Happy Illegal Christmas


Office party season is gearing up and it's time again for Santastic: the annual anthology of Christmas-themed mash-up MP3s. I've been grooving steadily off Divide and Kreate's "Velvet Santa," which meshes the grinding rhythm of "Waiting for the Man" with a young Michael Jackson singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and what sounds like the breakdown from "Dance to the Music" (before the Family Stone starts scatting).

Last year's mix is here, and Jesse Walker's appreciation of the copyright-shreddin' genre is here.

Critics have long debated who "creates" a pop record: the artist listed on the sleeve, the producer behind the scenes, the composer in the wings, or the sometimes anonymous studio employees who actually play the music. In certain contexts—experimental tape loops, freeform radio collages, Dickie Goodman novelty singles—authorship seemed to splinter even further, as composers, DJs, and comedians inserted samples from older recordings into new and very different contexts. When rap exploded in the '80s, so did sampling; and so did sampling-related litigation.

Now cheap, easy-to-use remixing software and quick distribution via the Net have set off another explosion. What once was avant-garde, and then was monopolized by the entertainment combines, is now a populist art form that virtually anyone can practice.