Earlier this year (2005) I saw Mark Hosler of Negativland speak at MIT. Hosler was on a national college speaking tour. He was not only speaking about Negativland but about all the issues that surround the renegade sound collages this art collaborative creates. Fresh from the production of No Business, Hosler touched on all the issues encased in this ample package. The CD No Business is another attack on perceived notions of ownership, intellectual property, copyrights and open sources that has been launched into a new galaxy of cyberspace. This is the boundry that Negativland steps over throughout their history. Negativland's humorous and artistic expressions have been sticking their toungues out and thumbimg their noses at religion, corporations and societal mores for 25 years. It is no wonder you get a "Whoopee Cushion" with the copyright logo emblazened for your ass to give its tutelage.
Negativland is entrenched and infamous in the musical underground culture for their send up of Casey Kasem and U2's song, I Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For. Prior to the U2 single the sound bites were more obscure and sources were hard to delineate . With U2 and past release, DisPepsi (a name that is better than the release itself), the sources and corporate dragons they lance at are blatant. The U2 era of Negtiv history has been escalted, deflated and speculated. You too, can purchase the story in book and CD form. Hosler's most memorable definitive on this subject was on the rumor that U2 loved the spoof 12". The band was going for the jugular and they were fully involved in the lawsuit. Mark's revelations made U2 sound like a corporation, which they are. They are a franchise and a full on corporate entity. It is no coincidence that Negativland flirted with an internationally recognized brand, Pepsi, U2- what's the difference. All the overblown history did increase the commitment by fans, supporters, lawyers, hackers, downloaders and the group continues being a fly in the copyright ointment.
In 2 seconds you can tell the first source, The Beatles- Because. Lennon, McCartney and Harrison's three part harmonizing is homoginized, pulled and warped in a vignette entitled Old is New. The Beatles. The giant of "the conglom-o-rock coporation". At the onset, this is a declaration. Negtivland is back and they hurling stones at the crumpy and angry giant. The tossing is not to defend but to prod and poke at a beast already on edge. Meanwhile, the piece is really well done, albeit, short.
The title track No Business blares in with horns fanfare and is, plain and simple, a recut and mash-up of Rosemary Clooney singing, There's No Business Like Show Business. Throw in a stock disco beat, repeat, blend, puree, chop and pour out a funny, annoying tune declaring, "there's no business like stealing!" If you know the original it is a hilarious spoof with an agressive message, stealing is fun! By the tone of the original vocals and the mixing you feel the guilty pleasure this group gets out of what they produce. It is fun to steal. Is this their recognition of the fact that they essentially are stealing? Are they being cute and juvenile? Negativland is in the tradition of Lou Costello ( I've been a bad boy ) and Bart Simpson (I didn't do it) but they are real people bringing up real issues. It is just as dark as it is light. Stealing. Everything about it is appealing. "One musical prison sentence of laff riots after another".
Next, a dark entry, Downloading. This agro-collage is a Disney symphony cacophony lurching into a replay of the Grammy speech by Michael Green (President/CEO of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Inc.) from the 2002 Grammy Awards. The speech was scary. Telling us about the "special relationship between the artist and fan" as "orbital discs" of song samples mix with warnings and sarcastic barbs jetting at the "hot button" issues of this speech warning of the disconnect that the internet has created in that "special relationship". The foreboding repeated "downloading" is reminiscent of, and rivals, the single, Guns. Throw in Disney songs, commercial clips, Dylan, The Who, and that grammy speech, this is piece is very effective in questioning the stranglehold that the music corporations have had on distrubuting and pushing their product at the expense of the artist and listener. With the open ecxchange of digital media that choke hold is now being pulled at and as the numbers of downloaders increase (Kazaa has over 60 million members) the fingers try to grip tighter. Laugh, learn, question and be scared. This is true Negativland and the most poigniant production on the CD. As the Little Mermaid says in her sample, "I just don't see how a world that makes such wonderful things can be bad" and "Did you ever get the feeling that the truth is less revealing than a downright lie? -The Rutles sample.
Back into lighter territory we hear Julie Andrew's Favorite Things ( the CD uses the same title) from The Sound Of Music, reconfigured to a silly piece of nonsense and fun and nose cream. I am glad it is short. But we are back to a new fanfare of horns. God Bull. Created from Disney's animatronics Lincoln speech is made into a decry of "God Bull" and asking God to commit suicide and letting that be a international religion. The end of the track even has the Disney exit annoucement after the animatronic "Hall of Presidents". Keep Rollin' is a silly little song that is made in support of refer. Piece A Pie is long and has little to do with the political agenda that is found in other elements of this CD, outside of the fact that they are grabing from the movie Duel, Steven Spielberg's first film, and creating a new performance from the old. The piece is fun but annoying. Characters are in search of where they are and where they are going as an old man asks them if they want a piece of pie, over and over. After four minutes of the total eight it is crushing under it's own redundancy. New Is Old closes the disc as a reprise of The Beatles Because.
After you listen to No Business sit on your "Whoopee Cushion" and pop the disc into your computer and see the video for the song, Gimme The Mermaid. It is a combination of jibes by Negativland. Sued by Greg Ginn over royalties and losses from the SST release of U2 and the debacle of the Live Stupid release (issued and reedit by SST and Ginn without permission) Hosler and crew ressurrect the song Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, by Black Flag. Combined with the animated Little Mermaid raging with the tiraiding voice of a music industry lawyer, "I paid for it. I own it. I am not pissing around with you. I am going to sue your ass. Let's go" as The Little Mermaid voice sings about have everything but still wanting moooorrrrrre. With vocal styling that channels the vocals of their U2 the video turns to a cover of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme, Negtivland style. The animation is kinda cheesy but done by Tim Maloney, an animator at Disney who worked on the video animation at the Disney Studios, on Disney equiptment on his off time, adding to the sneaky and rebellious stylings these troubadours are famous for. it is not great but funny and scary, the theme of this whole release.
The 56-page boklet, Two Realtionships To A Cultural Public Domain, is boasted as a "Bible of up-to-date "fair use" quips and jokes. But the words are salient and bring up important facts and concepts of how digital media sharing is evolving and changing the consumer's relationship with music, film and information. The cover is full of visual cues using logos and character that consumerism and myth have ingrained in our collective reasonung; Kool-Aid pitcher, Mayor McCheese, Starbucks, Frankenstien, Mr. Peanut, Batman, Cyclops, the Sphynx, Nosferatu, and Mickey Mouse all appear on the cover. The touted barrel of laughs is not "ha, ha funny ". It is odd funny. Funny-interesting- to read the actual statistics and reasons for the slip in record sales and music industry profits and promulgating the new world of music that doesn't need the "industry" that "helps" artists to become the next stars (yesterday it was announced that Sony will pay a hefty fine for "payola" to radio stations to play there promoted artists). It will most likely be a future of art over profit as the internet makes sharing of all digital media free. Corporations are soiling themselves at the premonition of a future that leaves big labels extinct and the power in the user and not the consumer or an industry that tries to control the future and keep it like the past raher than embracing an new model for the digital age.
In 25 years San Franciso's Negativland has risen to become the nexus for the music industry battle over copyright and reuse issues. Art and parody has always been protected from copyright law but when it is for general distribution and for-profit sale in the digital age, the issues are more important than ever. Negativland has been the soothsayers foretelling issues that are now in the forfront of intellectual property battles. Wether this is just a group of guys with a radio show (Over The Edge/OTE) having fun stealing from the past to make something new or an intentional political stance, this group is now cloaked in these issues. No Business is a reaffirmation of their position to independently confront issues head on creating necessary discussion, battles and debates to figure out the future of copyrights and intellectual property. Although this is not a listenable CD, in a musical sense, it is a artistic creation spits in the eye of a record industry hell bent on stopping stealing. The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zepplin, Disney have all stolen from the past and created something new while not paying the original artists a dime. The music industry only disapproves of stealing when it is their profit hurt. Steal from others to make the corporation rich, that is progress. Steal from the corporation to take back control of art and information, that is illegal. After all is absorbed you are left asking, when all music is being openly exchanged for free? How will anyone make a living off their art and is nothing sacred and everything is open game? Listen, laugh, think, be scared. The future is now.