Buffy Sainte-Marie’s 1969 album Illuminations is both an outlier of her discography and the era from which it emerged. On top of the feverish folk-rock that was becoming her trademark, its songs are pushed into truly groundbreaking territory by the electronic soundscaping of Buchla synth mastermind Michael Czajkowski. Best known for his solo album People The Sky, issued by Vanguard the same year as Illuminations, Czajkowski manipulated Sainte-Marie’s voice and guitar into wraithlike effects inspired by Luciano Berio’s haunting “Visage.” With an array of robotic sputters, trippy tape loops, and hazy chemtrails, the album melds into continuous sidelong shimmers.
Buffy has perpetually inspired other artists to reinterpret her songs, from Janis Joplin’s livewire take on the drug addiction meditation “Co’dine” to the heartbreaking lament “Until It’s Time For You To Go” earning covers by Elvis Presley, Françoise Hardy, and The Monkees. While a pitched-up clip of Sainte-Marie’s “Lazarus” would find its way into Kanye’s early 2000s chipmunk soul arsenal on Cam’ron’s “Dead or Alive”, Illuminations remains shockingly untapped. However, for a select group of deep diving electronic explorers, it has provided a wellspring of sample and remix fodder. With the album’s recent 2019 Black Friday reissue, there’s no better time to revisit its charms.
In 1999, LA’s Anticon Records was the nexus of an adventurous underground hip-hop scene. The label supergroup Deep Puddle Dynamics brought together rappers Sole, Doseone, Alias, and Slug for their only collaborative album The Taste of Rain… Why Kneel. On “Purpose”, they use the looping vocal intro of Sainte-Marie’s “Poppies” (seemingly ripped from a crackling vinyl copy) as the kindling to spit fire.
West London producer Nathan Jenkins (a.k.a. Bullion) is a master of the psychedelic mash-up. His 2007 mixtape Pet Sounds: In The Key of Deedeftly combines J Dilla with the Beach Boys, while “Say Goodbye To What” smashes up Buffy Sainte-Marie and Klaus Nomi. His 2011’s release Magic Was Ruler takes it another step further, transforming Illuminations’ “God Is Alive, Magic Is Afoot” into elastic disco that sounds like stumbling on a strobelit dance floor after the edibles kick in.
According to their Bandcamp page, “Humble Drum Circle is a 50-man hip-hop collective, comprised mainly of rappers and producers from America, Canada, and the U.K.” On their 2013 self-titled mixtape, an eerily echoing sample of “Poppies” becomes the basis of the claustrophobic posse cut “Paths Of Ice.” Buffy’s ghostly voice hovers throughout the furious rhymes of Fat Beats, Glitch, and Phrozen, fused into a dense patchwork of throbbing electronics and squawking eagle cries.
Vito Roccoforte and Gabriel Andruzzi of The Rapture have a second life in music as the DJ duo Vito & Druzzi. Before evolving into the kraut-y electronic project Mother of Mars, they slyly released a series of remixes on YouTube. Alongside a “drum edit” of Crass’s “Walls (Fun In The Oven)” that might make punk purists turn up their noses, their rework of “Poppies” is blissfully bumping.
Bonus Beats: A Tribe Called Red – “Working For The Government”
Buffy continues to inspire a new generation of Indigenous electronic artists. Her guest vocals on A Tribe Called Red’s “Working For The Government” have turned the song into a staple of the group’s live performances, with her singular voice riding the groove of speaker-rattling beats. God is still alive, magic is still afoot… words / j locke
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