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Mash-up diva

Katie Enlow is standing in a corner of the Independent in Somerville’s Union Square, belting out the lyrics to Christina Aguilera’s 1999 single "What a Girl Wants." Bird-skinny in jeans and a light-colored camisole, the Harvard, Massachusetts, native is squeezing her eyes shut and raising a clenched fist, American Idol–style. Gradually, pint-swilling patrons realize that she isn’t singing to the same background track they recognize from Aguilera’s syrupy hit; rather, she’s singing "What a girl wants, what a girl needs" to the music of the Velvet Underground’s "Rock and Roll." A couple of dudes mouth the VU song title quizzically, invisible question marks floating up from their lips, while a pack of tanned young women in BoSox caps croon along to Aguilera’s club hit. At one point during her five-song set, Enlow, 24, tries to explain what’s going on. "This is kinda like karaoke to a different song," she says.

Enlow is a mash-up diva. She performed last Friday night at "Mash Ave," a weekly residency organized by her older brother Luke (a/k/a Lenlow) and his frequent collaborator DJ BC. Since last November, the squad has been playing an evening’s worth of a cappella tracks that are digitally smooshed into another song’s instrumentals and thereby melded into a distinct track. Plenty of autodidact DJs like Lenlow have emerged from the mash-up movement — you can buy hybrid-mixing software like Sony Acid for $64 online — but only a few actual "artists" have emerged from the genre. There’s Smash-Up Derby, a San Francisco sextet who bill themselves as "the world’s only mash-up rock band," and Holestar, a British "drag-goddess" residing in Australia who assaults pride festivals and nightclubs with her bastardized bootlegs. Beyond that, Katie Enlow is pretty much it.

But there’s certainly work for volunteers. A recurring problem for mash-up makers is that they can’t always find separate vocal tracks for songs they want to splice together. So last August, when Luke randomly experimented by smooshing a recording of his younger sister singing Junior Wells’s "Little by Little" against a Roots remix of "Thought at Work" (creating something he titled "A Little Thought"), he realized that her voice could be a valuable commodity among his fellow mash-up mouse-clickers. Katie, who now works as an insurance agent in Chicago (she took some time off to teach in Boston this summer), hooked up with a sound engineer who records her for free. She then e-mails the completed files to her brother, who posts them online (www.lenlow.com) or hands them out to those who request them.

In the past year, Katie has supplied vocals for British DJs like Cry.on.my.console and Essexboy, including four tracks on a bootlegged Chemical Brothers remix album, Flip the Switch (available online at www.chemsremixed.com). One of those tracks — actually mixed by Luke — found its way onto London’s XFM radio show The Remix, during which two British DJs gushed about her voice and her brother’s skills, proclaiming, "I hold no more value in a Chemical Brother than I do in a Lenlow.... We are all producers!"

Katie, who seems permanently excited as it is, freaked. "I was like, ‘AAAAAHHHHH! People are talking nice about me!’ They said Luke’s name too. That was so surreal." She also freaked when a friend heard DJ Riko’s version of LCD Soundsystem’s "Daft Punk Is Playing at my House," which interweaves Katie’s vocals with the original’s dance-punk beat and some P-Funk pieces to create "P-Funk Is Playing at My House," on LA radio station KCRW.

Although she’s been performing at open-mike nights in Chicago and trying to write her own songs, Katie can’t abandon the Inter-nerd world that is making her quasi-famous. She and Luke have even been invited to London for a monthly mash-up club night called "Bastard." But she’s the first to admit she doesn’t really get the whole phenomenon.

"It’s still kind of beyond me why people would want to hear me sing karaoke," Katie says.

Issue Date: July 29 - August 4, 2005
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