The drummer John Densmore, of The Doors fame, speaks of a prophecy that someday, one man will be able to create any type of music using one machine. The documentary RE:GENERATION shows us not one, but six such men in Mark Ronson, Skrillex, duo The Crystal Method, DJ Premier and Pretty Lights. In the film, these six electro-based producers are faced with the challenge of working with genres outside their comfort zone, in the hopes of producing a track that brings past and present together. Ronson works on a jazz song with Erykah Badu, Mos Def, The Dap Kings, Trombone Shorty and the great Zigaboo Modeliste. Skrillex puts together a rock track, collaborating with the Doors, producing the first song the complete band has worked on since Morrison’s dead. Pretty Lights lays country with Leann Rimes and Dr. Ralph Stanley. The Crystal Method explored the streets of Detroit in their R&B track with vocalist Martha Reeves, while DJ Premier put hand to classical with Nas and Stephen Webber of the Berklee College of Music.
The documentary, directed by Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story, My Kid Could Paint That), opens up the world of music production as never before. We’re given an intimate look at how present-day music men work a song out, from beginning to middle to end. We watch as Skrillex chainsmokes in his hotel room and Ronson experiments in the studio. The struggles they face in working with stubborn musicians, displayed most clearly in The Crystal Method/Martha Reeves collab and in Pretty Lights’ work with Ralph Stanley. When Pretty Lights asks Stanley if he’d like to hear the melody he has in mind for their song, Stanley shakes his head saying, “I’d rather just do it my way.” And that’s that.
Re:Generation is to music producers what It Might Get Loud was to guitarists. It breaks down the process. Shows us the art and skill that is needed in “just pressing buttons.” The only way in which it falls short is the actual tracks produced. Because the challenge is to meld the music producers’ styling with the genre they’re asked to work with, the tracks all end up sounding very similar. Aside from DJ Premier’s and Ronson’s, they all have the heavy electronic influence of the producers’ past work, and even in the two tracks that don’t, there’s a distinct lack of originality. It would have been more interesting to have challenged the producers to give up their style completely and immerse themselves in the genre they were asked to work with.
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