A Christmas Song. In January.

I got asked in December if I could do a remix of a piece called Nativity Crime Scene, by local artist and radio presenter Craig Manga. Craig’s one half of MODWUMP, who made it. They’re based not all that far away from Lincoln, in South Yorkshire, and I’ve seen them play live on our local scene.  I said I was happy to do a mix as long as I could fit it in – I wouldn’t have time in December. No problem – it would be needed for the end of January, so I got Craig to send me the ‘stems’ – the audio files I would need of MODWUMP’s original recording.

The brief Craig gave me was that he wanted it to “as Christmassy as poss”, and “and don’t worry about language in the original because it would be better as an instrumental”. (There were a few swears in the original version).

So I set about early in January to analyse what “Christmassy” songs are composed of (pun only semi-intended). I dug out the Christmas album I hadn’t played for over a year, checked out Spotify Christmas song lists and made notes. There were lots of bells, for sure, but one thing that struck me was that a lot of Christmas songs use 12/8 time. (One-two-three, two-two-three, three-two-three, four-two-three). ‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year’ is a good example.

Slight problem: Nativity Crime Scene (which I’m going to call NCS from here on) wasn’t in 12/8. That meant a lot of chopping up of some bits of audio and stretching others to try to get them to fit, and it was a bit of a battle that I didn’t think I was winning for a while. I did consider abandoning it and going back to the original timing but there wasn’t a huge amount of time left by that point, so I persevered and took quite a lot of stuff out of the mix, because I’d got a lot of different ideas in there which were competing for attention, as well as the struggles with getting all the chopped up bits of audio to hit at the right moment.

There were also two other things in my life that had the ‘end of January’ deadline – I still hadn’t submitted my tax return, although I’d finished the number-crunching in December, and my Dad’s thesis was due in by 30th Jan. And my car had its MOT, failed and needed fixing. While the tax return only took me about a day I needed to spend just over a week on proofing Dad’s thesis, automating all the cross-references in it, and helping him finalise the document, so that he could get it to the print shop for binding in time. While the car was being fixed, I sat in a nearby cafe with headphones on, wrestling with the mix.  

My early attempts with NCS didn’t sound very Christmassy at all. It also felt like there was something missing, so I asked Craig to send me the vocal, which he hadn’t included, so that I could chop it up and do something with it.  I’d been thinking about maybe making a synthesiser instrument from sampling the vocal, but when I’d dropped the vocal in, and chopped them back to the essential parts that felt like they should stay in, I had a better structure to work with which then helped me to shape the song a whole lot better.

By a happy coincidence, my church leaders were having their kitchen done in January and needed help storing a few church things, so I offered to take home the kids’ percussion and recorded a sample of everything in the basket. One of the instruments was a very sleighbell like set of jingles at the end of a stick, like a small piece of a tambourine, and this sample was perfect. There were a couple of ‘sleighbell’ samples in the stems already, but they’d got effects on them, so re-recording my own sample got round that.

Once the tax return and Dad’s thesis were in, I had a day or two last week to finish wrangling the mix and submit that. I thought it would be wise to send a draft so Craig could hear it whilst I was finishing off. There was a long silence!  I worried in case something had happened to Craig or he hated it – this is not going to be everybody’s taste –  but it turned out that he was on holiday and he loved the mix. Phew! And it’s coming out officially on 14th Feb as part of a whole album of MODWUMP remixes, but you can listen on Bandcamp as of today – already! 

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