Thursday 29 June 2006 at 10:56 am
Summaring a bizarre situation I recently found myself in.... :
Clearing tracks for my new mixtape, I asked one label (let's call em Label X) for permission, offering them the same conditions as everybody else. They refused. A few weeks later, digging in England I found a gorgeous LP released in 1987 on a label called... let's call it Label Y.
Turns out that the song I wanted to use from Label X contains several long samples (10 seconds or more) from this album on Label Y. In fact, these uncleared samples form the entire melody-line of the song, the crucial 'hook' that gives it its particular feel. They have not been flipped or chopped or otherwise rearranged. The song title references the LP they took the samples from. There's also a colonial element that I don't have time to delve into... Several friends of mine work with label Y. The company is independent, well-known, artistically interesting, and enjoys a reputation for fairness. Label X didn't ask Label Y for permission to use the sample. This is common in DJ culture of course -- sampling is acceptable theft and a form of homage and viral culture and fun -- but Label X was trying to assert legal control and squeeze profit using a track which they had stolen. I decided to contact Label X again.
Label X wrote me defending their theft ("We only run a press of 500 so its impossible to pay huge fees for samples."), then in the same breath, explained why they wanted to charge me a lot to use the same track -- which they can't legally control -- in my small-run CD mix!
This is crossing the line. (Fog covers the line.) Even if I were to pay them their requested sum, I couldn't do so in good conscience, knowing that some of the fee should go to Label Y, who -- both legally and morally -- deserve to share in the songwriting composition / publishing credit, and any subsequent licensing fees.
In other words, if I were to pay label X I would knowingly be ripping-off label Y. X didn't sample some pop a cappella or reggae cliché, they nabbed sounds from a cool indy label. So, paying X to use their track is clearly out of the question. But I don't want to steal the song either.
Of course, I'm not the most blame-free person to talk about issues of legal use and ownership in music. (No DJ or mp3 blogger is). I have never jacked sound from an independent label or artist without permission, but as a mixtape DJ, I adhere to John Oswald's stance regarding major label pop. In his essay Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative, Oswald writes "All popular music (and all folk music, by definition), essentially, if not legally, exists in a public domain." and "The hit parade promenades the aural floats of pop on public display, and as curious tourists should we not be able to take our own snapshots through the crowd... rather than be restricted to the official souvenir postcards and programmes?"
To complicate the matter(s), hanging out with Sister Nancy or Nass el-Ghiwane has given me more gloomy insight. For example, Nancy doesn't have any songwriting credit on her hit tune "Bam-Bam". One of reggae's classic anthems, lyrics sung and written by a proud female voice, is 100% owned and controlled by a man. Winston Riley. This well-known Jamaican producer maintains complete legal authority over a lot of songs that you probably associate with the artists who made them into hits.
If Sister Nancy retained even a sliver of songwriting credit, then she would receive a substantial secondary income from the many times "Bam-Bam" is played in a public space, sampled, licensed on a compilation, or used in a film soundtrack. All of these have happened. Ask Riley, or his lawyers: they continue to profit from it.
Similarly, Nass el-Ghiwane don't earn anything from their endless radioplay across the Arab world. Both these cases are quite distinct from each other and the labels X & Y chronicled above, although they all share in common the legal frictions and economic shadiness when different legal systems (informal DJ/vinyl culture, pre-1990s Jamaican studio practices, US and UK copyright conventions, Moroccan authors' rights societies, etc) collide with outright greed and perpetually untrustworthy music industry dudes...
thus concludes part 1.
good chance that part 2 will b juicier...
keep your friends close and your legal counsel closer
Tuesday 27 June 2006 at 10:52 am
7:30pm this Thursday I'll participate in a round-table discussion with Philip Sherburne, Oriol Rossell, and David Albet at Barcelona's CCCB. We're gonna talk (in Spanish) about: “Proliferation and mutation of musical genres. Internal history, styles and positions. The impact of technology. Tradition, experimentation and permeability between genres. Conflict of definitions. Obsolete and new categories.” Sounds a bit vague on paper but I reckon we'll make it lively.
After the chat, Spring Heel Jack will perform. Only 2.50 €!
Thursday 22 June 2006 at 10:01 am
I'll be in Berlin this Saturday, DJing at the Sick Girls' Revolution No. 5 party. 103 Club. (Just how ill are they? Their guests this month include Mr Catra, Dizzee Rascal, and they're warming up for Roots Manuva before hitting Revolution). I go on around 1am, Timeblind b4, DJ Maxximus with "two female London grime MCs" and Sick Girls after.
check Sick Girls' blog for a funny SONAR review and sexy photos of the Dizzee partee.
from 6-8pm the Girls & I will drop tunes at Radioeinszueins, 95.2 fm. We heart radio!
Summertime Berlin is quiet and green and spacious and filled with healthy Germans trying not to act German, trying not to get mad at you for jaywalking or touching the stuff in their shops.
It's significantly cheaper than Barcelona, and if you toss a brick you'll hit an electronic music producer or artist of some sort, which means it's always fun to throw bricks in Berlin in summer.
Plus, the IBM microchip in each German's brain is set to a BPM default of around 130-140 beats per minute, so they are naturally predisposed to techno AND grime / dubstep / funk carioca / baltimore. So y'all can expect some of the latter. (like any explorer worth his salt, i like to exploit the natives' weaknesses)
My first time in Berlin, a few years ago, I had this horrible horrible creepy host who basically told me where McDonalds was then pointed out the club I was playing at. As I sat in the club waiting for something -- anything -- to happen, a German girl came up, asked me for drugs, then started hitting on me. I was like: wow, I'm in Germany! The first person to approach me in this country is a real live stereotype-filled citizen -- how quaint. Of all the people to be objectified by, this is one of the better possibilities. I Am The Virile Black Man Who Probably Is Selling 'Ganja'.
These days it is better. I've met dozens of great people who offset the heaps of freaks and bigots I crossed paths with on my other trips. The shopkeepers still yell at me, but I've learned to wear white cotton gloves -- pickaninny chic -- when record shopping, and to never, ever try to put back the record from where I got it. They hate that.
Oona, a complex firecracker in her own right, has introduced me to the world of breakcore youth who try to come to terms (of endearment?) with Adorno, and the incredible anti-German Germans, anti-nationalist nationals, one of whose mouthpieces is a magazine titled, rather amazingly, Bahamas.
Monday 19 June 2006 at 7:00 pm
Terry Riley, Toru Takemitsu, Pierre Henry, Karlheinz Stockhausen... -- Classical Connection specializes in album rips of out-of-print avant-garde classical music. Always nice when generosity meets quality control.
Jil Jilala's 198? album is a major accomplishment. They work out tight, funky Maghrebi grooves with mathematical precision. Bass, banjo, and beats dip into unexpected modalities -- you can almost overlook the impeccable songwriting, some of their finest. One is tempted to ask: Why didn't they abandon live percussion and pick up drum machines sooner?
The only online mention of this album i've found calls it (pejoratively) "processed and mechanical." You be the judge?
Jil Jilala - Kouna Kountoum
Wednesday 14 June 2006 at 1:44 pm
W&W brings it with another big big reggaeton post, this one linking to a veritable treasure trove of key proto-reggaeton mixtapes del jefe DJ Playero y otros pilares del género.
Wayne's piece raises provocative questions on the transformation of 'música negra' (black music) to 'reggaeton latino', where the “receding presence of hiphop and reggae, this disappearing sonic blackness” gets supplanted by the sounds and stances of pan-Latino cultural nationalism.
Do the soft laws of social commitment and access, of authenticity and community anticipate, provoke, or reflect this shift? Or is trying to read causality into viral street culture a losing proposition from the start? Mutation, not birth. DJ, not Author. Perhaps it's enough to demonstrate that cultural politics are inseparable from musical trends while trying to listen to both; a way of saying that music matters at a scale far beyond our individual consumer preferences. Most music critics are very very close readers, in the literary sense, and that's not solely the fault of dwindling wordcount.
Ownership requires strict timekeeping – the original came first, the dude we're gonna sue for copyright infringement came later – but 'derivative' culture is a miasma of signifiers and style, dancing in the omnivorous, sensual now. Lots of the DJ Playero tapes are as fresh today as they ever were. Maybe fresher. The swamp, the sampler, the street. Heat as environment, the air in your lungs.
Q. Which comes first, the genre or the community to listen to it?
(shout to Ripley for a head's up on the World Intellectual Property Association's Barcelona meeting next week. “This is outside the normal diplomatic venues, to try to ram through [legislation that] would give broadcasters (not creators or copyright holders) the right to tie up the use of audiovisual material for 50 years after broadcasting it, even if the programs are in the public domain, Creative Commons licensed, or not copyrightable.” Sigh. All i want for Christmas is a hot mixtape and generic medicine for folks who can't afford patented versions. More commentary here & here.)
Monday 12 June 2006 at 08:59 am
We leave Barcelona in high spirits. Upon arrival in London, Abdel is denied entrance to the U.K. and deported back to Spain. The British government will fine EasyJet 2000pounds. The tour organizer thought we had all the proper paperwork. The Spain-side airport people thought the same. British Immigrations agents thought differently (if they think at all).
Listless functionaries detain us for several hours, scanning Abdel's documents and saying "no" then "maybe" then "no" again. Bad times to travel on a Moroccan passport. Our violin & banjo player is led to a small disagreeable room by functionaries who don't speak his languages. Faint diesel fumes add a twist to the standard administrative odor of bad coffee, dusty photocopies, cheap perfume, and indifference. The functionaries offer him tea and sandwiches as he waits for the next plane to Barcelona.
I want to cancel the tour. "Nettle without Abdel is like a face without a nose" I say, too shocked by the events to formulate a passable simile, although the Gogol reference is somehow apt. Filastine and Jen convince me to carry on. I brought this upon myself -- "Build a Fort, Set That on Fire" -- a title turns into a kind of curse.
Any Mudd Up! readers who can recommend a good Obeah man, Voodoo priestess, gypsy sage, and/or multipurpose evil-eye remover, get in touch. Last time Nettle left the country to play we were allowed in but my computer blew up.
Months back Anne told me, "...the other thing about nettles is that there is this way to harvest them without getting hurt -- it involves not thinking, just working with a brave and absent mind." Thus we encounter the Stay-Puft Paradox. I am brave and absent-minded but not thinking is unthinkable.
Pain is something you are in, hurt is something you get.
After umpteen hours in the airport, we leave limbo without a bandmember. The airport store stocks between 50 and 70 different varieties of what British people call crisps. Americans say potato chips. They sport titles like "savory moroccan lamb and gentle lime twists". Clear evidence of an empire in decline. London is the senile brain of an aging empire in decline, with fantastic bursts of color, activity, and memory in unrelated spaces and really bad transit. 70 types of potato chips and no other food except sandwiches made of bread-flavored styrofoam.
The Marxist elf inside my blog stands funny. He leans left to shift weight off his bum leg. The creature speaks perfect English. "If the market were remotely free, don't you think it would carry more food than potato chips and sucrose-based 'juices' and sodas?" Good question. "Diversity!" He pushes up his cute red cap. "Market diversity my ass" the gimpy sprite continues, using increasingly profane language to ridicule precepts of supply-side economics -- which will not be printed here, out of concern for our sizeable preteen and young adult readership. But he does have a point, the little bugger.
We take a train to London (22pounds for 3 people, not bad. I pay) and a taxi to the venue (11pounds, Jenny pays). Touring is 78% waiting around. Bands and DJs will try to project images of thrilling backstages and flattering treatment and cheery addict-free afterparties and agreeable meals and friendly co-workers and hip drugtakers and doe-eyed groupies and people who look good after the lights have been turned on and the intoxicants have worn off. Artists fuel these myths because they hope that they will one day become true.
But the simple fact of the matter is that touring is boring. Real boring. And so we wait. The path of least resistance, strangely enough, involves me lugging 4 bags of equipment up and down and in and out, I'm a worker ant, I'm the drone, I can stick to the ceiling and lift fifteen times my own weight.
I start to think that the more boring you are the better you are at touring -- isn't Paul Simon supposed to be boring? I think he toured a lot. Maybe I'm confusing him with Robert DeNiro. Doesn't DeNiro only date black women? He has the fever. Fair enough. Is jungle fever -- are all sexual fetishes -- boring? Because of the lack of surprise. .
Back to the equation. Touring is 78% Waiting Around.
The remaining 22% of touring is mostly: Lifting Heavy Things (9%), Soundchecking (6%), Trying To Escape the Drunk Fan Singing "Mosquito" or "Mole in the Ground" or Telling You About His [insert genre/medium here] Collective (4%; substitute my song titles with your own), Luxurious Bathtubs (2%), and Performing Your Music For A Crowd of Real People (1%).
The bathtubs are the best part, unless the hotel room only has a ratty shower. In lieu of bathtub, watching Pimp My Ride on German MTV offers loosely equivalent 'relax value'. Without bathtub or MTV, you're fucked.
Nettle play the Spitz, Jen & I, two people. We pretend to be three people! Jenny is brave. Not to mention a very talented musician. "She makes the music, I make the mistakes." The disaster is avoided, what we do is new and not wretched. Melodies Abdel taught us continue in his absence. We're on the panicky edge of oral tradition, playing songs we wrote together without one of the songwriters. There's an empty chair. I like the idea of absence being central, but not this central. It's cool though.
Abdel's at home now. His young daughters are a bit mystified. That fast? Usually he disappears with me for longer... Like 'immigrants' in many Eurocountries, they are not granted immediate Spanish citizenship even though they were born in Spain to legal permanent residents. These young girls have not begun schooling yet. They already speak Spanish, Arabic, Catalan, Berber, and some French. I think they should rule the world.
Back in London Doudou Cissoko plays kora music. Among his accompanying musicians is a white woman in a sequined blouse playing bongos. Sheikh takes pictures. Last time I saw Sheikh was yet another stressful London situation, my live Peel Session at Maida Vale. Sheikh took pictures. John Peel and I talked about the Chameleons, how good they were. Especially at the beginning. Script of the Bridge. What Does Anything Mean? Basically. Titles like those give no special footholds to witchdoctor-hiring haters.
Back at the Spitz Raz Mesinai strolls in to say hello. Raz!! aka Badawi. He's on tour. We catch up. Good to see you!
Friday 09 June 2006 at 08:16 am
just got back, a sad story about deportation to tell, but i'm off again playing in Alicante tomorrow so here's some info for next week's (1 euro!) Soot party in Barcelona on June 17. (weekend after that, June 24, you can catch me in Berlin rocking it with the Sick Girls, Germany's only real superheroes.)
more on all this inna minute, first things first. or last. can't remember. see you next week??
"hold tight everyone who reads books" now go buy Brooklyn.