Nihilist spasms, burning spears, and fabulous stains: "revolution rock" as the Clash used to call it. The second annual edition of "Sound Unseen"--already a rebel yell for cramming three dozen movies, several live gigs, and a pair of panel discussions into nine Twin Cities venues over the course of a single week--highlights the subversive side of music making in the era of media consolidation. Among the "Unseen" events is a trio of live excursions into the art of "plunderphonics": that is, sampling copyrighted sounds and assembling them anew--stealing from the likes of Charlie Rich to give Poor Righteous Teachers a run for their money.
As we've been hearing so often lately, This is war. But why not fight with tape and vinyl rather than lead and mortar? In the concert movie Wattstax (screening Monday, October 1 at Oak Street Cinema), filmed at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1972 while another battle was raging, the Rev. Jesse Jackson preached the need to shift from "Burn baby burn" to "Learn baby learn." In that spirit Money for Nothing: Behind the Bu$ine$$ of Pop Mu$ic and Vinyl (see "On the Record," below) take stock of the corporate monopoly over music making and the more perverse politics of the collector. Also fighting the power--and suffering the consequences--the unreleased cult feature Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains (see "Staind," far right) hints at a lineage from 1981 to the grrrl-power movement that would follow, more than a decade later. Bringing it all back home is the hip-hop doc Elements of Style (see "Digital Underground," right), which catches Twin Cities performers in the act of making their own scene.
With so much going on, the "Sound Unseen" festival practically represents a scene unto itself. To find out more, check www.soundunseen.com for information about screenings at Oak Street and Bryant-Lake Bowl; live shows at First Avenue, the Uptown Bar, and Sursumcorda; panel discussions at Oak Street and Walker Art Center; and parties at the Kingman and Mosman studios.
On the Record
Money for Nothing registers the compound evils of the music industry;Vinyl scours the racks for the meaning behind the collector's madness
by Rob Nelson
say what you will about MTV's Carson Daly: He's the Dick Clark of the new millennium; he looks great in DKNY; he crams more sales figures into a single sentence than an auctioneer; he cares deeply about the fate of our great nation. But Daly's TRL has got to be one of the most insidious acts of mass deception ever perpetrated against a television audience--and I say that as a fan.
It's not just that this 90-minute daily showcase for popular videos and seemingly idle chatter finds a way to boost the available ad space per square inch and split second on a network that's already devoted to offering ads as entertainment 24/7. (That the rear of the set is a huge window overlooking Broadway in Times Square extends global visibility to countless billboards, whether of the Nike swoosh or, even more in fashion, the stars and stripes.) No, the true brilliance of TRL--that's Total Request Live for us old folks--is in making the same corporate-controlled playlist appear to be democratically determined by viewer vote. Never mind that a show about freedom of choice seems to chain its young and beautiful studio audience to the "applause" sign: The kids love it. And why wouldn't they? "We're gonna appreciate that we still have the freedom to choose to play music," proclaimed Daly on his first post-Trade Center broadcast, "and not feel bad about it."
Our complicity in forking over cash to four or five conservative-minded media conglomerates--and not feeling bad about it--is the subject of Money for Nothing: Behind the Bu$ine$$ of Pop Mu$ic (screening 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, October 3 at Oak Street Cinema). Produced by the nonprofit Media Education Foundation, and populated by everyone from media-studies guru Robert McChesney to Chuck D and Ani DiFranco, this earnest, intelligent, and rather boring 50-minute documentary hits all the major points: the media giants' monopolistic hold on the music industry; the incestuous relationships between producers and purveyors of product; the legalization of payola principles; the aesthetic conservatism of parent-company bean counters; the de facto censorship of retail chains; the rampant licensing of songs to advertisers (Nick Drake stumps for VW from beyond the grave!); the inevitable co-optation of authentic innovators by marketing interests; and the constant threat of stock-market pressures to talent development, all contributing to the dangerous homogeneity of music in particular and culture in general.
Alas, with its cheesy animated graphs worthy of Sixties educational films (The product flows from corporations through "gatekeepers" to us consumers, see?), and a dazed-looking Thurston Moore obviously reading his narration from a TelePrompTer, the film fails to engage the enemy on its own slick turf. (Thank goodness, at least, for the Fair Use clause of the Copyright Act of 1976, which allows the makers of such critical endeavors to use clips from movies and music free of charge.) It's perhaps no surprise that Money for Nothing should lack the resources to look like TRL, although that doesn't mean it ought to feel like--ugh!--school.