Brainfreeze at 25: how this all-45 mix changed the wider vinyl world

A 7-inch record of Brainfreeze by Dj Shadow and Cut Chemist
(Image credit: Sixty7 recordings)

The 45 is a funny old thing. This little 7-inch record has long been considered the poor relation to its 12-inch sibling – its runtime is too short for anything approaching a full album, relegating it to EP status at best, and its sleeve too small to boast any kind of gatefold treatment. New releases are rarely issued on 45s; some record players don't even play them, lacking a 45RPM speed altogether.

In many ways, the 45 is the underdog of the vinyl world. But it still has a lot going for it. Being much smaller, 45s are easier to transport than a crate of 12-inch records. And some people reckon the higher speed contributes to a higher sound quality than the 33 1/3RPM of standard 12-inch vinyl.

Twenty-five years ago, two Californian DJs sought to elevate the status of the humble 45. The resulting mix – Brainfreeze by DJ Shadow and Jurassic 5's Cut Chemist – mashed together diverse source material, encompassing rare funk, soul, jazz, rock and spoken word samples from movie trailers and ad jingles. But they all had one thing in common: they were all issued on the oft-neglected format.

Putting it together

Because they're so small and fiddly, 45s are harder to mix and scratch. While it takes inspiration from Lessons pioneered by hip-hop duo Double Dee and Steiniski, Brainfreeze was created live, rather than edited together in post-production. Which makes it all the more impressive.

Watching DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist create the mix – as you can, on the Freeze documentary below (they start at about 22 minutes in) – is like seeing two master plate spinners at work, but the plates are tea saucers. It doesn't help that both DJs are dressed as convenience store clerks (the mix's name comes from the ice cream headache you get from consuming cold food or drink too quickly).

And that's before we get to the crate digging required to unearth the rare tracks that make up the mix (you can see a tracklisting on Wikipedia). They're not exactly chart-fillers – Marlena Shaw, Rufus Thomas and Giorgio Moroder are about the closest you get to household names. Naturally, there's also a chirpy ad jingle extolling the benefits of drinking Slurpees. Hence the name Brainfreeze.

Back in 1999, the internet was in its infancy, so crate digging involved literally digging through crates of old vinyl in record stores all over the world. Which is something worth remembering this Record Store Day

It's all put together with a hip-hop sensibility from two DJs grounded in vinyl culture. And it had a huge impact on the wider world of record collecting – anyone selling records from the mix could label them 'as featured on Brainfreeze' and jack up the price. Copycat mixes were ten a penny (The Crunch on UK label Fat City featured a jingle about Smith's crisps). It spawned two follow-up mixes – Product Placement and The Hard Sell – and no fewer than three compilation albums of the tracks used in it (Brainfreeze Breaks and Slurped! volumes one and two). Tracks from Brainfreeze also started springing up on TV adverts and film soundtracks – Sexy Coffee Pot and California Soul being just two examples.

The vinyl revival

I'd love to say Brainfreeze was responsible for the vinyl revival, but of course it wasn't. While not quite the nadir, 1999 was one of many lows in terms of vinyl sales, and worse years were still to come. 

But I think that's partly what's helped the mix endure. It was made by two vinyl obsessives, taking the most redundant form of an (at the time) almost redundant format, and creating something that's educational (play spot the sample), technically brilliant, at times amusing, and always entertaining. 

As Stanton Swihart of AllMusic put it: "It is a dizzyingly brilliant, virtuoso work of two exceedingly fecund imaginations." And it gave the 45 some love at a time it needed it the most.


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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.