Steve Hackman wants you to care about composers who died long ago, like Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. So he’s mashing together ancient compositions with the latest hits by Coldplay and Drake.
“I have so many peers and friends who are lovers of music and rabid consumers of music, but weren’t trained in classical music, and just don’t have the awareness and access,” said the 37-year-old classically trained composer and conductor. “If you love contemporary music, why wouldn’t you want to know where it all came from, going back to Bach and Palestrina?”
Hackman is passionate about the fathers of classical music as well as today’s contemporary musicians, so much so that he often name drops Aaron Copland and Johannes Brahms in the same breath as Bon Iver and Radiohead. He composes classical pieces and pop music under the name Stereo Hideout.
Hackman wants his peers to have the same appreciation for the symphony as they do for a pop music festival. So he’s taken his mash-ups of Beethoven and Coldplay and Tchaikovsky and Drake to concert halls in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, and Boston.
His message is simple: classical and pop music have a lot in common.
“All music comes from the same 12 notes. But the idea of compartmentalizing music, and categorizing music, and placing it in these bins that are firmly separated, and don’t cross over—it’s just silliness to me,” he said.
Hackman says whenever he listens to any piece of music, he’s on the lookout for musical and emotional similarities. So a four-note chord that’s in both a Brahms and a Radiohead song might provide an opening to fuse them together.
There are critics of his mash-ups. The Guardian wrote about Hackman’s combination of Brahms’s First Symphony and Radiohead’s “OK Computer:”
Have we really reached this nadir of all musical cultures where we can no longer distinguish the meaningful differences between anything, and that the only index of pop music’s quality is how it can be smeared within a symphony, or the only way that classical music can be relevant is if it’s oleaginised as part of this nausea-inducing mash-up? (To be clear: the marvellous thing about Radiohead and Brahms is that they’re different, that they are both defining classics of their respective genres. That’s enough for either of them, and it ought to be enough for us. We don’t need to fuse them for that to be true …)
Hackman argues that his mash-ups are celebrations of the originals. “It’s not like I’m going in there and rewriting Mozart because it needs improvement. In no way am I suggesting that the original isn’t perfect. It’s viewing it through a different lens and combining it with something else that is just as perfect but is very different,” said Hackman. “So I treat the classical piece as the unfamiliar, and I use the popular songs as the familiar, and I try to create a balance between the two.”
Hackman’s hope is that if you experience one of his mash-ups, you’ll love the parts with Drake and leave a little more curious about Tchaikovsky.
Watch the video above to see some of the musical techniques Hackman uses to fuse classical and pop music together.