Negativland, Illusion of Safety, Good Willsmith | Empty Bottle | Experimental | Chicago Reader

Negativland, Illusion of Safety, Good Willsmith Early Warnings (Music) Member Picks Recommended Soundboard Image

When: Sun., Aug. 25, 7 p.m. 2013

What William Gibson was to the cyberpunk movement of the 1980s, Negativland was to the same period's emerging media-hacker subculture, another niche community whose profound impact on popular culture would've been hard to predict 30 years ago. In 1987 the Bay Area collective released a turbulent, collagelike album, Escape From Noise, whose song "Christianity Is Stupid" consists of an industrial backing track and detourned samples from a progagandistic anti-Communist sermon delivered by Baptist minister Estus Pirkle in his 1971 film If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? In 1988 a 16-year-old Minnesotan named David Brom murdered his parents and two siblings, and Negativland issued a press release quoting the fictional "Federal Official Dick Jordan" and implying that Brom had listened to the song before his crimes (and that the band was canceling a tour because its members were under house arrest); due to an absence of fact checking, this hoax provoked a media frenzy, which Negativland made into the center of their next album, the frankly scary Helter Stupid. Then in 1991 they guaranteed their infamy by releasing the sarcastic, star-bashing, copyright-violating EP U2, then using the inevitable lawsuit from Island Records as fodder for a multimedia project on sampling and fair use. Few artists can match the group's ability to push a prank to such surreal extremes, and though they’re relatively inactive today—their most recent release was in 2008—you can still feel their influence everywhere, including Girl Talk’s proud lawbreaking and Lady Gaga’s love of fucking with the celebrity-industrial complex. —Miles Raymer

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