Thursday, 16 August 2007

Make music, not war

Image from Focus

A few weeks ago Sir Elton caused controversy, declaring that the web is destroying music and should be closed down. “The internet” he said, “has stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff.”

But has it? People may sit at home on their own creating music, as Elton sees it, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude collaboration. In fact, arguably the very nature of the internet lends itself to collaboration. As William Gibson pointed out, “remix is the very nature of the digital.” And with remix comes both collaboration and new ideas. Indeed with the arrival of powerful PCs in the 1990s came the arrival of the music mash-up, “an unofficial remix created by "underground remixers" who edit two or more recordings (often of wildly different songs) together.” (From There are some fantastic mash-ups out there. If Sir Elton is calling for collaboration, isn’t the mash-up a type of collaborative creation?

What is so brilliant about this type of virtual collaboration is that they are more often than not made between ‘wildly different’ songs and artists - the kind of collaborations that would never be made in the real world. I mean imagine contract negotiations that would have to be made between Kylie and The Prodigy before you’d have got
Slow My Bitch Up. But back to Sir Elton’s rant for a sec:

We’re talking about things that are going to change the world and change the way people listen to music and that’s not going to happen with people blogging on the internet… Let’s get out in the streets and march and protest instead of sitting at home and blogging.”

Of course someone who has being doing just that of late is
Peter Tatchell. He has been up in arms, out on those streets, marching, protesting and shouting against the homophobia found in the lyrics of some reggae artists. His efforts have finally resulted in Buju Banton agreeing to ditch homophobic lyrics - but only through fear of slumping record sales. It seems a rather hollow victory, won by money rather than any real change in the world. And yet away from all that there’s Eminem (who let’s face it probably doesn’t own a copy of Brokeback Mountain) sampling Elton on Ghetto Gospel, a homage to Tupac Shakur. The world of sampling and remix is a world built to bring polarised elements together. Eminem’s haunting use of Elton’s voice on the Ghetto Gospel track surely speaks more volumes in the effort to get homosexuality accepted in some communities than simply by holding people over a financial barrel.

It’s not exactly rocket science. Getting people together is the first step in breaking down barriers and prejudices. And the beauty of the music mash-up is that the more diverse and polarised the collaborations are, the better they tend to work. It is a medium set up to bring the polarised together. Now for that reason alone, surely Elton should rethink his comments.

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