Downhill, music activism, and filesharing

WOEBOT: ” followed the link through to Down Hill Battle, and was really alarmed at what they’re up to, which seems to be a ‘rolling together’ of an antipathy to the big five labels with a tactic of encouraging file-sharing. … I’m quite sympathetic to the major labels. I’ve heard plenty about record companies ‘evil’ tactics … but they’re not the manifestation of single evil geniuses. … Selling music is somewhat like drilling for oil, a label will sign 50 artists and only one will make them any money.”

I checked out the Downhill site and thought it was OK really. It’s primarily trying to make clear just how evil most record contracts are and the degree to which a “successful” band is unlikely to reap their fair rewards. It’s good stuff. I think their promotion of file sharing as a way of hurting the record labels doesn’t really hold water as evidenced by yesterday’s economic analysis. And I quite agree that filesharing is as Matt says a “muddy gesture” at best. Far better to try to create alternative distribution channels, most of which are dying right now (not because of MP3s, but because the dance music market has contracted). However I think Downhill is fairly obviously not making promotion of filesharing central to their purpose; it’s a tactical thing to support their wider of objective of music activism. To that degree it’s acceptable to me and I sympathise with Down Hill.

But I think Matt is wrong to be synpathetic to record labels — despite the venality and greed of the average artist. The fact that record companies lose money on much, probably most, of their portfolio of investments — as ever other business in the world does, believe you me! — does not justify the demonstrable ripping off of those rare acts that DO manage to generate some positive cash flow. Record companies clearly are not the product of single evil genius. No: they are quite clearly the product of single, evil, economic system. If there were a truly free market in record distribution and artist development, record companies would not exist in the manner they do today. But that free market does not exist, and record label corruption and exploitation of talent is a continuing tragedy, which music fans should care about, in my view. Critique Downhill’s position all you want, but don’t excuse the record labels’ their undoubted sins.

Post punk scenes

WOEBOT: “Anyway it got me thinking. A lot of people spun out of Post-Punks orbit into mad crazy shit like Free Jazz (you meet Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry on the road out of PP), Dub and Roots (Prince Far-I and Scratch) Improv (Tristan Honsinger, Toop and Beresford), Electro (Tommy Boy) and most importantly World Music (Sunny Ade, South African Jive, Fela, etc) ”

I’m not with you on the link to world music, or at least not as enthusiastic. Thinking back I remember just how removed Sunny Ade and other twinkly Charlie Gillett* approved world music was from post punk. You’re quite right about the move into Free Jazz. Let’s list them: Float Up CP, PigBag, that band that Neneh Cherry was in that I can never remember, The Cravats — on the Crass lable, The Collossal Tunes Out, AMAZING record — arguably Ut, Biting Tongues, arguably Cabaret Voltaire, somewhat less arguably Clock DVA. And dub and roots speak for themselves — for me this is by far the most important linkage, by a mile. Electro of course — this is a key route from post punk to dance, alongside industrial, which is itself I think the most recognisable outlet for improv. Wheras world music… I don’t remember that being a central part of post punk at all. I remember it being very much a grafted on, middle-class beatnik’s attempt to get down with the kids sort of route. A stand-alone, defiantly nerdy subscene much like the check-shirted cohorts of Long Ryders and Green on Red fans worshipping at the temple of Andy Kershaw, who himself campaigned for the world music cause and eventually made that his primary focus.

Yer more banging / transcendental afrobeat was and is a different proposition. And I personally liked the weirder, arguably groovier African shards that went into the undertow of the WOMAD movement, and had parallels with the ongoing acid casualty / post hippy scene which interlocked so closely with both industrial and, later, acid (all the same people, and all the same records as influences).

But don’t let me mix up my personal tastes with what I hope is an objective point — which is about the degree to which the 8Ts world music scene interfaced with the post punk scene. On the one hand Fela, Tony Allen, anything to do with dub, most of what Matt describes in fact, would as I remember it have fitted into the paradigm of post punk at the time. But Sunny Ade and South African Jive / township was a different scene, a different taste, with little cross over of record collections. In other words, yer post punk fans of 23 Skidoo and Magazine and PiL and Joy Division might buy one Sunny Ade record, but they wouldn’t buy two. The miners strike was, for fucks sake! I’d be interested in any other pushing-40 music nerds have different recollections.

So much for history. The real locus of Matt’s rant is the contrast with post punk then — tiny scene really (actually — anyone got numbers for record sales???), but very influential, opened up a lot of areas exactly as Matt suggests — and The Post Punk Revival (TM) now. Which is selling a few records, not very influential, not really opening up any areas. Just being raked over for any residual taste in the gum.

On the one hand this is terrible and an indication of the terrible state of the nation’s youth.

On the other, this is exactly what I was doing when I was 17, 18 — picking over ten year old records and squeezing the last bit of taste out of them, and not really giving a fuck about how they were supposed to be listened to or what vistas you were supposed to open up as a result. In my case, I was digging out Led Zep, AC/DC, Deep Purple and just grooving on it. Same with Miles Davis, though I was into him earlier (cos of the post punk scene’s influence and Cabaret Voltaire). Oh and I don’t count the exploration of 70s reggae, cos I always thought that was effectively current music — still do.

Take your pick. The jury is still out on whether the youth of today are a bunch of know-nothing, vacant, unrebellious morons who don’t know they’re born 😉

* who is a great broadcaster and arbiter of taste… and he wrote a FABULOUS book called Making Tracks, which is a history of Atlantic and Ahmet Ertegun. Does a good show on radio 3.