Few celebrities are so iconic that simply invoking their name produces an actual physical sensation in the body. Yoko Ono is one. Whether hearing the name of the one time Mrs. John Lennon makes you wince, smile or widens your eyes with fascination, it seems Ono has spent a lifetime provoking the populace in one direction or another. But for now, she’d like to provoke you to dance.
Over the past decade, and over a pair of albums – the cheekily titled “Yes I’m A Witch” and “Open Your Box” – Ono’s remixing odyssey has unfolded in endlessly surprising ways, as artists like The Pet Shop Boys , DJ Spooky , and Peaches came forward to try their hand at re-styling songs from Ono’s past catalog. The latest in the remixing series pushes the envelope further, A trio of downloadable albums from NYC’s Twisted label, featuring over 30 remixes by nearly a dozen artists of the same song – Move On Fast – from her 1973 album Approximately Infinite Universe.
The result found the 78 year old Ono effortlessly brushing off competition from the likes of Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Katy Perry as her single soared to number one on the Billboard dance charts. Before heading off to headline a pair of dates at the South by Southwest music festival, Ono took the time to chat with Rocker about the current turn in her career.
ROCKER:I know that you’ve been having songs remixed by an array of artists over the past decade, I was interested in hearing more about how this part of your career started? Was it your idea or were you approached with the idea?
ONO: As you may know, I called my first record, TWO VIRGINS Unfinished Music No. 1. because I wanted other musicians and people to remix them by adding their ideas to it. So the idea was there to begin with. But that idea was forgotten by everybody including myself forty years later, and it was not welcomed by me when I was first approached with it.
Once I decided that it was a great thing to do, I went back to being the artist who coined the idea of UNFINISHED MUSIC forty years ago…to put out music I ask people to remix them…Still, I was in the mode of “let me be very fussy as the one who created these songs.” But the surprise was, the remix artists were all so brilliant, it was very refreshing to my ears. Most of the time, it was very educational for me. I’ve learnt a lot about the dance music format, by giving free range to these creative artists. Dance music is the future of all rock music. One day, we will be all dancing together. It’s a great form of music, involving audience physical movement as part of the music.
ROCKER: Have you picked the remixers yourself or did they approached you? Were you a fan of dance music before this all started?
ONO: I was approached with each idea, and loved it. I was always a fan of dance. I was not necessarily a fan of dance music. But when I heard even just one note of it, my bod started moving. My bod was a fan before my head.
ROCKER: I understand you will be playing at South By Southwest soon, have you played there before? I suspect you will be the oldest performer there, what are your thoughts and feelings around that?
ONO: I enjoy the exercise of moving my bod to music and singing. So there is no point in stopping it. I don’t feel particularly old yet.
In terms of performances, I find myself more unstuck and unblocked now than forty years ago. I think that’s the natural way of human beings. When they are young, they are more insecure, and blocked. When they get advanced in age, they start to feel anything goes! I think people are naturally less conservative and unblocked as they advance in age. But they are given less opportunity to express themselves, since the world firmly believe that “old people” are blocked. It’s ageism at it’s worst. I myself confront that attitude all the time.
ROCKER: Listening to the lyrics of Move On Fast they are inspiring. I’m wondering if as songs of yours from the past are remixed, do you find yourself having a changed relationship with these words you penned years ago?
ONO: I think the lyrics of Move on Fast is pretty hip even now, so I don’t see any change in my relationship. The song, the lyrics, notes, and how I’m singing all together, I think, is still very powerful.