“Isn’t the magic of it that no matter what you do it sounds good?”
“Yeah. I’m gonna break the magic.”
Music mashup creators work long and hard stripping down popular songs into their component elements and then weaving them together into compelling new tracks. Dropmix, the new mobile-connect game from Hasbro and Harmonix, makes this as easy as shuffling cards.
I was recently telling a friend about Dropmix, a new card/music/mobile game from Hasbro and Harmonix that I’d been messing around with that weekend. His childlike enthusiasm for the game's concept made me feel a twinge of regret for what I intended to do to it. But scientific progress is not earned by the timid, and I had a mission to complete.
My mission, which I gave myself and then chose to accept: To use Dropmix to create the most godawful caterwauling imaginable.
Released early this November, Dropmix's players place cards onto the game’s battery-powered base, which is connected to their phone via Bluetooth. Each card contains a musical track, such as the vocals from Sia’s Chandelier, the guitar from The Weeknd’s Can’t Feel My Face, or the percussion from Duck Sauce’s Barbra Streisand. Dropmix identifies which cards players have selected, then plays their audio together, creating a new song.
There are three modes available: Party, Clash and Freestyle. In Party mode, you work with others to meet requests as quickly as possible. In Clash mode, you compete against others to “dominate” the mix and rack up points. In Freestyle, you attempt to concoct unholy abominations alone in your room, because nobody in your house will tolerate the horrific screeching you’re orchestrating.
Selecting the Freestyle mode, I flicked through the cards included with the Dropmix deck. There are additional card packs that can be purchased separately – the $25 Playlist Packs include 16 cards in a curated playlist, such as the hip hop pack, pop pack and rock pack, while the $10 Discover Packs contain five cards.
I was only working with the base cards that come with the $200 Dropmix deck and, though there were a few certified bangers, I didn’t recognise a significant number of the songs. I’ll readily admit this may just be because I listen to Spotify more than the radio nowadays, but unless you’re going to sink some money into card packs, don’t expect to be remixing the greatest hits of your "This My Jam" playlist.
Despite this, I still enjoyed mixing sounds like a toddler mushing together gobs of differently coloured Play-Doh. I was impressed by how quickly and easily Dropmix identified which cards I had added or taken away - even when I stacked cards on top of each other, it could pick up and prioritise the one on top.
Initially I believed this would prevent me from layering Ed Sheeran’s Sing vocals over the vocals of The Chainsmokers’ Closer (ft. Halsey). But I soon found that, despite the clear colour coding of the Dropmix base's card spaces, you can place any card of any type in any slot and it will still play. The sole restriction is that a maximum of five cards can play at any one time.
Upon discovering this, I laid down the ground rule that I must abide by the colour coding in my mixing. Sure, I could just play five percussion tracks over each other and call it a day, but where’s the artistry in that? Besides, I wanted a bad song, not a cacophony of noise.
This restriction upped the difficulty significantly. Whenever I thought I’d created a monster, I’d lay down that final percussion track, or a guitar riff, and it would do its utmost to tie everything together. Strange sounds were drowned or justified. While several of the results weren’t exactly pleasant on the ear, they weren’t awful, and I wanted awful.
It's easy to mix together something that will get your head bopping, with the tracks seamlessly melding together. Even when they don’t quite hit "banger", they’re still passable enough. It’s harder to make something clearly dissonant.
Not only were my mixes tolerable, but they were beginning to sound too much alike to my ear. The tracks had to be similar enough that they could be mixed together, but this meant the end results often sounded homogenously electronic. I lost the ability to discern a meaningful difference between one mix and the next, even when I knew I had chosen distinct instruments and riffs.
It's a bopper, but not a banger, and unfortunately not unfortunate.
I grew to despair. Was this all there was? Was I doomed to play card after card, searching for that elusive sound like a tortured artist until I was forced to admit defeat (or else buy more card packs)?
I was ready to quit in frustration, postpone until another day. I poked at my mobile screen with the intention of exiting the Dropmix app.
But then. A small arrow at the bottom of the screen. A pair of sliders.
I had discovered the ability to adjust the beats per minute and the key, and it was like feeding a caveman sherbert. Vigour returned to my fingertips, strength to my soul. The world of audiological warfare unfolded before me, spread out like stars in an open sky, and I wept.
Behold, I present to you my magnum opus. Look on my new ringtone, ye Mighty, and despair.