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All about sampling – with three of the scene’s experts

By: Kristina Kirkliauskaitė Photos by: Various photographers. CAIVA slide photo: Manon. DJ T-1000 slide photo: Zee Marla Osh.

While music sampling has a history as old as the world itself, it still sparks varied perspectives among artists. This time, Playful explores music sampling together with DJ T-1000 (Alan Oldham), who is the Detroit-born, Berlin-based musician, label owner and DJ, CAIVA, a Berlin-based musician, producer and DJ, as well as with the Australian groove specialist, vinyl DJ and music producer – Tarkno (Jamie).

In this interview, DJ T-1000, CAIVA, and Tarkno discuss the "reuse of already-created music or its snippet," exploring its impact on the creative process and its influence on the development of the techno and electronic music scene.

As music sampling first emerged in the late 1970s in hip hop, it soon expanded across genres, evolving alongside the music landscape, various artist generations, and technological advancements. Starting his musical journey in the 80s, Alan remembers sampling as the "Wild West era" and explains:

"It's funny to talk about the early 90s hip hop era where everybody was sampling everyone, and nobody was clearing it up. It was really the 'Wild Wild West' era of music." Reflecting on sampling within the techno scene, Alan shares, "I don't really sample that much in my music. I think techno is about finding new sounds, not really about recycling old sounds. However, I'm not against it because some people can do unrecognizable samples and be creative."

Talking about sampling in today's underground scene, Tarkno, or Jamie, assumes that "every digital track is sampled" and continues saying:

"I've always been into sampling music. It's surprising how you can use a vocal for a baseline or turn a kick drum into a melody, playing with samples in unconventional ways. Even in DJing, when I layer tracks, I search for those with distinctive samples because a lot of music sounds similar, and a cool sample can make a track stand out. I believe sampling never stops as long as music exists. Someone discovers something unique, and it gets used again."

A glimpse into music sampling term

Music producers explore various techniques like layering, tempo changes, reversing, resampling, and others to experiment with sampling across different music genres. While analyzing music sampling, we encounter such terms as remix/re-edit, cover, and interpolation.

  • Music sampling is the practice rooted in the art of taking snippets of existing music and incorporating them into new compositions, e.g., Outlander's Vamp (1991) was sampled in Prodigy's World's on Fire (2009).

  • Remixing or re-editing alters some track parts and relying on the original, e.g., Maceo Plex did a remix (2018) of Remake's Blade Runner (1992).

  • A cover is a near-identical reproduction of a song without changing the basic structure, e.g., Gigi D'Agostino's Fly (1999) is a cover of Giancarlo Bigazzi's II Tempo Passa (1991).

  • Music interpolation replays parts note-for-note in a fresh context, e.g., SNAP! 's Rhythm Is a Dancer (1992) interpolates from Newcleus's Automan (1984).

DJ Caiva
CAIVA: Photo by Kilian Augustin

A catalyst for music rediscovery and inspiration

Music sampling can be a gateway to fresh ideas, creative exploration, and uncharted musical territories. And as CAIVA phrases, "it opens so many possibilities", and continues saying:

"With sampling, you can craft entirely new music that carries unique meanings, emotions, and motions. I think sampling can be pretty cool and can be maybe even more creative than other techniques."

CAIVA reflects on her experiment with the iconic 90s track "Follow Me" by X-Ray when she created her own re-edit as an inquiry for one 90s remix project:

"I have a personal connection to this track as it was on a CD of trance music my parents had. It's one of the first trance tracks I've ever heard, making it a perfect choice for me to work on during the project. I made a cover version of the vocal, recording my own while retaining the lyrics and vibe. The end result sounded like something I could have written myself, and even though I used the same lyrics, the different voice gives it a unique vibe compared to the original."

She also mentions:

"I think after this, I felt even more inspired by 90s music. It actually inspired me not to sample more but to try to create drums that captured the 90s vibe, all on my own, so that experience was a nice twist in that direction."

Adding to that, Jamie considers music sampling as a tool for the learning process, "a good source of inspiration," and shares his experience:

"I've always used samples and sampling to get inspired or to find and figure out how something was done in my productions. I'll mostly sample music in a way that changes it so much that you can't even tell what it was originally. And then when I'm playing music, I'm also looking for tracks with a unique iconic sample that will get people on the dance floor listening and paying attention, or they might recognise something."

Tarkno Techno DJ

The legal line of music sampling

Although it was all fun and games before the 2000s, the rebellious music sampling raised many ethical concerns, which became different copyright laws globally. The most significant are the United States Copyright Act and European Directive 2001/29/EC, which requires artists to be mindful of territorial variations and the evolving challenges of digital sampling, ensuring that creativity aligns with legal boundaries.

Discussing ethical concerns in music sampling, Alan recounts a personal incident where another producer sampled one of his tracks:

"Back in 2011, I was in Berlin hanging out with a friend in his flat. I remember him putting a random mix. And then I started hearing this track come in. And it sounded like me, it sounded like someone stole my track. I didn't even know that DJ. Then I saw the actual name, so he just took the whole fucking thing, adding just a kick underneath."

Alan continues saying:

"Honestly, it's not cool. I felt ripped off, but what could I do? I looked it up on Discogs, and the record was already out. What's the point of getting a hold of this guy? Or tracking down the actual DJ and confronting him? At a certain point, you're like, Well, you know, there's nothing you can do about it. Some artists just rip off people's stuff, take it, put a new spin on it, and pass it off as their own. It's unethical and disrespectful to the original creators."

CAIVA agrees on ethical considerations and describes it as a "tiny line of music sampling" unless it's done ethically. CAIVA shares her experience of creating the "Fatigue" EP when she asked other fellow DJs to do remix versions of two tracks – "Vigour" and "Take Me Higher":

"I asked Trudge to do a remix of 'Take Me Higher', and he took highlights from my track and adapted them to his style while maintaining that heavenly eternal vibe, which the original has. And I loved that. A completely different thing happened when Julian Muller did a remix for my track 'Vigour', which originally carried that deep, dark and heavy vibe. Julian turned it into something positive and easy. I think it's unique because a remix gives me a completely new interpretation of my track."

It serves as a good example of how a form of sampling can work with proper consent, and CAIVA adds to it by saying:

"The key difference is that I requested the remix of my track. Because if someone worked hard to create an original composition, it can be unfair just to take one's ideas, dress it up a bit, and then just call it your own. Unlike sampling, where people just use your stuff, I initiated this collaboration. And I think it's quite a good example of how you can sample stuff."

Adding to Alan and CAIVA, Jamie highlights another ethical point of music sampling:

"I think restrictions are in place. The problem arises when the biggest artists worldwide are sampling a lot, like using samples from all the top 100 songs in one way or another. They can't then expect their songs not to be sampled. I think it's kind of hypocritical, right? If you're just taking someone's song and re-releasing it under your name, that's not even sampling, let's be honest."

Prospects of music sampling

Living at the peak of technological development and advanced tools, sampling digital versions of music becomes even more accessible for everyone. Jamie highlights the increasing possibilities in music sampling:

"In electronic music, a significant portion relies on samples, as the genre is built around distorting and transforming sounds from various sources into something new. So, I think sampling will only get more and more intense."

Thinking about the near future of the music scene, Jamie reflects on a possible turn of music sampling progression:

"I think, in the future, particularly electronic music could be 100% sampled. While other genres like orchestral or jazz might still involve live instruments, the digital nature of electronic music makes complete sampling a logical progression." He continues by saying, "I believe people will increasingly use AI as a tool in music production. While I'm unsure if it will completely take over, I imagine AI assisting with mundane tasks to free up time for more important creative aspects. This also includes the sampling part."

However, creating a solid sample demands know-how and creativity. Alan also shares his thoughts related to digital advancements within music sampling and its detection:

"As much as people still find ways to sample, it's becoming harder to do so without notice. Now, when you put a track on YouTube or Bandcamp, the algorithms can track down the source of a sample, and if you discover an unauthorized sample of your track, you can report it or request its removal from streaming services. It's more actionable now, compared to the past."

Old and damn good vinyl

As sampling took deep roots within the digital music industry, some artists are exploring vinyl sampling as a unique path, connecting with analogue sound and repurposing vintage records for fresh creations. Being a true vinyl guru, Jamie shares his opinion on this:

"Vinyl is still underground. I mean, it has always been underground. This music was made in a pre-internet era, where there wasn't much influence on the music and pressure from social media on how to produce music. This feels organic and reflects a time when creative expression was more personal and less digitally mediated. It feels very natural (therefore) people want to sample vinyl more."

However, creating a clean and high-quality sample from vinyl isn't that easy using some software. Jamie explains why vinyl sampling can be a hassle:

"Number one is the quality of your equipment. So if you're using a good stylus, a good cartridge, a good turntable, and a good audio recorder or something, this whole setup alone might cost you at least $1,000."

Jamie also mentions the high costs of vinyl itself:

"Another thing is that records are pretty expensive. You can buy cheap, three, five euro records, but those will probably be banged up. And they won't sound that good when you're trying to sample it."

Advice for emerging artists

Sampling is a huge part of the electronic music industry regardless of its positive or negative aspects. Therefore, Alan shares his advice to other emerging artists to try to beat the algorithm and be as original as possible:

"If you want to use the sample, that's perfectly okay. But see what you can do, like take the track apart, flip it or give it a unique twist to make it more original and personal to you. I would tell anyone to be as original as possible. It may take longer to achieve success. But the good news is once you succeed, you can say, you know what, I'm completely original. Alan continues by saying, "If you're in a situation where the algorithms will find the sample, it forces you to be creative with the sample to beat the algorithm. Have that creative mentality like, okay, I'm gonna beat the algorithm."

DJ T-1000 / Alan Oldham. Photo: Zee Marla Osh

Adding to Alan, CAIVA encourages artists to view sampling as a supportive element rather than the centerpiece of their creation:

"When I use a sample, it's never my main element. It's important to make sure that it's not in the center and use it when something is missing, and you're just looking for another element. Then, I just adapt the samples to my track and ensure it's still my original track. And I think that's quite a nice way to avoid this copy-paste thing."

She also suggests exploring samples not just in existing tracks but also in your surroundings:

"For me, it was important to realize that samples can be found anywhere. While many people download sample packs, I encourage exploring beyond that. Look for inspiration in movies, other music genres, or even the world around you, like cities with random noises and natural sounds. It's not just about coping but discovering unique and unexpected sources for your creations. So, I advise experimenting with different sources like these."

Concluding the interview, Jamie suggests seeking inspiration from more niche music sources:

"Use vinyl, go to a record shop, and don't just pick whatever is popular. Rather, look at the section of the old used vinyl or find something that's not online. If you want to sample, try to bring something interesting to the table. It should be something that represents you. Go into a record store, listen to 1000 records, and find one that resonates with you. Don't just sample music because it's on the internet or popular. Try to sample music because you actually feel something authentic when you listen to it."

Explore more of

DJ T-1000 / Alan’s Instagram, Soundcloud, Resident Advisor


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