Suppose a friend invites you to a concert on Friday night—but instead of pulling two tickets to Fun. out of his pocket, he brandishes a set of passes to a classical music concert. Not that you don’t appreciate classical music, but Lincoln Center wasn’t exactly where you had anticipated spending your precious weekend night. You go to the concert, because you said you would, and you have an amazing time. But you can’t help thinking about your friends who are out bumping along to dance music at The Heights. But, as it turns out, there are a lot of bands making music that can satisfy fans of both genres. Enter The Dolls, a New York fusion duo who incorporate violin melodies into remixes of pop songs, such as Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” It’s classical music, reformatted for the Skrillex generation.
Starlet spinner DJ Mia Moretti and classically trained violinist Caitlin Moe are transcending typical pop paradigms and exposing listeners to a genre seemingly lost in time with their unique blend of modern and classical music, which has become a hit with the tastemakers of the New York City fashion and music scenes. As stated on their Tumblr, the two are on a mission to “travel the world making music, sliding down rainbows, riding ponies and taking away sadness from all the other lonely boys and girls out there.” Their plan? Mix classical with catchy: Think Mozart meets M.I.A.
This being the iPod age, many modern listeners lack a real connection to classical music. They are quick to write it off as old-fashioned, boring, or out of touch. But the genre still permeates our musical culture. Even if we didn’t grow up listening to Chopin and Beethoven on the radio, most of us who attended American public schools have memories of those composers from band class: walking home from school with our instrument case dragging behind us, or practicing alone for hours in our room, playing “Canon in D” or “Pink Panther” at an assembly. Yet, somewhere along the way, we abandoned those instruments for glossier things: big-budget music videos, MP3 players, and hot pink Skullcandy headphones. We’ve taken to blasting pop hits and one-hit wonders, rather than listening to a full symphony on 180-gram vinyl.
Lucky for us, Caitlin Moe didn’t abandon her violin once she left elementary school: She’s often spotted carrying her signature yellow fiber violin case. Moretti doesn’t come from the same musical background: She’s a DJ best known for her remix of Katy Perry’s hit, “Hot N Cold,” a track that landed her a space in the top 10 on the Billboard dance charts. Moe first met Moretti when they performed together at a nightclub here in New York City.
“We got together shortly after that because we both admired each other’s tastes and work,” Moretti and Moe explain in an email. “The Dolls were pieced together, arm by arm, leg by leg, breast by breast after that.”
Three years later, The Dolls are finally achieving commercial success. They’ve scored nearly 4,000 likes on Facebook, signed a deal with BMF Media, and earned a prominent spot in the New York fashion scene, performing at parties hosted by Harper’s Bazaar and Calvin Klein. They’ve also been enjoying extra attention and exposure, thanks to an opening spot on pop singer MIKA’s tour. The Dolls’ high-energy shows are the opposite of the stereotypical stuffy recital, offering an accessible option for those more inclined to listen to T-Pain than Tchaikovsky. The band remixes hits from the likes of Katy Perry and M83, sprucing them up with classical violin to create a DJ set that’s difficult to define within traditional genre parameters.
In a New York club scene defined by four-on-the-floor beats and dubstep bass drops, The Dolls’ music bridges gaps in our musical culture—between the organic and the technological, the classical and the current. “As artists we always try to incorporate our favorite tracks into our live sets and remixes,” Moretti and Moe explain. “We try to mix both popular tracks and less known artists—while incorporating a live element—to engage the audience and add a playful element to our sets.”
The Dolls aren’t the only ones drawing upon classical inspiration for Top 40-ready material. Artists like the Electric Light Orchestra, Sarah Brighman, Vanessa-Mae, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (a band with which Moe toured in 2009 and 2010) all work to blend the electronic with the symphonic. Meanwhile, controversial chanteuse Lana Del Rey’s biggest hits—“Video Games” and “National Anthem”—marry orchestral string arrangements with thumping electronic beats, daring the listener to explore outside modern musical convention.
Even though the current Billboard soundscapes are still dominated by glossy, fast-paced pop-electronica, classical music remains an ever-present force, whether we notice its influence or not. After all, it’s safe to assume that most of us can hum those famous first notes from Beethoven’s Fifth on command.
Given the increasing attention garnered by Moretti, Moe, and their contemporaries—and the advent of instant streaming modules like Spotify—there is a possibility that today’s youngsters may be able to use classically-infused pop as an introduction to the greats. Consider it a history lesson that swaps esoteric ageism for unpretentious fun—or, as The Dolls put it, unbridled youth. When asked about a potential age gap, they replied: “We don’t believe in age. The Dolls don’t grow up!”