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Negativland
The letter U and the numeral 2
By Ram Samudrala
(more articles from this author)
2000-05-28
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I was introduced to Negativland after a friend taped their Announcement to me as the start of a compilation tape. I became really interested in them after they were sued by (and lost to) Island Records, U2's label, after releasing U2. This was a fascinating case for me given my own interest the anti-intellectual property movement, particularly with regards to music.

I went into this concert with some trepidation. I used to think Negativland were hilarious, but I did think they (understandably) lost their sense of humour after their lawsuit. My fears weren't allayed when what greeted us outside were three young girls who would type a poem for you on demand. Then I saw the stage which looked like the beginnings of a highly pretentious show.

Fortunately, the band's sense of humour won over the pretense. The opening scene featuring a bit of Crosley Bendix and the hilarious depiction of how a religious mother wants to inflict corporal punishment on her child is almost pornography. The band then went on to butcher Pepsi and Coke, U2 (of course, with a version of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For set in a Waltz time signature), Contra Costa County (in 180-G), and The Sound of Music.

A lot of the reason I like Negativland is for their experiments in noise. The highlight of this was in their transformation of The Sound of Music. The band incorporating pop music to a backdrop of "who needs music" and a lot of noise was also interesting.

While I cannot recommend Negativland to every music fan, I can recommend their show to any fan of performance art. For all the pretense, for all their focus on deconstructing pop culture (an easy target, to be sure), Negativland manage to perform music in a manner that can truly be called art.


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