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Negativland



No one gets into more trouble than Negativland, and that's why they're so great. The Berkeley-bred musical pranksters have been terrorizing the establishment for the last two decades and the world is a better place for it.

For the better part of the '80s, the group, comprised of Richard Lyons, Mark Hosler, David Wills, and Don Joyce worked to perfect their unique brand of cut-and-paste cultural pastiches, a style they termed "culture jamming," intentionally implying both airwave interference and drawn-out musical compositions (Kalle Lasn and others have since appropriated the term to refer to anti-consumerist cultural subversion, which is also what Negativland's art is all about). Much of this work took place on the air, on their infamous KPFA radio show Over the Edge, which provided material for numerous cassette releases. By the late '80s, Negativland's "culture jamming" reached new heights, when the band released a press release claiming that their song "Christianity Is Stupid" had inspired a Minnesota teenager's axe murder of his parents, sparking a media frenzy.

Then in 1990 came the U2 affair, which began when Negativland released an EP packaged to look like a U2 single titled "Negativland." It featured a version of U2's "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" played with kazoos and synthesizers, as well as a bootleg recording of a derogatory rant about the band by legendary radio DJ Casey Kasem. The aftermath saw U2's label, Island Records, unleash the litigious hounds on Negativland while the Irish superband (who you may recall were beginning to engage in some ironic multimedia antics of their own about that time) sat passively by. Kasem's attorneys would soon follow suit, resulting in the near-collapse of Negativland's label, the great SST, and the eventual recall and destruction of the U2 EP.

In the wake of the lawsuit, Negativland put out a pair of books on freedom of speech and intellectual property rights, The Letter U and the Numeral 2 (a quote from Kasem's diatribe) and Fair Use. The featured "Truth in Advertising" is a great example of Negativland's use of tape loops, electronic noise, and found sounds -- "plunderphonics" it's called -- to create creepy "culture jams." It appears on Keep Left, a benefit compilation for Alternative Radio.