Negativland - 05/10/2000

Negativland 2000

I didn't think that Negativland was going to be much of a live band. I loved the documentary Sonic Outlaws that spent a lot of its running time profiling the copyright pranks and illegal art that Negativland does so well, but none of that seemed like something you would go to a club to see on a stage. I loved what they did with "The Letter U and the Numeral 2" but again, would it really translate to a performance?

Happily, the answer was a resounding YES. Negativland not only won me over with unfamiliar material, they did so in style. The campy, psychadelic songs have never been my favorite part of their repoitoire, but even those were somehow charming in person. What they did with a mid-show puppet theater act was silly and adventurous and I loved it, but when they ended the show with a song where they ran film through a projector, stopping it long enough to melt and burn each frame as it passed in front of the bulb, I was in awe. It took a few minutes for me to figure out what they were doing because I was so interested in how it looked on stage. When I started to smell the burning celluloid, I looked over and saw someone purposefully creating a huge plume of smoke from melted film stock and I fell in love with the whole thing.

Negativland informed a lot of what I have tried to do over the years. A respect for their pioneering use of found sound and abusive copyright infringement to make a point can certainly be seen in my own work. Negativland (along with bands like Meat Beat Manifesto and Pop Will Eat Itself) helped me to forge an understanding of reappropriation as a creative choice rather than just a lazy endeavor. They also helped to solidify for me the importance of making all of that culture mashup entertaining in some way, so that it didn't seem like an academic exercise in musical diction or sound collage. Negativland not only had ideas behind their work, they also knew what would make people laugh and think and what would make people want to go home and start cutting up vhs tapes or audio files.

In the digital age, an act like Negativland is almost quaint. Culturejamming and sampling and mashups of every conceivable type have become some commonplace that there are more cultural references in an average episode of Family Guy than there were in many early works of sample/cut-up collage music. Of course most of what makes it to an audience is still mundane or obvious or without any point other than to be funny for a moment, the fact remains that a new generation of kids raised on home-made YouTube parodies are not likely to get what was so magical about Negativland doing what they did the old fashioned way.