This article originally appeared in XLR8R, Summer 2005
Negativland has always had a penchant for the kind of toilet humor that would make Duchamp proud. Their latest album No Business comes complete with a bright yellow whoopee cushion emblazoned with the copyright symbol. As the Supreme Court hears the case of music industry behemoth Sony against file-sharing programs like Grokster, it looks like 25 years into their career Negativland was 25 years ahead of the curve and the murky ethics of found sound appropriation which Negativland has explored through electronic music and social satire couldn’t be more current. No Business contains collaged samples of Ethel Mermen, Disneyland rides and a melodramatic Grammy awards speech by the president of the RIAA on the evils of downloading music.
Originally published in Bitch magazine, Spring 2005
Solex is the alter ego of Dutch record store owner, Elizabeth Esselink, who pieces together loops and samples from the crappy, unsellable CDs in her store’s discount bins, to layer under her own clever, nearly English-proficient vocals. After three brilliant solo albums for Matador, Solex has gained a new label, a live band and a male vocalist. These additional musicians appear on every track on Laughing Stock, but not in the way one might expect. They comprise just one of the many fragments of source material Esselink cuts and pastes to make songs. The musicians’ presence gives the album a messier and livelier sound than its predecessors. Continue reading
Oakland’s Kid606, aka Miguel Depedro, has made a career out of applying the mentality of hardcore punk to various styles of computer-generated music, from ambient electronica to mainstream hip hop. His most recent album, Kill Sound Before Sound Kills You, is full of incredibly fast, rollickingly abusive techno, songs in which the Kid has turned the beat of the dance floor into the throb of a migraine.
“Ecstasy Motherfucker” is a satire of ’90s rave music, but here the simple, brain-dead beats are pushed to light-speed; even the kitschy vocal samples – “Yo! Give me something to dance to!” and “Beat goes boom! Boom! Boom!” – are sped up to a chipmunk pitch. On “Buckle Up,” frog-throated British MC Wayne Lonesome toasts in the dancehall style about Bin Laden – and also about elephants and zebras. It’s a reggae song with all the lilt and gyration replaced with police sirens and industrial pounding. Throughout most of the album these bland, rapid beats are pushed to the foreground, but with several of the songs clocking in at seven-plus minutes, all of their manic energy is not enough to prevent the repetition from becoming a little deadening.
The Kid is at his best when he takes a break from beating up the listener, as on “If I Had a Happy Place This Would Be It,” a track that combines acoustic guitar, creamy synths, wood-block percussion, and the thump of hip hop; or the gurgling rhythm of “Total Recovery Is Possible,” which is pleasantly intricate and unpredictable, instead of just fast.
Depedro has established a formula for his own unusual breed of club music, but by the end of this record the fact that it is, in fact, a formula becomes all too apparent. Kill Sound succeeds when the Kid defies not just popular taste, but his own habits. For the most part, however, sound killed me, not the other way round.
Originally published in SF Weekly.