Recent 555 Split Singles
Reviewed by Perry Como Va
Tuesday, November 21 2000, 2:01 PM
It's been nearly a decade since Negativland first drew its guns out on U2 with their seminal SST Records-era rendition of " I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," and turned sampling into a politically motivated form of popular musical appropriation. And yet, that band's consistently emulated postmodern thesis that there is no such thing as 'new' music, just imitation, has become meaningless at the same time that hundreds of new progenitors of said ideology have kicked into fierce musical gear. It makes you wonder whether the critique of artistic sameness is simply an excuse to self-consciously mimic what it is everybody else is emulating by arguing that in fact you're stealing, all the while generating consistently similar product.
The problem that no one ever seems to raise is that the music of high minded hipster ingenues critical of the culture industry is still caught in the web of exchange relationships - of buying and selling - that makes any act of cultural production automatically complicit. What any sober political reading of rock and roll anti-capitalism ought to tell you is that its pointless to insist that any form of music is capable of escaping its economic context, regardless of whether its intended method of composition is supposed to illuminate such problems. The only thing that matters is the shape that the music takes, and a remembrance of the methodologies that go into creating ideologically challenging music like that.
Such is the case with artists like San Francisco's Lesser, and the current generation of American sample and release playas which he inhabits, (like labelmates Matmos,) who have assimilated the lessons of the fundamentalist anti-copyright sampling culture and unselfconsciously transformed it into a new way of making genre-defining, critical music. An excellent example are the unnamed sides of two split 555 records 7" singles &emdash; neither A nor B &emdash; which seems an appropriately fit way to quietly articulate a lack of hierarchy in the current indie electro scene &emdash; which Lesser contributes two tracks to. Both recordings are very strong lessons in the powers of carefully measured abstraction.
In each case, Lesser starts with a pre-recorded musical theme borrowed from another unnamed group, and slowly weaves his way in an out of the original recording, citing an original drum part or chorus until such a point that they become meaningless. The final repeated section eventually disappears into a sea of improvised electronic noise that still bears some semblance of a pop sensibility. However, to any trained ear, what gets communicated is essentially a artful triumph over the power of bad rock culture. In time honored punk rock tradition, the original gets demolished, only to be replaced by a new musical form which never ceases to stop itself from telling you that it knows where it came from and what it's fighting against as it endeavors to make something truly new.
Its not often that artists of Lesser's radical nature get the support that they deserve from an established label with ties to the cultural-industrial mainstream. But after nearly a decade of really hard work, Matador Records' London office saw it fit to sign the man, and in so doing give a serious artist the backing he needs to make his influence something that people other than in the know scenesters can call their exclusive own. If these two singles are any indication of what Lesser's next full-length (due out early next year) will sound like, musical deconstructionism will never be the same. In the meantime, call the NEA and tell them that its time it started giving grants to support music like this.
Both of these singles, also featuring Kid 606 and Pisstank, are available from 555 Records