Pogo: Harnessing The Innate Rhythm Of Pop Culture

Apr 21, 2012
Originally published on May 6, 2012 10:38 am

For some, the familiar bass line that opens The Fresh Prince of Bel Air may bring back decades-old memories. But for Australian DJ Nick Bertke, that theme sounded like raw material.

Bertke premiered his Fresh Prince remix, titled "Jaaam," early this year on YouTube. The video pulls music, dialogue and sound effects from the 1990s sitcom, and weaves them together into one danceable track. In the past few years, Bertke has made a name for himself on the Internet with remixes like this one, releasing them under the nickname Pogo. Millions have watched his musical takes on Alice in Wonderland, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the Harry Potter films.

"It always starts with the inspiration," Bertke says. "I have to have a certain passion for the show, and of course, how can you not be passionate about The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? I just heard the drum loop and thought, 'That's a great foundation for something.' And every time Will Smith opens his mouth, there's music in his voice."

Bertke tells NPR's Rachel Martin that he spends a lot of time watching movies and TV shows, listening for the right musical building blocks.

"What I've found to be a repeating pattern is rhythm," Bertke says. "Sometimes people say things with an innate rhythm, and sometimes people happen to hit a very linear note in the certain syllables they pronounce."

Bertke's first pop-culture remix was "Alice," which used Disney's animated Alice in Wonderland as its source material. When it became popular online, Bertke was contacted by Disney. But to his surprise, instead of a subpoena, the company offered him a job: a commissioned work, to be based on sounds from the Pixar movies. The meeting resulted in a Pogo remix called "Upular," which now has more than 6 million views on YouTube — and counting.

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For a lot of listeners, those notes may bring back some memories.


MARTIN: Those are the opening lines from the "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," the classic '90s sitcom starring Will Smith. But for the Australian DJ, Nick Bertke, that theme sounded like raw material.


MARTIN: This is Bertke's remix, "Jaaam," which he released early this year on YouTube. But unlike most DJs, Bertke didn't just draw from the show's music. He also weaved together sounds from the series. Like Will Smith imitating an old man.


MARTIN: The butler Jeffrey repeating the name Arnold Schwarzenegger.


MARTIN: Even the knocks on a door.


MARTIN: In the last few years, Bertke has made a name for himself on the Internet with these types of remixes. Millions of people have watched his musical takes on "Alice in Wonderland," "Terminator 2," even "Harry Potter." Bertke remixes under the name Pogo, and in a way his passion for music started in front of a TV screen.

NICK BERTKE: When I was younger, I used to watch a lot of musicals, you see, like "Mary Poppins" and "The King and I." And so I've always been surrounded by this concept of creating a narrative with music.

MARTIN: And today, Bertke spends a lot of time sitting in front of movies and TV shows listening to the right musical building blocks.

BERTKE: It always starts with the inspiration. I have to have a certain passion for the show. And, of course, how could you not be passionate about "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air?"

MARTIN: I mean, really.

BERTKE: Yes. I don't know what it was. I just heard the drum loop and I thought that's a great foundation for something. And, God, every time Will Smith opens his mouth, there's music in his voice.


MARTIN: So, walk us how you did your first remix. That was "Alice in Wonderland?"

BERTKE: Yeah, that's right. It was a track I called "Alice," predictably. And it was remix just a single chord from the film.


BERTKE: And then I basically found all these different samples of Alice's voice that I really loved the sound of.


BERTKE: And then I sequenced them together in a way that seemed to make some musical sense. And I just gave it a really basic beat.


BERTKE: I think it's like creating a quilt or a patchwork. You have to find colors within a certain hue and all these different textures that seemed to create something bigger.


MARTIN: Disney found out about your remixes and they didn't get mad at you for using their content. In fact, they offered you a job.

BERTKE: Yeah, that's right. No, instead of tacking a subpoena to my forehead, they actually issued me a commission. They asked me to fly out to San Francisco to meet up at the Pixar campus. And we spoke about what we could possibly remix as our first commission.

MARTIN: And where did you go from there? What did you end up doing for them?

BERTKE: Well, we walked out of the building with a copy of "Up" on Blu-ray before the film actually came out, which was quite a novel moment. And I just remember driving over the San Francisco bridge asking myself how am I going to make something that pleases one of the most creative agencies in the world.


MARTIN: Let's give a listen to this. This is the remix you did for the movie "Up" and it's called "Upular."


MARTIN: Let me ask you how you measure your success, if you do. When so much of your work exists on the Internet, how do you gauge how well you're doing or if the work that you're creating is resonating with an audience?

BERTKE: I never wake up and think I'm going to make a viral video and I never try to do something to please somebody else. It started off as a hobby. And so I guess the way that I gauge it doing well on the Internet is just through YouTube and Facebook. There are people talking about the scheme and they're listening to it. There's kids on school buses that contact me. People seem to be listening to it in all sorts of amazing contexts. And, again, it's just amazing to connect with so many people in that way.


MARTIN: That is Nick Bertke. He also goes by the name Pogo, and he joined us on the line from his studio in Western Australia. Hey, Nick, thanks so much.

BERTKE: Thanks, Rachel.


MARTIN: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.