Sample or plagiarism? 10 secret stories behind tracks which you know for sure

Écrit par Sinah Vonderweiden
Le 11.03.2016, à 15h15
09 MIN LI-
Écrit par Sinah Vonderweiden
Sampling: The last ten years raised the question of it’s limits again and again.

The practise of sampling has often been dragged in the mud, even more often than you might think: The work habits of Moby, the polemics of the plagiarism of Daft Punk, the history of Cerrone or the “scandals” of “Blurred Lines” and “Hotline Bling“. One might doubt these stories secretly (as we all close the eyes to the facts sometimes), but some of our major electronic hits have a double life, far away from the charts and sequins.

They are sound brothers or sisters, or even sound-twins. But even if sampling now became a generally accepted techinque in the world of music, the musician himself usually still crunches his teeth when he is judging the artistic influence which seems too “flagrant” in the piece of music, and cries out that it’s a plagiatory. So, the whole problem is about defining where the line between sampling and plagiarism, between influence and theft is located. And it’s often very thin and questionable. This problem in mind, back to the ten big pieces of couch potatoes, these great electronic tracks that show the “copied sample” and the influences it includes.

1/ Massive Attack – Safe From Harm / Billy Cobham – Stratus (3:05)

In the tradition of his precursors, drummer Billy Cobham published his first jazz fusion album Spectrum in 1973. The delicious and entirely instrumental album, includes large periods of improvisation and complex rhythms borrowed from funk and rock music. It’s particularly “Stratus”, a song of nine minutes, which caught the eye of Massive Attack, the legendary Trip-Hop group that overran England during the 90s.

The bass / drum combo of Cobham was the foundation for “Safe From Harm”, a famous title of the first album of the British group. The sample is today the most famous track of massive Attack, but also the most outrageous. Through the official website, 3D, founder member of the group, explains how they used “Stratus” and more generally how they practise their way of sampling.

“Working with a sample like that, you can’t go wrong. The groove is just enormous. The utilisation of it pulls together what was going on at the time, where we took four different measures, just to get one loop. It was an anarchic manner of constructing a song with kind of extensive pulsations. And that’s what it was. ‘Safe From Harm’ particularly reflects this spirit.”

2/ Hooverphonic – 2Wicky / Isaac Hayes – Walk On By

Contacted by phone, Alex Callier, one of the founder memebers of Hooverphonic (also behind the fantastic “Mad About You“), seems to have a vision of sampling, close to the one of 3D. But he explains his working manners more poetical: “I percieve that sampling is like a collage, like an artist is sticking together his pieces of paper. For ‘2 Wicky’ we apprehended the sample of Isaac Hayes and Pierre Henry (the latter influence is not so obvious in the piece, the editor’s note) like a colour, a shade supplementary to our lineup. This is pure creativity.”

Even though Alex recognized the sampling technology as a primary tribute, he remindes that every artist must respect the sampled piece and that there have to be moral limits: “For example what Robin Thicke et Pharrell Williams did in ‘Blurred Lines’ with the song of Marvin Gaye is defenitely beyond competition.” But on the other side Alex confesses his desire to be sampeled. “Honestly, I’d love that ‘Mad About You’ is sampled”, and likes to say: “We should wait until we are a little older, so that Raymond and me would be ready to finally be sampled.”

This technique, which Alex mentions subtl at the end of the interview, shows a completely different dimension. We imagine him directly in the lab with some tweezers and a pipette in his hand, sitting gently motionless in front of his microscope. But sampling has a joker: it is required.

Bonus: The guitar glissando of Issac Hayes in (at 1:37) was also reused by Compton’s Most Wanted in “Hood Took Me Under“.

3/ Jon Hopkins – Light Through The Veins / Coldplay – Life in Technicolor

With no less than four studio albums, the brilliant british producer Jon Hopkins managed to gild a tinted shield of melacholia and cinematic electronica, which gives appetite. The artists of all horizons already collaborated with this formation (Imogen Heap, King Creosote, Brian Eno, the choreographer Wayne McGregor…).

Especially if we listen to his 2008 album Insides, one thing is pretty obvious: the melody of “Light Through The Veins” was made up from two unchanged Coldplay songs that were produced the same year for the album Viva La Vida. The explanation appears when we see that Hopkins participated in the production of the disc. By the way, during a rehearsal session the young producer showed his song to singer Chris Martin, who was captivated right away.

By common consent they decided that the electronic prose “Light Through The Veins” would become the opening of the Coldplay album entitled “Life In Technicolor”. In this regard, Hopkins said in an interview with Billboard: “There was a kind of fantastic effect. Something seemed to have triggered. Then a few days later, Chris said we must start our album with this.”

Things then accelerated for Hopkins. The worldwide succes of Viva La Vida was the springboard. Finally, Hopkins opened their world tour in 2008 with it. What a huge promotion! We see here an option to work more in common (like a give and take) rather than a genuine use of the sampling itself.

4/ Daft Punk – Robot Rock / Breakwater – Release The Beast

On the huge virtual platform Reddit, the debate on the question of the “legitimacy” of Daft Punk being authors of some of their songs, swings between “uncreative” and “genius”. Many of them are considered as “copied samples”. The clearest example is with no doubt their song “Robot Rock”. The idea is drawn from “Release The Beast” in 1980 by Breakwater: the same rhythm and guitars, the same temporality and the same break of drums… did Daft Punk just bring in the electronic beats and a robotic voice?

We find only little information on Breakwater, the band split up just after the release of their second album, in the beginning 80s. Only Kae Williams Jr, who died in 2008, stayed in the music business and continued to produce some gold nuggets of funk in his studio in Philadelphia. So credit goes to Daft Punk for creating a modern version of this nostalgic track.

5/ Stardust – Music Sounds Better With You / Chaka Khan – Fate

We have all heared of Stardust, this transient group of Alan Braxe, Benjamin Diamond and Thomas Bangalter (one of the two members of Daft Punk) that invented the sound “French Touch” with only one piece of music. With some sampled seconds of “Fate” from Chaka Khan, the hit was sold about two million times all over the world and stayed in the charts for several weeks in multiple countries.

Gladly the choice of “Fate” was a fluke. Benjamin Diamond, the singer, told us: “We were preparing for a live gig in the studio of Guy-Manuel (the other half of Daft Punk, the editor’s note) and I had a few sample discs with me. We stumbled over ‘Fate’ of Chaka Khan. But it was really the expertise of Thomas Bangalter, who was able to locate the intro and used it to produce the track.”

But asked about the copyright of an author, he get’s stuck: “Initially, we made a request to ‘copyright clearance’ (which gives permission, the editor’s note), experiencing a refuse later. As the disk was already released and Virgin was about to commercialise it, Emmanuel de Buretel (director of Virgin Publishing France, the editor’s note) had to come up with it and had to do a phonecall himself. Some rights holders consistently refused the use of this method, like Ennio Morricone. So in this case, it is impossible to realise an official release of the track. We can always do a “bootleg” or post it on Soundcloud, but his life will be restricted, it’s for example out of question to make a music video.”

6/ Justice – Newjack / The Brothers Johnson – You Make Me Wanna Wiggle (0:18)

Spotlight on the two brushheads George and Louis who form, of course, The Brothers Johnson, an amarican group from the 70s. Interesting for us is particularly the song “You Make Me Wanna Wiggle” from the album Light Up The Night (1980), sampled by the french duo Justice for their phenomenal track “Newjack” of their amazing first album Cross (stylised ).

Officially taken from their album, the track from the Johnsons is one of the most recognisable of their discs, next to “Tenebre” by Goblin sampled for “Phantom” and “Phantom Pt. II” as well as “Night On Disco Mountain” by David Shire, sampled for the magnetic and scandalous “Stress”.

With their producing manners, Justice admitted in an interview for MTV: “We are actually pretty slow in producing music. On the album we sampled more than 400 discs, but only small passages, so that nobody would recognize,” said Xavier De Rosnay. “Let’s say we’d use the claps of ‘In Da Club’, not even 50 Cent would notice. In ‘Genesis’, for example, we were working with samples of Queen and Slipknot.”

A lot of samples from Madonna and Britney Spears were added to the musical labyrinth Justice is creating. “Sometimes we use large samples. We used some on , so we are working as it’s pleasing”, say the two artists quoted above.

7/ Duck Sauce – Barbra Streisand / Boney M. – Gotta Go Home

We were speaking of the “copied sample” of Daft Punk, but there is another one doing great work with this art form: Armand Van Helden. One of the best known proofs is, of course, “Barbra Streisand” by Duck Sauce, the american duo formed by A-Trak and Armand Van Helden. This title, named after the american singer and actress (the mystery of the name choice of this title remains), freely sampled the “Gotta Go Home” by Boney M, the group behind the hilarious “Daddy Cool”. It’s nearly impossible to differentiate the sampled song from the original as the resemblance is striking. But this didn’t prevent the succes of Duck Sauce: millions of views, millions of “ooh” sung in choir and millions of traumatized clubbers: the circle is now complete.

In an interview for Village Choice, A-Trak nearly ironised the production of the title: “It might sound silly, but everything we’ve done with this title is said in two words: ‘Barbra’ and ‘Streisand’. Concerning the selection of instruments, although we have made a loop of Boney M, we tried to keep the groove by adding strong percussion. I remember, when we selected this sample, we were a little reluctant to use it, because we found the song a bit crazy and then I thought, ‘Man, it is precisely this strange beat which will make the people sing along.'”

8/ Armand Van Helden – You Don’t Know Me / Carrie Lucas – Dance With You (1:54) + Jaydee – Plastic Dreams

Whether alone or working together with others, Armand Van Helden is a goose that lays golden eggs, which made sampling his trademark. For example, his song “You Don’t Know Me” from the late 90s became a huge success with global recognition. Two samples were used to produce this piece of gold: the cords are taken from the disco title “Dance With You” by Carrie Lucas from 1979 and the percussions came from “Plastic Dreams” by Jaydee. And this track is definitely not an isolated example as the majority of tracks produced by Van Helden samples several other long forgotten pieces. Gary Wright, Siedah Garrett, Sylvia Stripplin – and this list is far from being complete. According to the British site WhoSampled, a real bible for sampling, the whole of his work is counting no fewer than 145 samples used. Excellent job of finding great sources or simple plagiarism?

Bonus: the excellent “The Funk Phenomena” with the post-echo in Cooly’s Hot Box, “Don’t Throw My Love Around“.

9/ Timo Maas feat. Kelis – Help Me (1:53) / Bernard Herrmann – Prelude/Outer/Radar Space

With “Help Me” from Timo Maas, the German producer tackles cinema, more specifically the track which defined the music of science-fiction movies for a long time: the soundtrack of The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951) composed by Bernard Herrmann (Citizen Kane, Psycho, Taxi Driver, …) is considered one of the greatest compositions in the history of the 7th art.

Asked by e-mail, Timo Maas said he got this sample from his producer: “Martin Buttrich, my former associate and producer, was fan of this soundtrack quite a while. We tried to make a song using that sample because we both loved phantasmagoric vibes, which the original song features. For the vocals we asked Kelis. I met her for the first time in Hannover (Germany), in the studio of Martin. At that time, she was on tour in Europe and we asked a driver to pick her up in Brussels to come to make the record with us. She arrived completely terrified of the journey. She had never rolled that fast on the road: the driver had taken full advantage of the absence of speed limits on German highways. But she obviously survived!”

Besides Kelis little trauma, Timo Maas answered our question concerning the “copied sample”: “It’s a matter of ethics and taste if you sample something you think is ‘cool’. We must figure out how appropriate it is and how to work within the limits of the authorization of its use. Then it’s to the listener to judge. Personally, I do not judge that stuff. I don’t listen to stuff I don’t like. It’s that simple.”

10/ Cerrone – Funk Makossa (Feat. Manu Dibango) / Manu Dibango – Soul Makossa

We are in Cameroon, 1972. The ministry of sport grants Manu Dibango for the task of composing the anthem of the 8th African Cup of Nations. On the flip side of the disc the titel “Soul Makossa” appears with traditional accents and some soul vibes. Although the track made any noise at all when is was published, it were the party nights in New York that made “Soul Makossa” become famous, thanks to David Mancuso. The title quickly became popular and with this development the international success of its creator would not take long to wait for, as he received proper credit for his production.

Long after this, Michael Jackson and even Rihanna profited ungrudgingly by sampling this gimmick. But what has Ceronne actually done? In the same year “Soul Makossa” was released, the young drummer Ceronne published the title “Kongas Fun” together with his first group Kongas, whose explosive rhythmic drums attracted the attention of DJ and producer Todd Terry from New York, 20 years later. Reusing the rhythm, he released “Sum Sigh Say” alias “House Of Gypsies” without mentioning Cerrone at all.

Right after the remix of Masters At Work (Kenny Dope and Little “Louis” Vega), “Kongas Fun” gets the glory it deserved. This was the moment Cerrone starts to wiggle ears: “I met Louie Vega during a trip to New York,” tells us Cerrone, reached by telephone. “There, I thought ‘Oh, what a naughty boy!’. He was pretty embarrassed, totally recognized his mistake of not having me credited, and offered to do a song together during his next trip.”

They than released Love Ritual Dance Ritual, which picks up the rhythm of “Kongas Fun”, complemented by Nina Rodriguez, who’s singing, choirs and Rhodes piano… After that, it was only about the incorporation of “Soul Makossa” by Manu Dibango, who showed up himself surprisingly after a call of the manager. Cerrone explained: “They are preparing a remix album and asked me to propose a song, so I made kind of a mash-up between my piece with Louie Vega and “Soul Makossa” from Manu”. The result was “Funk Makossa”.

Read the full story behind the first single of Cerrone here.


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