Stepping outside your comfort zone is never easy — especially when it’s captured on camera. Five influential electronic producer/DJs braved the unforgiving eye of the movie lens to create music in unfamiliar genres in “Re:Generation,” a documentary due out Feb. 16 that offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the creative process.
Produced in association with the Grammys, the film features electronic music breakout star Skrillex, who recently received five Grammy nominations, trying his hand at rock with three original members of the Doors. Meanwhile Pretty Lights teams up with country crooners Ralph Stanley and LeAnn Rimes, and Crystal Method joins forces with R&B diva Martha Reeves of the Vandellas.
Traveling all the way to New Orleans, British producer-DJ Mark Ronson, who produced Amy Winehouse’s Grammy-winning album “Back to Black,” worked with the city’s jazz legends as well as neo-soul songstress Erykah Badu and rapper Mos Def. Perhaps most interestingly, DJ Premier, whom Rolling Stone has called “the greatest hip-hop producer of all time,” took his first foray into classical music, working with a tutor, a classical conductor and the Berklee Symphony Orchestra.
“It was super challenging,” admits DJ Premier, whose real name is Christopher Edward Martin. “I’ve never done anything like this before, and then to get a tutor … I’m done with school!” he chuckles, but then admits he was happy to receive tips from Juilliard’s finest. “We’re all poppin’ right now in our genre … and this is just taking everything to a whole different level of the game.”
Director Amir Bar-Lev says he wanted to shine a light on an art form that’s a celebration of procreation and repurposing. “It’s like a musical collage,” he says. “It’s funny because there’s something sort of paradoxical about it. On the one had there’s a conceit to this film in that these guys didn’t seek each other out on their own. On the other hand, what we’re doing is asserting that this is how music has been made from the beginning of time. We’ve always relied on the past to create contemporary music.”
Despite their good intentions, things didn’t always run smoothly. Arena-filling DJ Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith) seemed completely out of his depth working with veteran country session musicians and 84-year-old Stanley, who had very little patience for Pretty Lights’ reimagining of the 19th century spiritual folk song “Wayfaring Stranger.”
There were also some tense moments between Skrillex and the Doors. When the 23-year-old upstart, born Sonny Moore, initially played the electronic beats he created for their collaboration, keyboardist Ray Manzerk, 72, looked more repulsed than pleased.
But this didn’t seem to faze Skrillex, who proposed the idea of working with the rock legends. “Any collaboration is a leap of faith,” he says, “you have people you trust and are inspired by and with good feedback you can make a great record.”
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