The event, which was hosted by The Foundry and Dare and supported by Creative Review, saw Cassetteboy (who are in fact a duo, introducing themselves simply as Mike and Simon at the event) take the audience through a whistle-stop tour of their work, which stretches back over two decades.
The duo began, unsurprisingly, working with tapes – creating mixes for friends of techno music with words or phrases dropped in-between tracks, deliberately choosing expressions “which seemed ridiculous when taken out of context”.
A lot of tape decks were damaged along the way. “These tapes were a lot of hard work and there were no technological shortcuts that we could use,” they say. “A lot of time was spent fast-forwarding and rewinding to find the right bit of tape.”
They then moved onto using computers, though, they say, “we still stuck more or less to the aesthetic of old tapes. We did a little bit of layering sounds on top of each other, and a little bit of audio manipulation, but basically it was just one sample, then another sample, exactly the same as it had been on the tapes.
“We were just doing it more precisely,” they continue, “which computers obviously allow you to do. They also allow you to undo stuff, which we couldn’t do on tapes. The other major difference is we were now making our own music to put in between the spoken word samples.”
Three albums of work followed, created using audio books (resulting in one particularly puerile remix of a Harry Potter story) and self-help tapes, as well as samples recorded from TV. “We did a cut up of Jamie Oliver which was made from just one episode of one of his shows,” they say. “That meant that years later we were able to track down that episode and recreate the piece with added video.”
Their big leap came in 2009 though, when they released a video onto YouTube, titled Cassetteboy vs. The Bloody Apprentice. This is the point that Cassetteboy suddenly hit the mainstream. “We instantly reached way, way more people than we did with our albums,” they say. “The immediacy of YouTube and being able to upload a video and have people watch it straightaway was very satisfying. However it did mean that the days of long, extended hour-long albums had gone. Now everything had to be a smash hit single.”
Cassetteboy gave a more detailed insight into their process when talking about the Apprentice film. Referring to the image above, they commented: “There you see the timeline for the whole six minute video. Each tiny red line represents an edit. There’s about 200 different samples cut together to make the six minute video. But that is only a small part of the process. The video actually contains material from 48 different episodes of the Apprentice. We only looked at the sections with Lord Sugar in them but it still equates to about 24 hours of raw material.
“The bulk of our time is spent watching that raw material, looking out for samples that might be useful,” they continue. “They might be intrinsically funny words like ‘pantygirdles’, any word that is delivered in a particularly forceful or funny way, or just any vocabulary that sounds like it could be part of a joke. After collecting potential useful samples, we begin the laborious process of finding the ones that will work together to make jokes. We never, ever start out with a script in mind because most likely you won’t find the necessary words for what you’ve written.
“Then comes the most boring part – if all that wasn’t boring enough to start with. Generally we’ll find we’ve got a joke almost working but it’s missing a few simple words like ‘because’ or ‘and’. When Alan Sugar talks about ‘flipping backwards in tight pantygirdles’, it’s the word ‘in’ that we won’t already have collected. When we made this Apprentice video, we had to listen back through our 45 minutes of samples or, worse, the original, unedited episodes, until we found a nice clear ‘in’, which is harder than you think because it’s always the little joining words that are mumbled or run together.”
Cassetteboy’s success following the release of this first Apprentice film is now well-known, with their YouTube channel filled with films that lampoon popular TV figures, but also politicians. David Cameron, in particular, has come in for some savage treatment from the duo, who also showed their ability to respond quickly to topical events when they released their film ‘Getting Piggy With It’ the same day that the #PigGate story broke. While most of their films take about three weeks to put together, the vast amount of Cameron footage that they had previously logged allowed them to put that gem together much more quickly.
As well as their own projects, Cassetteboy are now working on a regular series for the Guardian, where they remix the news. You might think that all this success has bought them some super high-tech system to help create their work, but in fact it is still almost as time-consuming as ever, and tech-wise, they are staying faithful to the programs they have used for years.
“Some of you may notice we edit in Sony Vegas,” they revealed. “That’s because it’s a sister programme to the one we used to do our audio editing, before we moved to video. We basically opted for Vegas because the keyboard shortcuts were the same. We’ve stuck with it ever since, despite the fact that nobody in the industry uses it and that’s caused us endless problems when working on more professional projects. However, we’re reluctant to change as our way of working has evolved to exploit Vegas’ strengths, and like a painter with a favourite brush we’re a bit superstitious about changing our tools.
“Most of what we do is about taking creative decisions,” they concluded. “Picking a subject for a video, collecting useful sounding material and combining that material to make jokes. It requires an ear for dialogue and a sense of humour but some of it is really just dull donkey work.”
Cassetteboy on YouTube; More info on The Foundry’s events is at thefoundry.co.uk