lose Your Head,’” Amplive says. “I took Too $hort's and Zumbi's vocals and tweaked them over the beat.” Meanwhile, for “Video Tapez” with Del, Amplive added some rugged and deep beats from an Akai MPC3000. But he's no one-trick-pony MPC beatmaker. “I like to make live instruments sound like samples,” he says. “I'll take live music and bounce it down, sample it and re-record it back in. Or I'll add static from records and noise and bounce it all together so it meshes. It gives it a rougher sound.”

When Amplive remixed a track on Linkin Park's Reanimation album, he had the luxury of working off of individual tracks from the original mix. Not so with In Rainbows. “In Rainbows forced me to make remixes a certain way,” admits Amplive, who has a Platinum Reanimation album on his studio wall. “When I did the Linkin Park remix, I took their actual studio session and tweaked out the vocals. It's a cleaner way to work. With Radiohead, I had to work straight off the CD.”

Before Radiohead and Linkin Park, one of his last remix projects involved taking old Zion-I songs and interpreting them based on the current sound of electronic-music scene for Electrowonderland Vol. 1 (Crystal House, 2005). Currently working on Vol. 2, Amplive admits that electronic music allows him to escape the hip-hop mold. “It's a way for me to get creative outside of hip-hop,” he says. “I can get away with whatever in electronic music; in hip-hop, you're kind of stuck. I do a lot of different type of stuff that I couldn't release through Zion-I.”

But the Radiohead project and his Electrowonderland series may have opened Pandora's box, as indie and electronic genres are playing bigger roles with Zion-I. On the duo's upcoming album, The Takeover (Live Up/!K7, 2008), due in September, elements of hip-hop are present, but Amplive suggests that there is a strong indie/electronic influence.

“I'm sure a lot of hip-hop people are gonna be like, ‘What the hell is this?’ It's much more soulful, more digital,” he says. “Zumbi and I wanted it to hit a lot of different places. It's not like dance or anything, but it's definitely a different feel than our other albums.”

Amplive's studio setup is fairly standard, including Pro Tools and Logic software; Yamaha Motif 6, Moog Minimoog and Roland Juno-6 synths; and Avalon Vt-737sp, Universal Audio 1176 and Neve preamps and compressors. But for Zion-I's stage show, he's incorporating an unusual item — namely a game console — to make the performance more interactive.

“I'll use [the Sony PSP game Traxxpad] for our live shows,” he says. “It lets me walk around the stage and change up the show format. I'm experimenting with live video feeds during our show; it keeps things live.”