Girl Talk had it all wrong. Why mash up the familiar when there’s a whole internet of tubes to sample. Every beat, every riff, every note. Somewhere on the tubes, it’s there, waiting. Want a reggae guitar riff in A-minor? Want siren sounds, bass grooves, or perhaps some suburban freestyling? Just search.
This is the genius of Thru-You, a mash-up album made entirely of sampled YouTube clips by the Tel Aviv composer and musician, Kutiman.
Now You are in the band. You are playing lead on the title track. Your bedroom beatboxing and backyard drumming are laying down a groove. You just don’t know it yet. But with a little guidance, a little mixing, editing, and coaxing, your homemade clips come together to form an arresting and vivid composition.
It’s found art in its highest form — a compelling look at people making something bigger than themselves without ever knowing. The rapper on the street, recorded on a cell phone camera, takes on a grand scope encompassed by bass lines and beats. The girl singing alone in her bedroom suddenly finds an orchestra behind her. Even the mundane, clips of school kids clapping and dancing in a gym, becomes a perfectly synced clap track.
Each track is a ready-made music video of grainy images, shaky camera work, and the intimacy of home videos. The star of the fifth track, “Someday,” is a mother singing a lullaby to her child in a beige coated living room. In “Just A Lady,” a barely visible girl sings hauntingly in her room, a performance on the smallest stage.
In these and almost every still and shot, there’s no inkling that these clips will be used in tracks already viewed hundreds of thousands of times online. It makes you wonder what some of these people would think if they saw their performances in this context. Maybe they’ve daydreamed of fame and rock-stardom. Maybe they made the video to send to a relative. I doubt any of them could have ever imagined they’d be playing parts in one of the most surprising musical projects of the year.
Taken as an album, Thru-You is a breathtaking work of freshness and energy. Its grooves are infectious, and although it’s an album of samples, it draws inspiration as much from The Meters as from The Books. If only the audio tracks were released, they’d warrant repeat listens.
But Thru-You is much more than just an album, for Kutiman has managed to capture the creative energy of the entire YouTube generation. It’s a work that finally manifests the potential of this new media. YouTube has already upturned notions of celebrity, art, music, and media. With Thru-You, Kutiman has brought the YouTube generation to the center of the musical stage and orchestrated a remarkable first movement.