It’s that moment when Ray Manzarek, co-founding member and keyboardist of The Doors, yells at Skrillex to “pump the living shit out of it, man” that you realize you have never seen a music documentary, or expirement, quite like Re:Generation.
Sponsored by the Grammys and Hyundai, Re:Generation pairs five DJs with a genre of music and artists from within that genre in order for each to make a unique collaborative song. Skrillex goes rock ‘n’ roll with the Doors in L.A; Mark Ronson goes jazz with the Dap-Kings, Zigaboo Modeliste, Erykah Badu,Trombone Shorty and Mos Def in New Orleans; legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier goes classical by orchestrating the Berklee College of Music’s symphony in Boston; the Crystal Method do Detroit soul and funk with Martha Reeves; and Pretty Lights heads to Nashville to work with legendary country singers Dr. Ralph Stanley and LeAnn Rimes.
Musically the results are somewhat mixed, but there is a strong message that though the equipment and sounds are changing, music from the present is built from a love of the past and the two can and do co-exist, whether we see it or not.
Each DJ makes an impression as a composer by the end of the film, and legendary hip-hop producer DJ Premier even becomes one as he tackles the classical genre. After hours of tutoring, Premier eventually has his track comprised of 11 different classical samples molded together and transcribed onto paper. With a little help from a conductor he eventually leads a symphony at the Berklee College of Music performing the song originally clipped together on his computer in his studio. Adding a verse from good friend Nas, Premier’s song entitled “Regeneration” is something very unique to hip-hop and his efforts in the film show that even after all these years, he is still a true student of music.
And moments like this are where Re: Generation thrives.
Moments like when Eryka Badu walks into a New Orleans studio to meet Mark Ronson and she reminds him of his drunk and flirty behavior when the two met briefly one night when he was spinning in Miami years ago. In fact, the Ronson collaboration may have been the smoothest, with an all star cast that also included Zigaboo Modeliste, the Dap Kings, Trombone Shorty, and Mos Def. While thinking of lyrics, Badu asks Trombone Shorty what he is having for lunch and the answer is gumbo, which Badu uses as a metaphor in crafting the song’s catchy lyrics.
The film’s most notable collaboration is between one of rock and roll’s most legendary groups the Doors and 24- year-old three time Grammy winning dubstep phenom Skrillex, who is just as popular as he is controversial. Though not the most challenging pairing for these two groups, it doesn’t seem like an easy task to convince the Doors into listening and creating dubstep. But by the end of the film it’s easy to see that these two parties, both with heavy ties to Los Angeles, formed a definitive bond in the making of their song, “Breakin’ a Sweat.” The track really takes from each what they are best at, with psychy guitar and keyboard loops from the Doors mixed with the electro-dub grind from Skrillex. And it’s hard not to smile when Doors drummer John Densmore admits he knows little about Skrillex but states, “my son wants your autograph.”
Re:Generation also shows what some music communities have lost, and how music still works to empower in the wake of hard times. The Crystal Method trekked out to Detroit to work with soul singer Martha Reeves. Reeves took the two out for a day to show them the sad decline of what was once one of America’s most thriving cities. In one of the scenes, they even witness the church where Reeves got her start being torn down. From this, the two groups attempted to make a song about the strength of Detriot with the message no matter how hard it gets, “we ain’t leavin.” This was probably the unlikeliest to be successful and it proved that way. Reeves and the Las Vegas duo never seemed to get on the right page when creating lyrics to the song and the connection wasn’t felt at least from an audience standpoint. The final product isn’t bad by any means; it just could have been so much more.
Another DJ who hit a bump in the road was Pretty Lights, and that “bump” was 84-year-old legendary country and bluegrass singer Dr. Ralph Stanley. Pretty Lights, real name Derrick Vincent Smith, decided on doing a remix of “Wayfaring Stranger,” but had a hard time directing the stubborn Stanley to do it any other way but his own. However Smith brought on the company of the very talented LeAnn Rimes to add a female component to the male dominated song. The final product oozes with the grittiness of Stanley, the beauty of Rhymes, and the glitchy electro undertones of Smith. It isn’t perfect, but it is unique.
Re:Generation is a success, and not because of its popular sponsors. The coming together of all these collaborators drives home the point that whether you’re making music behind a laptop or with a real instrument, you are a musician. The DJs in this film all recognize that the music that came before them is the reason that they are where they are today, and even some of the more doubtful guest collaborators walked out with a new appreciation for the work of the DJs. The innovation in the Re:Generation projects show that if the boundaries separating genres are broken down, there is truly no limit to the creativity that will come forth.