Genius Steals: The Return of The Kleptones28th April 2017
Great news, The Kleptones are back together and will release a new album this year. It’ll be one of the highlights of the year.
Almost everything about that intro is wrong. The Kleptones aren’t a band, they aren’t back together, and there’s no question of them ever releasing an album. If they did, lawyers from every part of the globe would descend like a murder of crows, ready to feast. For The Kleptones, or rather the DJ and producer who styles himself Eric Kleptone, is probably the greatest mashup artist working. But he’ll never be able to sell a single vinyl or download, because all his music is cannibalised from other artists; music repositioned, repurposed, re-imagined. Result? We get great music free, thanks, but Eric doesn’t get paid for it, or at least not by us.
Still, the bit that’s true is after a couple of years of silence, Eric is scheduled to deliver a bunch of new work this year. He told The OxStu he is currently demo-ing a mountain of new material. ‘I’m not 100% sure exactly what form the end result will take, as I’m trying to keep it as open as possible and let the content determine the form.’ It looks like we can expect four of his Hectic City mixtapes, each one with an accompanying Kleptones EP, with a full album to follow.
In perhaps his greatest achievement to date the concept double album ‘24hrs’ (self-explanatory) he asks: ‘Am I a Robin Hood or just a robbin’ ghet?’ It’s a silly question: he’s just a true artist. In the world of music, rather than the music-business, mashups are the very stuff of composition.
Composers have always stolen freely from each other. They do it for laughs, for the joy of it, to honour or subvert their subject. JS Bach did it outrageously in the very last of the Goldberg Variations, finding a way to introduce drinking songs (cf. ‘Cabbage and turnips drive me away’) in a way which triumphantly restores humanity after all that sublimity. Talking of sublimity, it’s very doubtful the Allegri ever wrote the ‘Miserere’ as you know it: others added those soaring top notes.
Franz Liszt could barely sit at a piano without riffing on someone else’s music. His friend Wagner, being Wagner, decided the only composer worth mashing-up to was himself – that’s what musicologists are talking about when they ‘trace the development of the Ring Cycle’s leitmotifs’.
It can be a tricky business. Of course Duran Duran is better when teamed with the Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra – who could ever have doubted it? Yes, if Elton John had an ounce of sense he’d have mixed it up with Rage Against the Machine long before Eric got round to making the introductions. But does zillionaire Black Panther lookey-likey Beyonce really want to find herself in a duet with Phil Collins (the whitest man ever)? What sort of a world would that be?
At his best, though, Eric raises the stakes even higher, and justifies his project as he does it. Consider, for example, how he plays with John Lennon’s inescapable lullaby ‘Imagine’ on 24hrs. Full disclosure, listening to ‘Imagine’ is the intestinal equivalent of chewing down six bags of Haribos. The white piano, the drugs, the utter awfulness of Lennon at the time – who doesn’t gag? In 24hrs, instead of Lennon whining about world peace, we get Marc Bolan manically whooping ‘It’s a ripoff’ outrage over that babysteps piano. It’s the comment the song really needs and deserves. Better still, the piano is itself ripped from a ‘cover version’. Feel free to savour the multiple ironies, but the real news is that… it’s great and life-affirming and I want to hear it again and again.
It doesn’t stop there. Late on in the double album, he redeems the song entirely, twinning the original version with the Super Furry Animals ‘It’s Not the End of the World’ in a thing of real beauty. And in the end, for all the tricksy-ness, for all the technical bravura and legal bravado, what matters about the Kleptones is that what is being produced is great and original music. Which is why it’s such news that the Kleptones are back together and will release a new album this year. It’ll be one of the highlights of the year.