The presence of the edit looms large in today’s UK dance music scene. Also called bootlegs, refixes and reworks, edits involve liberally lifting large chunks of popular songs and reworking them according to contemporary percussive sensibilities. The editorial touch is notably much lighter with edits and bootlegs than remixes. Whereas remixes at their best recontextualise and resituate the source material into new forms, edits present the original song as still recognisably itself while inserting as many warped b-lines and thumping, drums as possible into the mix.

Though it’s rare to see a 100% edit/bootleg set, people go mad when the DJ drops an edit. Go on a garage or drum and bass night out in the UK and I guarantee you will hear at least one bootleg getting at least one wheel-up.

They are immanently enjoyable to many listeners (myself included), creating a sense of both familiarity and estrangement, distance and proximity. But edits have been around for a long time—as long as dance music itself. So why, now, are they enjoying such cultural cache on the UK’s dancefloors?


It would be easy to blame donk and its high-tempo, vaguely clownish aural aesthetics. Donk is a genre dominated by the signature bouncing bass stab—the donk itself—which gallops throughout the track against a background 160bpm+ happy hardcore drums. When you stumble upon tunes like the donk remix of the Vengaboys’ Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!, you would be forgiven for thinking the producer is trying to annoy you, delight you and make you laugh in equal measure.

Donk is un-selfconsciously camp and endlessly entertaining for that fact; as Zach Tippit notes, it’s often described as a “joke” genre even by those who make it. But comedy often opens a space for people to trail-blaze. Donk DJs were rinsing edits long before other genres caught up. Donk’s raison d’etre of the past few years has arguably been in wonked-out 180bpm edits of S Club 7, Britney Spears, the Vengaboys and any other late-90s/early-00s kitsch-cringe-songs-that-you-actually-quite-enjoy you can think of. There are even donk edits of Irish rebel songs for those who prefer their anti-colonialism accompanied by a whomping bassline.

Donk may represent the peak of edit culture, but it is still a peak: it perches on a much wider mass of solidified history. It’s worth remembering that what we think of today as edits were once called songs. People wrote them in the presumed hope that others would like the tune, copy it, sing it to others. This is how you get folk music, oral histories, all of the lyrical and rhythmic modes of transmitting information face-to-face. Modes which since have been corrupted, distorted and repackaged by the intensities and velocities of mass communications technologies.


In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin argues that the ability to near-perfectly copy any artistic image fundamentally alters its cultural function. For Benjamin, mechanised replication deracinates the work of art from its specific location in time and space, uprooting it from itself and casting it into the wheat-thresher of commodity exchange.

We see this most obviously in works of visual art because there is a definable original; the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre and carries a heft that no Google-image searched version can by virtue of containing the ossified brush-strokes of Da Vinci himself. It gets a little more complicated with aural art, which tends to be consumed by the very act of its birth—it is inescapably temporal, made to end.

This arguable bias towards visual over aural cultures means applying Benjamin’s model to music is a little complicated, especially regarding the problem of originality. Until music could be mechanically recorded, there was no definable original to corrupt. As telegraphed above, all songs prior to technologies of transcription were technically bootlegs. They necessarily survived by being re-imagined and repeated by each performance. This means the process of deracination wrought by mechanical reproduction occurs differently with music than with visual art. There are no original brush-strokes to be preserved—only an original recording which is itself already a corrupted representation of a particular performance, studio session, or arrangement.

Viewed in this way, original records are feudal monarchs. They simulate an authority over which they have no legitimate claim. Their aura (irreducible uniqueness) is nuclear, always depleting. There is no original—there never was. Only a copy more valued than all the others, because it is the copy selected by the artist.


Music takes up a squirming, contradictory place in Benjamin’s schema. It is at once corrupted by reproduction—by the very fact that it must “bootleg” itself to be sold en masse. But it also depends on the act of reproduction in order that one copy can be falsely positioned as the original, definitive version of a song.

Meaning the original record contains, within itself, an ineradicable trace of a bootleg. It hides this fact with nothing less than the brute force of the state in the form of intellectual property law. Such laws are used to categorise the bootlegs as the bad copies, the not-allowed ones, in order to secure total power over the distribution of certain noises, lyrics and melodies to the mass market.

No wonder, then, that the edit has such continued power in dance music, whose primary goal has been to spit in the face of distinctions between legal and illegal. UK sample-based dance music owes a large debt to the practice of dubbing which emerged in Jamaica in the 1960s—the act of remixing a song by inserting ghostly echoes of other songs, riffs, and compositions. The explosion of creativity driven by the free swapping of riddim and melody around Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae music in Jamaica was greatly abetted by the country’s at-the-time lax intellectual property laws, meaning musical content could be freely adopted by any artist, anywhere, for any purpose. The line between legitimated originals and corrupted bootlegs was much weaker, rendering music a viral swarm that constantly mutated as it passed through different artists.

Viewed historically, sample-based electronic music becomes cast as a late(r)-capitalist punk-rock or postmodern, anarchic folk: It is at once citation and satire, parody and pastiche. The link between dance music and folk seems incongruous at first, but there is a decent amount of sibilance between them. Both retain an irreducible trace of bottom-upness, of being pushed and developed by people acting together as political-cultural subjects. They defy attempts at cultural capture, where elites impose a logic on the scene from the top-down.

Edits and bootlegs become the most flagrant expression of this ethos, a shameless lifting of whole sections of songs only to bastardise them by placing them over thumping, repetitive beats. They are simply an extension of the same techniques which kept pre-modern folk songs alive for centuries and longer.


But just because sample-based music has a tenacity, an ability to resist capture, does not mean it cannot be recuperated, turned against itself. Perhaps one of the most reactionary things about folk writ-large is its dependence on tradition, which grates against its desire to undo the bonds of the world as it is. The urge to harken back, to construct past worlds which never existed, is fetid ground for both complacency and social change. Today, the balance has arguably shifted towards the former.

There is more than a touch of the harkening-back mindset found in our cultural obsession with the edit. Listening to manic drums snap and fizzle over Britney Spears, DJ Casper or Shaggy folds our horizons always back to the recent past. We’re looped into our own memories, drawing a link between the songs we belted to one another in childhood playgrounds and the sweatbox haze of a light-strewn dancefloor.

This intimacy with processes of memory and nostalgia places the edit firmly within our current Western cultural obsession with reboots, remakes and reworks. Here in Britain, our politico-cultural landscape is folded and refolded endlessly back the familiar shapes of a perpetual present. JK Rowling is producing a live-action Harry Potter. The Tories remain unthinkingly cruel. Labour embodies little more than the same cruelty distorted just so, as if viewed in a fun-house mirror. You would be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed since the late 1990s—or at best, the early 2000s.


We cannot ignore the influence of contemporary communications technologies in refracting and amplifying these nostalgia-loops. TikTok’s endless motors are fed by instant recognisability, an affective relationship which seems to feed off music more than any other artform. While it would be wrong to say TikTok is driving our edit-obsessions, they both spring from the same bundle of half-sublimated desires and interests. It’s no coincidence that nightcore—a late 00’s micro-genre involving pitching up an original song to give it a manic, erratic feeling—is seeing a rebirth on the platform. Even outside of the dancefloor, we long for songs we recognise. Better still if they’re disguised behind a veneer of novelty just thick enough that we can believe we are consuming something new.

Through the need to always capitalise upon our attention, to squeeze more clicks and likes and adverts out of the same 24 hours in the day, we are geared towards compressed modes of listening. In order to keep our attention glued to our screens, the songs become shorter and faster while remaining trapped by the strictures of needing to remain instantly recognisable, instantly engaging. Anything which operates like an earworm, which is meant to unfold and flower within you over a longer period of time, is cut from the dynamic as irrelevant.

To present a viewer with a sound they do not enjoy will make them swipe upwards (hence the explosion of knives-scraping-against-deep-fried-surfaces on our food-content shorts reels). Likewise, to present an edit which develops tangents, which reworks the original sample as a ghost or trace, risks losing the viewer’s attention by taking away the nostalgic recognition that motors the whole machine.

The sample’s powers of fragmentation are inverted: Now, sampling is used to stitch-together, to make the jarring, machinic beats of dance music more palatable, more recognisable, more soaked in nostalgia. First, original recorded music had to conceal the fact it was little more than a bootleg of a live recorded sequence. Now, the original returns, ballooning like a parasitic wasp inside the pupa of the bootleg itself.


Paul Virilio understands contemporary capitalism as implicated in a war on time. As with any war, technology is key. Though recording whole songs using a microphone, and sampling sections of songs using a DAW are different only with regards to extent and speed, extent and speed matter greatly for Virilio. The constant need to move faster, consume more, compress every aspect of life into a seamless stream filtering through our eyes and ears, turns us into mere spectators of our own lives. Virilio’s favoured metaphor is of a pilot strapped into a cockpit of a plane while an array of automated dials and switches move the vehicle at inhuman speeds through the air. We become passengers of our own culture, our own collectively lived lives.

Another metaphor emerges, in light of the previous discussion: You are trapped on a dancefloor, listening to songs which you recognise but do not know. You bathe in the auditory echoes of a past that is not yet dead—that will not be allowed to die, because we have made nothing that can replace it.

Our obsession with edits—with more immediacy, more nostalgia, more content—therefore reflects a kind of obverse to sampling’s original anarchism. Our delight at hearing a song we recognise, but reworked, suggests we are spectators of our own cultural production, trapped in a nostalgia amplification spiral, a recursive feedback loop. We consumed 80s nostalgia in less than a decade; we’re already tearing through what remains of the 90s and regurgitating the hallmarks of early millennial music, seen in the post-ironic love of trashy Eurodance hits, the revival of trance in techno clubs. Our self-referential culture is accelerating. But the feedback loops are tightening, growing ever-narrower; we are reaching terminal velocity. The snake soon risks eating the entirety of its own tail. I wonder what will be left.


Is there a way out? I don’t know. I’m curious to see what happens when nostalgia catches up with itself, when we’ve gobbled up our remaining stores like a bear in hibernation gone wrong, our cultural metabolism eternally out-of-whack. I would predict a turn to more esoteric forms of nostalgia but our online love of sea shanties has beat me to it. I half-long for a world as described in henryrowleyy’s viral music guy at the afters meme, filled with “nipplefunk” and “neoliberal astro-jazz” and “pretentious cunt-rock”.

It’s worth remembering no culture is monolithic. Edits and bootlegs possess a certain hegemonic role in today’s scene, but they can never totalise it. As much as our culture accelerates towards this terminal velocity point, there remain modes of sampling which play with the original, which re-mediate and recontextualise, exorcising and vaporising their referents back into ghosts.


A track I always return to is Ma Bae Be Luv, by Coco Bryce. The vocal hook from the Supremes’ Baby Love is placed slightly off phrase. The Love/Luv line is buried, choking beneath smooth, glittering pads in a manner sparking both recognition and distance. We can hear the original, but it is not as it should be.

Of course, I know this song is nothing strictly new. It remains trapped in the tempos and temporalities birthed of the 94-97 UK jungle scene. But still: I can’t help but feel a little optimistic listening to it.


Articles, Journals, Books:

Benjamin, Walter. 2008. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. London: Penguin.

Berger, John. 2008. Ways of Seeing. London: Penguin.

Birds, Charlie. 2023. “Dance Music Is Folk Music”: Why James Holden Is Still Inspired by Rave Culture. Mixmag.

Bonadio, Enrico. 2022. Copyrights and Copywrongs in Jamaican Music. Sonic Street Technologies.

Carlson, Rebecca and Corliss, Jonathan. 2007. Rubble Jumping: From Paul Virilio’s Techno-Dromology to Video Games and Distributed Agency. Culture, Theory and Critique, 48(2), 161-174.

Chapman, Owen. 2011. The Elusive Allure of “Aura”: Sample-based Music and Benjamin’s Practice of Quotation. Canadian Journal of Communication, 36(2), 243-262.

Crary, Jonathan. 2014. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. London: Verso.

Fisher, Mark. 2013. The Metaphysics of Crackle: Afrofuturism and Hauntology. Dancecult: Journal of Electronic Dance Music Culture, 5(2), 42-55.

Fisher, Mark. 2014. Ghosts of My Life. London: Zero.

Hassler-Forest, Dan. 2016. Richard Linklater’s Post-Nostalgia and the Temporal Logic of Neoliberalism. In: Seung-hoon Jeong and Jeremi Szaniawski (eds.), The Global Auteur: The Politics of Authorship in 21st Century Cinema. London: Bloomsbury, Ch. 11.

Jameson, Frederic. 1992. Postmodernism: or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso.

Navas, Eduardo. 2012. Remix Theory: The Aesthetics of Sampling. Germany: Springer-Verlag.

Nilges, Mathias. 2021. Right-Wing Culture in Contemporary Capitalism. London: Bloomsbury.

Tippit, Zach. 2022. A History of Donk in Ten Tracks. Resident Advisor.

Virilio, Paul. 2006. Speed and Politics. Massachusetts: Semiotext(e).

Edits, Remixes, Memes:

Billie Eilish – Everything I Wanted (Ecotone Bootleg). 2021. Soundcloud.

Britney Spears – Toxic (Dirty Bulk Edit). 2022. Soundcloud.

Coco Bryce – Ma Bae Be Luv. 2021. YouTube.

DJ Casper//Youngstar – Pulse X//Cha Cha Slide (Pulse C) (Billund The Kid Mashup). 2019. Soundcloud.

henryrowleyy – The “Music Guy” at Every Afters. 2023. Instagram.

Nathan Evans – Wellerman (Sea Shanty). 2021. YouTube.

Shaggy – It Wasn’t Me (DJ Bax Redonk). 2023. Soundcloud.

Interplanetary Criminal – Set in the Lab On Location. 2023. YouTube [Mixmag].

Sully/(Missy) Elliott – Get Ur Werk On (Deejaygee Blend). 2022. Soundcloud.

S Club 7 – Don’t Stop Movin’ (The Ron Paul Remix). 2020. Soundcloud.

The Spice Girls – Wannabe (We Rob Rave Donk Dub Remix). 2020. Soundcloud.

The Wolfe Tones – Come Out Ye Black and Tans (Welshy Donk Remix). 2016. YouTube.

Vengaboys – Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!! (Uncredited Donk Remix). 2009. YouTube.

Tom Maguire is a writer and DJ based in Birmingham, UK. His short fiction is set to be published in the upcoming anthology Digbeth Stories. You can find his mixes at https://soundcloud.com/tm_w.


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