Dancefloor-friendly remixes have helped several songs become major pop hits in recent years.
Lana Del Rey’s lone top ten single came courtesy of Cedric Gervais, who retooled “Summertime Sadness” around a steroidal beat. In 2014, Mr. Probz reached the top 15 thanks to Robin Schulz’s delicate, funky updating of “Waves.” And a No. 1 smash last summer, OMI’s “Cheerleader,” flitted to the apex of the pop chart only after Felix Jaehn put his own spin on the track.
The latest entry in this club is Seeb’s remix of Mike Posner’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza.” Remixes are not credited separately on the Billboard charts, so Seeb’s presence is not acknowledged in the official record, but the popularity of the remix helped Posner’s single reach No. 5 on the Hot 100 last week.
Seeb is a Norwegian duo consisting of Espen Berg and Simen Eriksrud. Looking back at the success of the new version of “I Took A Pill In Ibiza,” Eriksrud describes the smash as “art by accident.” He didn’t expect it to explode: “Nobody knew it would become that big.”
But Seeb’s track does share a few qualities with other recent remixes that performed well on the pop charts. First there’s Posner’s voice, which has a grating edge that commands attention. A distinct vocal helps a remix: Del Rey’s calling card is her somnolent swoon, while Mr. Probz has textured scrape, and Omi is feather-light, the embodiment of sonic weightlessness. The other key to a popular remix in recent years is of course the beat, pushing forward the original with a steady but unsurprising rhythm. It’s important that the song doesn’t become too pushy – at the moment, slower tempos are more fashionable, consequently Seeb’s “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” hovers near 100 bpm.
Posner’s original song is a predominately acoustic ballad, with a voice high in the mix. A drum enters near the one minute mark, but the rhythm is a secondary consideration – guitar chords hang in the air as the singer unfurls a lengthy narrative about grappling with the soul-crushing machinery of pop stardom: “You don’t wanna be high like me/ Never really knowing why like me.”
Seeb condenses Posner’s track into something more aerodynamic and significantly shorter, shaving more than a minute off the ballad. A synth backdrop gives the remix a Kygo-like bounce, pleasant and slight. Though Posner sings, “all I know are sad songs,” the jaunty forward progression belies his glum statement. “In a way it’s sad,” Eriksrud tells Billboard over the phone. “But it makes you feel better.”
Matt D’Arduini, VP of A&R at Island Records, thought Berg and Eriksrud would be good candidates to rework Posner’s single. “I connected with Seeb through a close friend, Rami Samir Afuni, who developed Kiesza,” D’Arduini remembers. (Seeb produced “Over Myself,” the second-to-last track on Kiesza’s Sound Of A Woman album.) “I find their productions to be very thought out.”
“I never thought of them as remixers,” he continues. “I always thought of them as producers.” But that actually made Seeb perfect for this job. “I knew what the remix needed,” D’Arduini says. “It couldn’t be a DJ remixer – it had to be more of a producer to go in and rework the record.” “What differentiates [Seeb] from other producers [making] that type of melodic house is they are really good craftsmen,” adds Rune Gronn, the A&R who helped sign the duo to Universal Music. “There’s nothing left to coincidence. Every second of their tracks is really well-crafted.”
According to Eriksrud, the “Ibiza” remix was made quickly and casually. “It took maybe two or three days,” he recalls. “It was a quiet time in the studio, so we just had fun with the vocals and took it up in tempo. It was pretty easy. But that’s how it is when you just try to have fun and don’t try to create a hit or calculate how things are going to sound.”
When D’Arduini received the Seeb cut, he played it once in his office. Then he played it four more times. “It was something special,” he says. “I didn’t know it was what it is today; I just knew it felt good.”
The song initially encountered success in Scandinavia. “It started in Norway,” Gronn notes. “Our marketing department put it on some of the Universal playlists in Spotify. It took off within a week. A couple weeks later Sweden and Denmark tagged along.” Nordic listeners love Spotify, and Gronn suggests that a determined contingent of these users can propel a track onto the streaming service’s global charts, which in turn “exposes the songs to everybody. It’s a good platform for converting the tracks to radio, to iTunes. It starts with streaming.”
As the “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” remix took off, Gronn “started discussing with Seeb the possibility of releasing their own material.” “The remix is an adventure in itself,” he explains. “But their own stuff is amazing.” Though he says “all the big stars” have been reaching out in the hopes of obtaining a Seeb remix, the duo also wants to make a name for themselves with originals.
Seeb released a new single, “Breathe,” on March 11, and it’s been well received, amassing more than 20 million plays on Spotify in under two months. (The tune features vocals from a singer named Neev.) Moving forward, Eriksrud and Berg want to build buzz track by track. “Here in Scandinavia, the album format is gone,” Eriksrud explains. “People only care about songs. Our plan is to release a new single every second three months.”
“It’s brutal but it’s really honest,” he continues. “If they don’t like it, it won’t climb the charts. You can’t blame anyone but yourself.”