Blog post (The Remix)

That word ‘remix’ keeps popping up in our readings, and every time it does, the synthesizer intro to Donna Summer’s “I feel love” starts playing in my head. Specifically, a remix of the song – Patrick Cowley’s 1978 nearly 16-minute version. Cowley adds his bold synthesizer, electric guitar(I think), and aggressive extra percussion riffs over the song’s unmistakable synth rhythm. The product is a musical flirt between Cowley and Summer. His additions run wild over the original track, only for Donna Summer’s warm, smooth voice to mellow things out. It was a pure labor of love for Cowley. Being a bootleg recording, his version didn’t earn him a penny, and only a handful of copies were ever pressed on vinyl. Yet, it’s known today as one of the best remixes ever, and I think it is an excellent example of the approach we should take when attempting to remix a thing. In other words, you must love the thing you want to remix. 

Cowley didn’t have access to the 16-track original version of ‘I feel love’ Giorgio Moroder produced in 1977. Instead, he worked with his own vinyl copy of the record. Lauren Martin, a collaborator of Cowley’s, recalls in an interview with Mixmag, “I used to stand there and watch over Patrick’s shoulder while he worked on these electronic boxes and patch-boards and I just had no idea what he could be doing…now…I realize that he didn’t have sequencers and he didn’t have MIDI. He was doing it the hardest way possible: by hand.” It cannot be overstated how painstakingly slow and tedious this process must have been compared to trying to create something even remotely similar using the digital wizardry tools available today. And yet he produced something that sounded like it was plucked directly from the future. Sadly, Cowley would not live long enough to see how influential his ‘I feel Love’ remix, along with his other music productions, would become. 

In the early 1970s, Cowley studied music at City College of San Francisco and made the city his home afterward. Later in the decade, he met the musical artist Sylvester and quickly became collaborators and friends. Cowley played synthesizer on Sylvester’s 1978 Album Step II, which includes the hugely inspirational hit “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” Cowley was instrumental in creating Sylvester’s signature pulsing disco sound. Probably the best example of this is their collaboration on the Cowley-written song –“Do You Want To Funk.” In late 1981, Cowley became ill; doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong with him. In truth, he was dying of undiagnosed AIDS. Patrick Cowley passed at his home in the Castro District in November 1982. His friend Sylvester died of the same disease in 1988. 

Patrick Cowley dying of AIDS and his work on “I Feel Love” are two separate things. All his musical work is an incredible gift to the world. But there’s something about Patrick Cowley being one of the beautifully creative people chopped down in their prime by a cruel stigmatized disease that makes his remix of ‘I feel love’ extra special. Not that it needs to be because — It’s so good.  

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