DJing has always had its fair share of gamesmanship and combat, from reggae dubplate soundclashes, to hip-hop battles, to remix one-upmanship, to the more recent explosion of live laptop jams. Enter the Kracfive label’s Iron Chef of Music contest. As of this writing, the first seven such events are represented on the Kracfive website (here: kracfive.com/ironchef; follow the link to “old battles”); an eighth is said due for upload shortly. If you’ve ever caught the Iron Chef television show (broadcast on the FoodTV network in the United States), you already know what’s in store: chefs face off to make the best meal, with some specific, and often odd, ingredient tossed in, like honey, or cuttlefish, or yogurt. Kracfive has adopted that conceit for digital remixes. Here are the rules for Iron Chef of Music, as posted in the site’s F.A.Q.: “contestants sample [assigned] objects for 2 minutes. Each contestant is given 2 hours to build the best song from these special ingredients, trying to beat all of their opponents. … Songs are collected, played for everyone, and voted on. The winner is the new or reigning champion!”
Kracfive has held seven Iron Chef of Music battles so far this year, using such ingredients as a song by the late great jazz musician Charles Mingus (“Half Mast Inhibition”) and the theme to MacGyver, the Reagan-era television show. The best place to start may be the most recent, recorded on July 24, 2003. The source material? “Ice & Dice,” the sounds of ice cubes rattling in a glass, and dice being rolled. Seven contestants participated, and the results of their mixes, along with the original sound source, are all available for download on the Kracfive site’s Iron Chef of Music page (again, here: kracfive.com/ironchef). An act named Kettel (reportedly a late entrant) embraces the clicky, and creates a happy-sad little instrumental that might be at home on Sesame Street. Ten and Tracer’s version similarly hews to a steady beat, but the sounds are more spare, more minimal techno than cartoon ditty. In contrast, Empty Head’s take on the ice, especially its first half, which is willfully beat-less and un-centered, suggests the ice cubes were steeped in a glass of Scotch. To be clear, the Iron Chef of Music project is not producing easy listening, even when the contest is based on a Shania Twain song — it’s more Kid606 than, say, P. Diddy — but it’s still rewarding to hear the familiar not only remixed, but done so under a time constraint, and with the added influence of friendly competition.