Live from TED

Well La Di Da (Di): Mark Ronson at TED2014

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TED2014_DD_DSC_3274At the end of Session 1: Liftoff! at TED2014, DJ and producer Mark Ronson drops the TED Talk intro into a million tiny little pieces. Hair slicked to one side, Ronson mutters self-disparagingly about following Nicholas Negroponte, Chris Hadfield and Ziauddin Yousafzai: “Now I know what it feels like to follow Led Zeppelin, the Stones and the Beatles at a concert.”

To get ready to give his performance, Ronson says, he binged on talks. The visceral passion of the speakers stirred something in him — not unlike the way he felt as a 9-year-old listening to Duran Duran playing “Wild Boys.” Watching the speakers, he felt the same urge he did as a kid about Duran Duran, to “bully our existences into a shared event, to hear something I love in a piece of media and co-opt it, insert myself in that narrative, alter it even.”

The invention of the digital sampler in the ’80s made it possible for Ronson — and so many others — to share with artists he’s admired. (It also meant Ronson didn’t have to make a career from his Duran Duran cover band.) Sampling isn’t about laziness or just straight borrowing, says Ronson: “You can’t just hijack nostalgia wholesale; you have to take an element of it and bring something new.” He gives Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick’s 1985 “La Di Da Di,” the fifth most-sampled song of all time (at 547 known samples), as an example. He traces its sampling history up through Snoop Dogg, the Notorious B.I.G. and to Miley Cyrus today. Cyrus, who wasn’t even born when “La Di Da Di” was recorded, is bringing the song to a whole new generation.

To the “rockists” — people racist only about rock — who criticize rap, Ronson is emphatic that sampling is valid and here to stay: “The dam has burst; we live in a post-sampling era. When we add something really original then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of the music we love.”

TED2014_DD_DSC_1738He closes with a performance of a new “La Di Da Di,” mixed with Emmanuel Jal’s “The music of a war child” and Derek Paravicini and Adam Ockelford’s “In the key of genius.”

Check out 15 of the TED Talks mixed by Ronson:

  1. Sir Ken Robinson: How schools kill creativity
  2. Derek Paravicini and Adam Ockelford: In the key of genius
  3. Chris Anderson: How web video powers global innovation
  4. Daniel Wolpert: The real reason for brains
  5. Emmanuel Jal: The music of a war child
  6. Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us
  7. Julian Treasure: 5 ways to listen better
  8. Kate Stone: DJ decks made of… paper
  9. Kathryn Schulz: On being wrong
  10. Kirby Ferguson: Embrace the remix
  11. Mark Applebaum: The mad scientist of music
  12. Michael Tilson Thomas: Music and emotion through time
  13. Pamelia Kurstin: The untouchable music of the theremin
  14. Ryan Holladay: To hear this music you have to be there. Literally
  15. Tod Machover + Dan Ellsey: Inventing instruments that unlock new music