Bootlegs, covers, and scammers: inside Slushii’s fight to reclaim digital ownership
After his unofficial remix unexpectedly went viral, producer Slushii was left fighting an army of anonymous uploaders.
If having a hit viral song is the dream, then seeing your track go viral with someone else’s name on it must be the nightmare. Julian Scanlan had just such an experience.
Better known as Slushii, the producers’ anime-inflected dance tunes have made him a favourite in EDM circles since the release of his full-length debut, Out of Light, in 2017.
However, Julian has a second creative outlet – the more ambient and experimental, sapientdream. It was under this moniker that he uploaded a bootlegged remix of BØRNS’ Past Lives, unwittingly kicking off a chain of events that would see the song garner 40 million daily views on YouTube, 140 million cumulative streams on Spotify, and somewhere north of 2 billion views on TikTok.
Quite an achievement for a song Julian says he originally released online for free and then forgot about.
“I initially heard Past Lives through an advert for iPhone X,” he recalls. “They did a campaign where they use just the intro vocoder part.” That minimalist rendition of BØRNS’ mega hit left Julian feeling inspired to make his own version. He eventually uploaded the resulting track as a bootlegged remix during the pandemic, “as a kind of therapy.”
“I kind of went renegade, against my team’s wishes, and leaked the sapientdream music out there,” he admits. “But, it ended up being for the best because somehow, someway, it gained traction on all these platforms.”
Crucially, Julian says that while he sampled BØRNS without permission, he uploaded his remix without any intention to monetise it. It was months later that he discovered the track had been monetised, just not by him.
“I started looking on Spotify and I saw that another artist had distributed my remix,” Julian recalls. “When it initially went viral, there were 200,000 unique videos of the song. I was scrolling through YouTube Shorts, and every two or three Shorts was my version of Past Lives.”
Julian was left with deeply conflicted emotions regarding the track’s viral success. On the one hand, his work was being heard and shared on a massive scale; on the other hand, there were worrying legal and ethical implications.
“At that point, I was very afraid,” he says. “I had initially released that remix for free during the pandemic, and then this guy went ahead and just ripped it off of YouTube and distributed it to Spotify; not only breaking BØRNS’ copyright, but also taking my intellectual property. So, it ended up being extra uncool.”
With his remix spreading like wildfire on streaming platforms and social media, Julian began the daunting task of reclaiming copyright over the song. Working with record label, Trap Nation, they began the slow process of matching all versions of the track across the internet and issuing takedown requests.
However, that was only the first step. The original bootlegged upload had featured an unauthorised sample of BØRNS’ voice and to legally monetize the track, Julian and Trap Nation produced a new, official cover version of the song.
“I recorded the vocals myself,” he says. “I’ve always had a love for vocoders, so mimicking it only took about an hour while I was packing for a flight.”
After years seeing his remix attributed to other producers and monetized against his wishes, the new version has now been released under both the artist’s Slushii and sapientdream aliases. While the process leading up to this point has been an unusual and complex one, Julian says it has ultimately all been worth it: “I’m over the moon. I feel so vindicated that people can finally see it’s by me – for years, I’ve gone under the radar and it feels good to be appreciated.”
At the same time, Julian hasn’t lost sight of his remix’s origins as a bootleg and has no plans to fight if the song’s original composer comes knocking: “For me, it’s never really been about monetary gain. If Interscope Records comes to us tomorrow and says ‘we want all of the money that you’re getting from the version with BØRNS vocals’ then that’s cool. I’m just happy that the song was able to have a second life.”
While Past Lives was released under both of his artistic aliases, moving forward, Julian says he now sees a much firmer line separating the sapientdream and Slushii projects.
“Now, I’m able to differentiate what’s going to be a Slushii song and what’s going to be sapientdream song. Before, it was like playing with a new can of paint – but now I can actually mix the colours.
Fans won’t have to wait long to hear those new colours, as Julian says a new sapientdream album – his fourth – is nearly completed. In addition to that, Julian is currently in the process of founding his own record label – Sonic Dream. “I want to use it as a platform,” he says. “Not only to release my music, but to sign people who are musically like-minded and to create our own wave.”
Moreover, Julian says the label is part of a larger desire to pass along information, pay forward his own success, and nurture young talent. “I understand my role in the scene now, and I’m beginning to find my tribe of producers. I think once the seed is planted, and you bloom, then it’s your responsibility to keep it going for the next generation; I don’t believe in gatekeeping, I believe there’s really room at the top for everybody.”
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