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Meet the Man Behind the Magic iPod

The tech behind his mashup machine could allow for even more remixes in the future

(Ringer illustration)
(Ringer illustration)

You remember 2007. The iPhone came out. Obama began his run for the presidency. The long and winding Harry Potter saga finally came to a close (or so we thought). And someone in your middle school gym class/high school parking lot/college dorm/old-person job came up to you and asked, with some degree of self-assured superiority, “Have you ever listened to Girl Talk?”

Fast-forward a decade. Mashups have gone from soundtracking college house parties and spawning chin-scratching academic inquiries of postmodern digital creation to making that song “7 Years” somehow even more annoying. Mashups are dead, and — in the sense that we, as a society, should aspire to appreciate the context in which art is made rather than voraciously vacuum up pop culture as modular content — they probably deserve to be.

But — and I am not a professional music critic, so I can say this — “Ms. New Booty” vs. “A Thousand Miles” fucking goes. I discovered this thanks to themagicipod.com, the first mega-viral URL of 2017. Tagged with the slogan “2007 Forever,” the mysterious website offers users the ability to match 20 mid-2000s rap songs with 23 indie, punk, and general teenage-angsty rock songs from the same time period. The interactive format made the site a hit, garnering about 4 million spins since it launched at the start of February. The mashups themselves run the gamut of those we were all overexposed to 10 years ago: a few eye-rollingly awkward combos, many fine-but-forgettable distractions, and a few bafflingly congruous mixes that make you think life on this planet can’t simply be a random collision of subatomic particles. (Please listen to the aforementioned Bubba Sparxxx–Vanessa Carlton track while reading this.) Trying to guess which mix will produce a sonic treasure is key to the site’s appeal, and much more addicting than trawling through mashups on SoundCloud.

The man behind this clever contraption is Race Archibold, a 23-year-old data analyst at the ad agency DigitasLBi in New York. I peeled myself away from finding the perfect instrumental to match “X Gon’ Give It to Ya” long enough to speak with Archibold about the technology behind the Magic iPod, the artistic merit of mashups, and whether or not that old Jay Z–Linkin Park album is so bad it’s good. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

I mess around with this stuff in my free time a lot, and last year I made a mashup mixtape between Death Cab for Cutie and Kanye West. I called it Death Cab for Yeezy. Sort of randomly, I guess, Death Cab for Cutie found it somehow and they put it on their social media and it blew up for like a day or two before it was taken down off of SoundCloud. I just had a lot of fun with that.

I don’t know what your political leaning is, but I personally think this is a tough time for a lot of people, so I was thinking about things that I personally could do that would be nice, and this was a project I’d had in mind for a while. Finally, largely over Christmas and New Year’s, I decided to sit down and finally put it together. I figured that this is going to be a site that, if last year is any indication, has the potential to really take off. If so, it would be a good opportunity to do something nice by having people donate to the ACLU instead of dealing with running ads on the site — and also, in that way, I would hope shields it a little bit from any copyright problems I would run into. Really no one aside from the ACLU is financially benefiting from the site. I’m not making any money from it.

I was wondering about that, because you’ve definitely got some copyright vultures on this list.

To be honest, I am a little worried that eventually something might happen. Last year, Death Cab for Yeezy got taken down because of Kanye’s people, and there’s a Kanye song on [the Magic iPod]. But that was also around when they were releasing his album, so I imagine they were a little more diligent back then than they are now.

The title for this project is “2007 Forever,” right?

I Google it every once in a while to see what people are writing about it, and it’s funny, a lot of people think that [the site] was made in 2007. I like the mid-2000s vibe. Obviously all the songs are from the mid-2000s. But I started sharing it like a week or two ago. They’re about 10 years off there on the date.

What was going on in your life in 2007?

Oh man … how old was I? I was in middle school.

Middle schoolers have lives. What was going on then?

Middle school stuff … I’d rather not revisit those memories.

How long have you been making mashups?

Probably since college. It’s not something I do super often. I’ve been doing it for a couple of years.

I’m definitely curious about the interface. You could have released 100 tracks on SoundCloud of the individual mashups. Why did you choose this format?

I think this is a lot more fun. There’s an element of discovery involved. There’s a creative element where they get to pick what goes with what. A couple of friends have been like, “Oh wow, ‘Ms. New Booty’ over ‘A Thousand Miles’ is really funny.”

I think that’s the best one, personally.

I think that’s the best one, too. They’re all pre-mixed. I made all of them and just sat down for a couple of weekends and cranked them out for like 10-hour sessions at a time. I listened to them before I released the site — once each, pretty much. So when people say one’s good, it’s often kind of news to me as well. That’s what cool about it — you are sort of making them yourself. The element of discovery just makes it a much more fun, playful experience — which, in the end, that’s what it should be. Mashups are not high art. They should just be a silly, fun thing that anyone can put together.

I feel like there was a period where mashups like The Grey Album and Girl Talk albums were considered artistic statements to some degree. But we’re kind of past the sell-by dates of mashups. They’re not as revered as they once were.

They’re not as in. I personally think that part of the reason for that is their heyday was around 10 years ago, when genres in general were more siloed. On the radio, at the same time, there was alternative rock, there was pop, and there was hip-hop, and there was not that much blending. But now pretty much any pop song that you hear is gonna have someone rapping a verse on the bridge. In a way, those lines have blurred a lot more. When you put on a Sirius XM alternative station, there are definitely a lot of elements in those songs that are more electronic or there are a lot more R&B elements. There’s a lot more commingling, so there’s less of a need for a third party to come in and mix stuff up.

What software did you use and how long did it take to make each song?

I used a few programs. I work a lot in Pro Tools, but some of the editing I did in Audacity. They’re really templatized, so it didn’t take that long for each one. Some of them you can tell it didn’t take that long, to be honest.

You said the songs are “templatized.” When I first saw the tool, I didn’t know whether it was a computer program putting the songs together or someone had edited and made several mashups individually.

So, the way that it’s done when you’re making them at this scale that makes sense is … well, I guess I don’t really want to reveal that actually. I don’t want any copycats out there. But it is pretty manual at this point, but the next step is to automate it.

OK, so there’s some level of automation to this.

Yeah. This round is, again, very manual, but the way that the templates are set up, the actual mixing can be automated.

So in the future, you could make a more robust version that featured a lot more songs?

Yeah, I’m hoping to. I don’t know when I’ll get around to that. This is not something that I do full time, but at some point it would be great to really blow out the scale. That would require a degree of automation.

So with these songs in particular, are they your favorite songs of this time period, or did they have characteristics that made them good for mashing up?

A little bit of both. Largely the former. Just songs that I enjoy.

And you said your favorite was also “Ms. New Booty” with Vanessa Carlton?

Yeah, that’s a good one. I also really enjoy “In Da Club” with “I Write Sins Not Tragedies.” That might actually be my favorite.

I have a few more general mashup questions. It’s kind of a lightning round. I’m hoping you can just give me your gut reaction to these things.

OK.

Numb/Encore” by Jay Z and Linkin Park: great, terrible, or terribly great?

[Laughs] I think that’s great … terribly great. A little bit [of both], I dunno. Terribly great.

Is there a moment on the Girl Talk albums that’s better than the “Since U Been Gone” chorus in “Here’s the Thing” from Feed the Animals?

I don’t know how to describe a moment but I really like when he uses General Public’s “Tenderness” [mashed with Jay Z’s “Can I Get A”].

If you could get two artists today and make them make a sequel to the Jay Z–Linkin Park album, who would you pick?

That’s a great question. Honestly, I think I’d have to say Death Cab for Cutie and Kanye. That would be my personal dream.

What’s the most improbably great mashup you’ve heard?

I think I saw one that was Smash Mouth with the song from the Reese’s Puffs cereal commercial. I don’t know where I saw it, but I think it’s out there somewhere.

Are mashups back?

Oh man … maybe. But in a different way, if they are.