After a career of more than twenty years, the audio-collage collective known as Negativland has slowly shifted into its new position as the elder statesmen of the sampling community (the collective’s U2 battle in the early nineties is notorious). When the group started, its members hardly could have known how important their style would become. Hip-hop was in its infancy, and the Internet was just an apple in the Department of Defense’s eye. Mark Hosler, the founder of the group and its main voice, has been appropriating bits and pieces since high school, but No Business is his most topical statement, his release made to represent what he and the group stand for.
It’s ironic — though clearly not unconsciously — that a group so in favor of file sharing would create a record that is incomplete without the packaging. No Business comes in a blissfully copyright-infringing package, complete with a fifty-six-page essay and a Whoopee Cushion with a copyright symbol on it (brilliant). For those of us that think the RIAA should go fuck itself, the essay puts an intelligent face on our opposition to the general view that file sharing and sampling are bad things. It raises all the typical issues (including that file sharing hasn’t caused the dips in CD sales predicted) but also points out some issues rarely discussed (including the benefits of unoriginal works and the death of true folk music due to copyrights). It’s the highlight of this set, and it’s an essential read, no matter what side of the issue you are on.
The music itself, however, is typical Negativland pranksterism. The centerpiece of No Business is “Downloading,” a nine-minute piece that uses a speech former RIAA head Michael Greene made at the Grammys a few years ago about downloading. Obviously, he is against it. And obviously, Negativland is illegally sampling songs around him. It’s hysterical, expertly done and makes an amusing point. I’m not sure if I’ll ever put No Business on while I’m hanging out, but I’m never less than entertained listening to Negativland.
I can’t help thinking they can’t get past the comedy of it, and most of the band’s music ends up in that strange experimental-novelty section. But Negativland is like that, and that’s okay. Hosler and company deserve your attention, if only because the revolution is here and they are at the forefront.