This Yoko Ono Article was written by Jake Furze, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Sam Forsdick
Yoko Ono has had a prolific career outside of the public eye, and 2007’s ‘Yes, I’m A Witch’ had left-field musicians emerging to show their appreciation for the avant-garde artist through a series of remixes, reimagining and covers of her work. Nine years later and her half-century back catalogue is still providing fertile material for a new generation of artists.
What is most intriguing on ‘Yes I’m A Witch Too’ is that, given a chance to clean up Ono’s frequently inaccessible free-form freak-outs, some artists have opted to make them less palatable. Danny Tenaglia transforms the disco-funk of ‘Walking On Thin Ice’ into a frigid ambient prelude, devoid of his own signature beats. Miike Snow‘s ‘Catman’ combines drum and bass rhythms and glitch production to whip up Ono’s vocal to happy hardcore levels of energy. The song seems like it might just be an attempt to out-weird Yoko Ono’s exceedingly odd oeuvre.
Otherwise, Ono’s early adoption of dance music informs several of these remixes. Penguin Prison‘s ‘She Gets Down On Her Knees’ resembles 12” mixes from the mid noughties. Dave Aude‘s version of ‘Wouldnit’ brings bouncing choruses and dark synthesisers of modern house. Cibo Matto‘s ‘Yes, I’m Your Angel’ glitches the vocals and adds bubbly, strange synthesisers that underline the fanciful lyrics of wishes and magic.
All this meshing of disparate genres is tempered by Yoko Ono’s voice acting as anchor. This reassurance means it isn’t surprising to hear dance tracks next to the doomy rock of Automatique on ‘Coffin Car’ preceded by the tribal tech of tUnE-yArDs on ‘Warrior Woman’. Of all the artists on this compilation, tUnE-yArDs’ Merrill Garbus is the closest vocal match for Ono. Most musicians wisely avoid either squaring up to her or rendering her inaudible. John Palumbo‘s ‘I Have A Woman Inside My Soul’ ignores advice, reducing Ono’s voice to that of a disinterested passer-by on a damp ambient track that refuses to develop over its three minutes. Likewise, Moby reduces the original ‘Hell In Paradise’ to a few snatched syllables over ten slow-burning minutes.
These are both in contrast to ‘Forgive Me, My Love’, in which Death Cab For Cutie use highly effected, dub-driven production to highlight, rather than hide, the vagaries of Ono’s vocal.
Russell Mael’s operatic vocal, however, is a worthy challenger to Yoko Ono’s dramatic chanting. On ‘Give Me Something’, Sparks back her with a brooding, polished waltz that stretches the original power-punk sketch into a rock opera in miniature.
‘Move On Fast’ is curiously unchanged from its source, Jack Douglas re-recording the up-tempo rock number he engineered over forty years previously. The rock treatment works better on ‘Approximately Infinite Universe’. Blow Up gradually reintroduce digital elements to the over-amped Rolling Stones-styled riff until it resembles the punk-funk of the new wave bands Ono once inspired.
Yoko Ono’s music is always striking, often frightening and rarely apathetic. Laziness can be the motive behind sequel albums, but ‘Yes, I’m A Witch Too’ is not just treading water.
‘Yes I’m A Witch Too’ is out now via Manimal Vinyl.