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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

DubVision's remix of "Ocean" sonically captures an emotional reunion

In examining a complete revamping of a pop production, I think of how stylistic choices can change our perception of a melody and lyrics.

To me, the remix is one of the most fascinating concepts in music. Hearing how one artist re-interprets another's work and adapts it to their tastes and style grants listeners a lens into how the remixer thinks through their production.

Electronic dance music is a sphere in which the remix thrives, with producers frequently putting their own spin (pun slightly intended) on all sorts of records. One particularly common form of remix in the dance world is what I call a 'backing remix.' In a backing remix, only the vocal track is kept from the original production, with all other elements being replaced. I find this form of remix particularly interesting because, through comparing the original and the remix, a listener can hear the differences in how each artist interprets a song's vocal melody and lyrics.

Today's Senior Year Soundtrack selection — Dutch house duo DubVision's remix of Martin Garrix's "Ocean," featuring Khalid — is a shining example of a backing remix. Whereas Garrix's original is a somewhat mellow, half-time electronic pop track with some string colors and vocal chops, DubVision (brothers Victor and Stephan Leicher) set their own synth-driven instrumental to Khalid's lyrics and turned "Ocean" into a standout, uplifting progressive house track. In transforming the song as radically as they did, one gets the impression that DubVision heard the lyrics as celebrating the power of the love about which Khalid sings.

When I first heard the original version of "Ocean," I found it to be a nice-sounding pop track that used Khalid's vocals well, but I felt it was missing something in terms of intensifying a particular emotion through the instrumental break after the chorus. DubVision rectify that problem and then some by completely retooling the track, putting Khalid's singing to a completely new chord progression as well as changing the style from Garrix's mellow, pop-esque original to the brothers' signature euphoric house leanings.

The changing of the chord progression reveals a particular property of melodies, in that some of them can be heard to exist in multiple keys based on the notes they use and emphasize. This property is most commonly heard as DubVision did, with a melody initially set to one key also having the ability to be heard in that original key's relative minor or major counterpart. Relative minor and major scales use the same selection of notes as the other type of scale, but they treat a different note as being the root of the scale. For "Ocean," the original version was set in the key of C minor, while DubVision set their remix in E-flat Major.

Now, I despise the ridiculously oversimplified major = happy, minor = sad binary, because it's never that simple, and lo and behold, it isn't exactly how the two treatments of "Ocean" differ. When combining Garrix's instrumental with Khalid's lyrics on a love that can't be broken despite the greatest distances, the original version of the track feels tender and grateful for the existence of such a love. It's a more subdued emotion, especially when expressed in a minor key, but it works for what Garrix was trying to do. DubVision's major-key remix, meanwhile, goes more in the direction of celebrating this same love, and I always get the feeling by the time the massive, synth-driven break comes in that the narrator and the person to whom he is singing have finally reunited, overcoming the physical obstacles in front of them.

Of course, the chord progression is only part of the reason for these emotional differences; as I alluded in the previous sentence, DubVision's style accelerates their remix into a rapturous payoff in the instrumental break. It starts quite tender like the original and is initially driven by a soft piano synth, but a switch to a synth- and snare-driven build-up in back of the chorus vocals begins to increase the track's energy while also introducing the break's synth melody. When the buildup reaches its peak and the break begins, the release is joyous and ultra-danceable, and Khalid's final chorus lyric that the "ocean between" the two parties "won't keep [them] apart" leads to the impression that the couple have succeeded in finding each other. This same arc is repeated the second time through the form, with an even greater emotional build to the break courtesy of DubVision's treatment of the percussion. While the first verse did not start with any drums behind it, the second verse does, and the removal of this percussion before the second chorus allows for a more intense build into the second and final break. The result is an expertly constructed progressive house track that captures a powerful emotional setting.

DubVision's remix of "Ocean" is a track that carries more personal meaning for me now than ever before, and I'd be surprised if I were alone in this feeling. The pandemic has made it so difficult for people to come together for close to two years, but thanks to strides made in more recent months, I've been able to enjoy the company of extended family and friends again. After finally seeing one of my dearest friends for the first time in two and a half years today, I hear the remix as perfectly embodying my gratitude for our reunion, which came despite the ocean of difficulties that had kept us apart for so long.


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