Re:Generation strives to break down barriers

This past Sunday during his acceptance speech on behalf of his band the Foo Fighters for Best Rock Performance at the 54th Annual Grammy awards, Dave Grohl made some comments that stirred the ire of some folks. Lauding the fact that Wasting Light, the album in question, had been recorded in his garage on analog tape, flaws and all, rather than honed to perfection in ProTools at a world class studio, Grohl praised what he called the human element and the importance of learning how to actually play an instrument.

These remarks were interpreted as being incredibly rockist by some, who subsequently deduced that Grohl was, in no uncertain terms, disparaging electronic music in one broad stroke. While you can certainly infer that from what Grohl said, it seems just as reasonable to conclude otherwise, mainly based on the Foo Fighters' participation in the Grammy-orchestrated collaborative performance with Deadmau5, David Guetta (two high profile electronic artists), Lil Wayne and Chris Brown.

If he were indeed so vehemently opposed to electronic music as suspected, it's hard to imagine that he'd agree to take part in such a display. That said, it seems more likely that his remarks were directed squarely at the world of pop music and its polished production tactics, in which parts are stitched together and "punched-in" to precision, with vocals that are pitch corrected to excess.

Whatever the case, the whole debate caused us to examine the inherent segregation between genres. Judging simply from the vitriolic comments that have been posted here in the past with regard to the level talent involved in the art of deejaying -- or even the heated debate as to whether it can even be considered an art at all -- there's a very real division that exists between traditional musicians and DJs.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Re:Generation, a film screening today in select theaters and produced in association with the Grammys, actively seeks to break down these self-imposed barriers. The premise of the film, directed by Amir Bar-Lev, whom we spoke with recently, is to pair traditional and, in some cases, old-school musicians with emerging DJs and producers from from the modern era.

To that end, Re:Generation treats us to unlikely collaborations between Skrillex and the surviving members of the Doors, Derek Vincent Smith of Pretty Lights with Ralph Stanley and LeAnn Rhimes, DJ Premier and Nas with the Berklee Symphony Orchestra, Crystal Method with Martha Reeves and the Funk Brothers, Mark Ronson with Trombone Shorty, members of the Dap Kings, Zigaboo Modeliste, Erykah Badu and Mos Def.

While each of the individual vignettes is intriguing in its own right, there are several scenes that stand out more than others, the foremost of which is watching DJ Premier as he first embarks on the project and begins immersing himself in the world of classical music. You can tell he's clearly inspired by the prospect of reshaping the music in his mold. But then when he sees his efforts of reconstruction charted out on sheet music and then has the opportunity to conduct the Berklee Orchestra, he conveys a clear sense of awe -- a response you're likely to share when you see the fruits of his labor.

The most stirring scene of the movie, however, that perhaps best underscores the impetus of the film comes when Skrillex first makes the acquaintance of Doors drummer John Densmore. Like his bandmates, Densmore didn't know much about Skrillex prior to meeting, and cops to as much. "I'm a dinosaur," he admits. "I'd never heard of you, but my son wants your autograph." Skrillex chuckles and then lets him know that his dad would likewise appreciate Densmore's.

Despite his pronounced unfamiliarity and skepticism of electronic music ("It is worrisome to me that cultures prefer dancing to a machine," Densmore says just prior to meeting Skrillex. "So we'll see what happens"), he also recognizes and appreciates the younger musician's relevance: "Our singer," Densmore notes, referring of course to Jim Morrison, "said in the future that maybe music would be made by one guy with a bunch of machines, and I think you're it. So I thought I better get educated."

But Densmore then goes on to add a caveat, imbued with a notable amount of pretension, that he's also partial to "humanity," as he puts it, or "real musicians," to which Skrillex (aka Sonny Moore) quickly points out that he sings, plays drums and guitars and comes from playing in rock bands. Densmore ends up contributing to the track, but this scene clearly illustrates this unspoken divide.

There's plenty of other moments that are memorable -- the nonplussed expression from Derek Smith of Pretty Lights when he reflects on being tasked with reinterpreting a country classic to the inspiration he later garners from hearing Burle Ives's version of "Wayfaring Stranger" to his semi-awkward exchange with Ralph Stanley, whom he's tasked to sing the cut -- and moving, like when Martha Reeves leads the members of the Crystal Method on a guided tour of Detroit and they witness the gradually progressing decline of the city while also observing firsthand the undying spirit of its people. The experience results in a poignant track called "I'm Not Leaving."

The best purely musical moments of the movie come when Mark Ronson pieces together "A La Modeliste" with the Dap Kings and Trombone Shorty and then adds Erykah Badu to the sessions to sing over the top. When Trombone Shorty mentions something about grabbing some lunch, for whatever reason, it sparks Badu's creativity and she pens the lines to the song. As an added bonus, Mos Def guests on the track. While all of the Re:Generation artists later introduce the tracks they've created live, Ronson and company's "A La Modeliste" is the most vibrant.

You'll have a couple of chances to see Re:Generation for yourself. There are a pair of screenings tonight locally at Harkins Theatre at Northfield at 7 p.m. and AMC Highlands Ranch 24 at 8 p.m. There will also be an encore screening at the latter theater on Thursday, February 23 at 8 p.m.

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Dave Herrera
Contact: Dave Herrera