A New Dawn
Alec Empire’s keynote from the#31c3 Hacker Conference #ccc
Hello and welcome to Hamburg!
My name is Alec Empire and what you just heard was the music piece I wrote for last years anniversary opening video installation. 30c3!
Those of you in the audience who couldn't attend last year, there was a video installation that ran on multiple screens — it showed the 30 year history of the chaos computer club. The beginning — the 80ties, then the 90ties, when the internet became accessible for everyone, then the years after, and now we’re here… amazing! ☺
Thank you all for coming and thanks to the CCC for this invitation! When I received it, I have to admit it kind of blew me away!
I assume most of you in the audience do not know who I am, and there is probably also a percentage of people here who want to forget that they've ever heard a song…☺
Okay, so let me quickly introduce myself:
I am a musician, producer, composer, and sound engineer. I am the director of Digital Hardcore Recordings, a record label which is based in London. I am a member of Atari Teenage Riot, a collective of musicians. I was born in West-Berlin in the 70ties, experienced the Berlin Wall and its fall. Yes, I was very involved in the techno and electronic music scene when it exploded in Europe via Berlin in the early 90ties. I mean, I don’t want to go on for too long — but basically I have been involved in the production of around 400 releases, worked with tons of musicians like Björk, Gary Numan, Rammstein, Primal Scream, Slayer, The Brotzki Quartett, I mean … The music press calls me “sonic terrorist”.
I toured with Nine Inch Nails, Wu Tang Clan, Rage Against The Machine, Moby and many others. Here you see a poster from the late 90ties (RATM etc.) , here you see Trent Reznor wear an Atari Teenage Riot shirt……here is a legendary photo of Aphex Twin and as someone on the internet pointed out…there is a mysterious person sitting in the garage wearing an Atari Teenage Riot t-shirt.
In the late 90ties, the Beastie Boys put out an album by Atari Teenage Riot called “Burn Berlin Burn”, it went gold. The international release of “Burn Berlin Burn” was a slightly different version called “Delete Yourself”.
The last 20 years of my life were an absolute ride!
We try to stay off the grid as much as we can, because we know about the dangers of the music industry and its hype machine. It can swallow you and then it spits you out. And most artists can’t get back up again.
When I spoke to Thorsten and Erdgeist, and a little bit to Frank, they told me that they wanted me to speak about my approach to music, the political ideas and methods behind it because they are very unusual and have a lot in common with hacking.
Usually musicians are inspired by other musicians, but we are inspired by hackers!
Let me say the 3 words: Atari — Teenage — Riot
Okay let me pause here… you get the idea.. this was in 1999 — the video for the song “Revolution Action” was directed by Andrea Giacobbe. It opens with a shot of Wall Street, and then the company faces a little…let’s call it “technical problem”.
This was in 1999. MTV UK banned it right away, but [they] did show it in many other countries. Over the past ten years the Internet spread this and it’s probably where most people saw it.
Atari Teenage Riot is not a band, that is often a misunderstanding. It’s more a loose collective of like-minded musicians. What might be interesting for you to know is that we program every song on the Atari 1040 ST . Yes, the Atari 1040 ST. Who of you remember this computer? Raise your hands!
It has a fast and very tight MIDI attack, and every year that passes it becomes a new challenge to drive this little thing in the red. And it’s cheap at this point. 20 bucks maybe…something like that.
YOU CAN CREATE ART AND BEAUTY ON A COMPUTER
(and you can also use music and art as a weapon)
William S. Burroughs wrote a text in the “Electronic Revolution” about how riot sound effects can produce riots when you play them in a riot situation you simulate a riot, people hear the sounds, they change their behaviour, call the cops, the cops appear on the scene.
When we started in 1992, the far right and Neo-Nazi scene in Europe was on the rise, especially in Eastern Germany. We knew we had to fight against that. So we decided to make electronic music on an Atari computer based on Burroughs’ text. Sampling technology was affordable at this point and we created these tracks that were almost collage-like…
Back then the music scenes were pretty divided into groups like punks, ravers, metal fans, the Hip Hop scene and so on… Our idea was to tear down those barriers and unite people from all genres for the politics. Fashion, race, sex, social background and so on shouldn't exclude anyone from joining.
I still believe in this approach even though the music has to be adjusted from time to time to make this work!
Germany just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Fall of The Berlin Wall and again we see racist and fascist ideologies spread all over Europe. Anti-Antisemitism, attacks on Jewish people and the demonetization of Muslims. 20 years ago we hoped these problems would be solved by now. Well, they aren't.
The physical aspect of the music is very important. Using frequencies that give the listener an adrenaline rush. When people hear music they often fall into certain patterns of behaviour.
We have all witnessed this many times. You hear a Christmas song, your brain switches immediately. Or when soldiers hear the national anthem, their body language changes very fast. Weddings, funerals, supermarkets, rock concerts, raves, birthdays and so on… Be aware of those, become immune to them, and you are in less danger of being tricked into something.
This is what an Atari Teenage Riot show looks like (Fusion video, stage invasion)
This footage was filmed by visual artist Zan Lyons, who was there to take some photos first but then switched to filming when the crowd start tearing down the barriers. This was filmed at Fusion festival near Berlin. A complete corporate sponsor free music festival that we played in 2010. These things still exist, support them, go there.
Last August we premiered this at the EFF event at Defcon in Las Vegas in the US.
“Modern Liars love machines, they get inspired and steal your dreams. The price of victory was never higher.”
In the video animated by Rob McLellan, we wanted to use a 90ties style video game aesthetics to criticize sexism in video games, the entertainment industry and how it creates stupid rivalries between creatives. But there is more in there, maybe watch it a couple of times on your own ☺
I often get asked by people from the hacking community why is it that not more musicians participate or help?
Okay, people have friends who maybe do something but we can agree that since that Metallica Napster fight, musicians and artists don’t really want to get involved. But I think they should. Often people ask why isn't there more protest music?
The Triangle: High Quality-High Speed-Low Cost
You can never have the three… it’s just reality of the creative process — now think about what happens , and make no mistake about it, it is happening now, since a few years , so what happens when you try to do it with zero cost… Yes, you are freezing culture.
Now, we could argue: If creativity is a resource, and compare it to fuel let’s say, then it is limited and can run out. When there is nothing left to loot.
Decentralization: We are witnessing the exact opposite of that.
Jaron Lanier often gets criticized for his view and analysis of the situation, but he is right and it’s a fact.
This philosophy, this thinking has led to a notch curve, a very tiny amount of people become rich in this scheme, everybody else loses, is driven out of business. It used to be a bell curve, more equal, fairer, it empowered the creatives, it brought us the music we love and all musicians creating music right now in the digital age depend on that second half of the last century when recorded music flourished.
“But wait , Alec, we rode horses and then cars were invented and everything got improved…”
That comparison does not work here. And you can identify a con man when you hear him argue this way.
If this was true, then the work of the greatest music composers in history would be shared the most, people would understand complex music more and faster.
But the exact opposite is the case. Music education was the first that was cut in most countries since the financial crisis.
The reality is that young people today only hear something like classical music in a soundtrack for Transformers instead of learning and understanding it via the internet.
Even popular mainstream artists who make pop music can only survive if they enter into, what in my opinion are, very compromising corporate sponsoring deals. Independent artists are doing other jobs by now and can’t take risks. In this system it gets harder and harder to speak out.
It is well known that if we look at the charts that the majority of artists are coming from upper class or upper middle class backgrounds. Even Noel Gallagher of Oasis pointed this out in an interview with the BBC.
Many artists don’t like corporate sponsoring because it corrupts creativity. They are right.
Because once you enter these agreements your mind starts to think in a different way. Think of a politician who knows he/she took bribes but acts in the media like he/she was ‘employed by the people’, and works ‘for the people’.
So artists or those who work with artists access culture funds, government funds, especially in Europe.
We all know when libertarians, especially those from Silicon Valley, say “We don’t pay people. Not our problem, let somebody else worry about that.” Well these companies are basing their businesses on the tax payer repairing the damage.
So we have created a system in which we are not driving creativity anymore by voting with our dollar, we handed that power over to bureaucrats and corporations.
Those people don’t like to see political ideas expressed by creatives because it could get them in trouble.
I really want you to understand this because I honestly believed and I think many of you believed the same thing 2 decades ago: We thought this problem was already solved.
Maybe it was for a little while but things got out of balance again. It’s not so easy to point out the gatekeepers anymore in this more complex world, but they are out there and they are very busy.
When I started, I strongly believed in this principle:
Political art becomes corrupt when it becomes part of a corporate ad campaign. The context matters so much that it can shut down an artist forever because we stop trusting their words.
Information wants to be free. Music is like language.
There are so many layers of information in a music piece that most of us can only understand a fraction of what is communicated.
Before music could be recorded people wrote it down, so other people far away were able to play it. I am still blown away by the fact at how amazing music notation actually is and has worked since centuries. When you look at sheets of, let’s say, a symphony of Beethoven or Bach, there is a beauty that some of us feel when we look at code… It is almost like something very deep inside of us understands something before we can even explain that to a colleague or a friend.
I was always interested in the personality, the character of the creator that would shine through in those works. Even when these were anonymous, the work could tell me so much, I could look at the world from a different perspective.
Empathy is the key word here. For most people using the internet now means defending your own world view, staying strong while standing in a shit storm, reading articles or comments that confirm your opinion. Empathy is something that is hard to learn or to find right now.
Back to information… It’s well known that Mozart embedded secret codes in his compositions that would link to the Free Masons. When I wrote the little anniversary piece for last year’s opening video I knew I had to start with three C’s and it was the first time ever for me I did that.
Usually children songs or Christmas songs start like that. A taboo for me so that was a tough equation for me to solve: How can I start like that and still make it ‘cool’;)
We all know that when different musicians play from the same note sheet, they will sound different. The better they are the more their own personality shines through. We can later analyse these differences, but what we can’t do is to predict those micro decisions that an artist will make when creativity is happening. The sheer number of factors that can influence the process means the outcome is always different.
Yes, you can copy someone else, that is happening all the time, but every once in a while there are artists, people who do something so special that they seize the time.
Historically collectives have suppressed those people, because they did not fit in.
“But Alec, every creative act is just a copy of a copy. Authors just write down what other people say, painters just paint what the world shows them.”
We all have heard this idea in all its variations before. Especially when tech giants want to justify monetisation of their users creations, monetisation that just takes from their users without giving anything back. Instagram is a good example for that. I keep hearing this simplification again and again and it is dangerous. Why?
Because it is an open attack on the rights and freedoms of the individual. And when you question those ‘new’ business models, the corporate PR machinery kicks in and peer pressure is applied to shut critics up.
The fight for privacy, the fight against surveillance and the fight for creators’ rights have a lot in common, they are linked, they are connected. Authorities, corporate or political, who invade your privacy are also the ones who seize the products of your mind. That’s why open source and creative commons are great because those who participate in those adventures do it with consent!
Sharing mp3s creates passive consumers, I say share your whole recording sessions so people can look at how the beats were programmed, which combinations of notes and frequencies trigger those feelings… this way people learn and understand and we can start moving forward!
When I started Atari Teenage Riot in 1992, I wanted to take the revolutionary spirit of punk and digitize that so it could be transported into our time and hopefully be preserved so future generations could further develop it. When I use the word punk I don’t mean a certain look, fashion or music genre, I mean something that can be of course found in punk fashion or the music genre punk, but I mean this virus that makes people question authorities & control systems. Usually universities don’t produce those minds. But these minds are needed to bring necessary change or innovation.
The hacker world is full of those — the music world?
Platforms like YouTube and Facebook do not produce them, they make it impossible for these minds to get anywhere. The only interesting artists were those who knew how to trick the system, fake stats, who thought like hackers.
Introverts have created some of the most important works in the history of mankind. Introverts do not fit into a system that has the goal to generate the most clicks in order to sell ads.
This system favors those who come up with the loudest and most conformist content fast. We can all sit back and enjoy it when things get even more absurd but deep down we all know that it is all very short sighted and goes against the hacker ethics.
To create art and beauty on a computer.
I always loved the phrase that I saw on one of the Anonymous Twitter accounts a few years ago
“On the internet you can be anything you want. It’s strange that so many people choose to be stupid.”
Or, in this case,
“On the internet you can consume anything you want. It’s strange that so many people choose to consume something stupid.”
Replace ‘consume’ with ‘produce’, and it will also make sense.
Most creatives produce for a target audience, an audience that is already defined by the content industry. It’s understandable that one wants to minimize any risk beforehand. Netflix praised this when the series “House of Cards” became successful with their viewers. Critics say that its success had probably more to do with the fact that it was based on the great original BBC series. So not as innovative as Breaking Bad for example.
I noticed something interesting — in the media and by talking to other people about it, there was always that underlying idea that the algorithms are so smart and precise at this point, when they tell you you will like this, yes, you will totally like this. And many people accept that without even questioning it.
Are too many people becoming passive consumers again? Like our parents generation? High approval ratings prove that content is of high quality? If we are honest than then we must admit that most people make a judgement by looking at stats and comments before they have read the article, watched the video, listened to the song…
While culture is becoming more fragmented, we see an even more centralized accumulation of power when it comes to who is deciding over the future of the internet and how the majority of average people use it or have access to it.
I know very well that I am speaking to probably exactly the 9,000 people on the planet right now who have not stepped into those traps, you are very conscious about how you use technology.
I am saying this to you because at this point one could argue that we are all losing the war here, even though some smaller battles are won here and there every once in a while, but the bigger picture?
Damn it looks dark! I remember last year, the 30th anniversary, I couldn't attend, but I felt it on the other side of the world… The Snowden revelations killed all doubts of what we’re up against here.
It was a reality shock, some even compared it to events like 911; there is the time before and the time after you got hit with the news. Everyone wanted to celebrate the 30 years of this great club and then this… I admit I was depressed on a constant basis since the summer of 2013. What depressed me most wasn't the magnitude of the surveillance, it was how I witnessed a young generation who which was so excited about democracy and the possibilities to improve it with technology, I witnessed how the spirit of that generation was crushed within a few weeks.
Hopelessness, cynicism and frustration spread like a virus. But the worst thing was that indifference from most people out there, people we really needed to mobilize those masses who make the difference in the end. To get the snowball rolling, turn it into an avalanche.
I didn't even feel like I wanted to perform anymore, our album was finished, we were setting up its release, preparing videos, getting all the tools ready. But the energy that everyone felt in 2010, 2011 and perhaps still in 2012 was gone. The decline of the Pirate Party in Germany shows that, too.
In the first hours of when the Snowden story broke, I tweeted this:
“I’m surprised how indifferent so many feel about the US surveillance scandal. Look up Germany’s history. I have spoken to people who lived in Nazi and Eastern Socialist Germany — the spying on your life by the State is one thing, but what it does to your friends and family in the long run is beyond anything you can imagine right now.
You lose trust in people you love, every conversation becomes half lie/ half truth. It becomes part of EVERYBODY’s lives. Nobody is an exception. Ignore music, games or whatever you do right now and research the topic. Anything you have said in the past can be twisted against you in a surveillance state. Made the wrong joke in ‘private’? You are constantly being blackmailed by those in ‘charge’. History has shown that these types of societies never last, they get so corrupted with lies that many people will suffer in the end. Everybody loses.”
That was in the summer of 2013.
My words resonated with many people in the online community.
Even the Green Party contacted me, asked if I could see myself somehow working with them. I said no… and actually let me make one thing very clear right now, if you are a politician and you wonder why people are disillusioned with politics and don’t vote… Yes, we don’t trust you anymore.
And in these situations I can’t thank everyone in the CCC enough for their hard work, commitment and passion.
Let me say this as a musician, and I speak for many when I say this: People like us, we don’t understand every technical aspect of this stuff, but what the CCC does is send a strong message and gives people hope out there! And that is very important!
Last November, Jacob Applebaum sent me an invite to the premiere in Berlin of the film “Citizen Four”. Who hasn't seen the film yet?
It’s a great documentary and I think everyone here kinda knows that but I want to point something else out today. When I sat in this packed cinema next to Frank Rieger and all the other guys, and the room was filled with amazing people who deeply cared about this topic, and then Laura spoke to the audience and so on…
I was so glad that I did not watch a crappy stream online, alone, in my cubicle…
This is why culture is such a strong weapon! Even though at this point most of the information was known, feeling the atmosphere together with like-minded people in this old cinema in former East Berlin energized me again. So when things look hopeless, remember to use culture, bring people together, share time and space together.
Here is a picture of protesters in Tokyo during the Fukushima rallies in 2011.
It says “Anti Tepco Riot” — if you are an artist, be open and let others develop your art further. It’s okay to let go sometimes, just create new stuff, and move forward.
In 2014, more and more artists started to speak out against streaming services like Spotify. Usually it is about royalties — I will not go into this now, it is clear to everyone who can do basic math that these services are not the future business models, because they don’t put any money back into the hands of the musicians. These systems can’t be maintained.
But I want to tell you my experience with Spotify.
In 1997, Atari Teenage Riot released an album on the Beastie Boys label called “Future of War”. It was the album that introduced us to the world. Its sales reached gold status, critics praised it as possibly the strongest musical Anti-fascist statement to come out of Germany.
For many it’s still the blue print of what can be done with a computer … when it comes to pushing the limits of sound, connecting political lyrics with very physical music. Songs from it still get played at protests around the world. Influential music blog Stereogum rates it at #9 of the loudest albums ever. To put this in perspective for you: AC/DC is at 19, Aphex Twin at 16, and Motorhead at 13.
What is perhaps interesting for some of you, we printed the recording set up in the booklet so more cyberpunks could join the digital hardcore movement.
6 years later! So, in 2003, our label received a 40 page document from this institution in Germany called Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien. This album was put on the index. And they explained it over 40 pages.
To give you an example of what they were criticizing: African born rapper Carl Crack sings “I have a fear of a white planet”, expressing his experiences with racism growing up in Germany where he was often the only black child and had trouble ‘fitting in’. A reason for the Bundesprüfstelle to shut him up, they argued that people of “Caucasian skin color” or something are being discriminated against here.
Wow! You read this stuff, first you laugh about it, at around page 18 you get so mad that you want to burn this thing. People out here who work on video games know what I am talking about! What does the index mean: You are forbidden to sell the music, or play it in public. It’s a form of censorship. What happened was that a teacher in Bavaria found the CD with one of his students and reported it. Classic scenario where an outsider who doesn't look deeper into something, takes action against something he doesn't understand.
It would have been easy to contact us, maybe even get us in the classroom and clear this up. But no.
Okay, how Germany deals with anti-fascist art is one thing but now it gets better. Years pass, the internet, thanks to Pirate Bay and the fans people can access the music!
I made my peace with this whole thing and moved on. Ten years passed… when suddenly we receive notice from Spotify that we have been flagged. Because they were notified by the Bundesprüfstelle. We were given an ultimatum: We remove this album from Spotify, or the whole catalog of the whole label will get removed.
We are not talking about Germany, we are talking worldwide and all other artists on the label!
So my guys from the label put a call in, hoping to get to talk to a human being so we can clear this up. The woman on the other end is looking at her screen explains that “this happens to bands who use Nazi references in their songs.” — So my label manager explains that this artist Atari Teenage Riot has not only one Anti-Nazi song, all the music for over 2 decades was written to fight Neo-Nazi ideology and he offered to send in evidence from song lyrics to articles from the press. So the Spotify woman’s answer to this was: “Nazi or Anti-Nazi, it doesn't matter you’re being flagged. We won’t change anything.” We decided to remove it for now because we didn't want the other artists to suffer. We are still looking into taking legal action.
So whenever marketing people try to convince you that you should have one service host all content for you, in the cloud, convenient, keep this in mind. Out of sight, out of mind. Mistrust authority, promote decentralization.
I think when we speak about streaming services and how much they suck and will hopefully be seen as what they are in a few years if they don’t change: A destructive force that doesn't help creatives, only exploits them for short term profits. We must mention that the guys at BitTorrent are doing the right thing.
I really think that BitTorrent is moving into a direction that gives the creatives control, let’s them decide.
On top of that they are great guys. If you love music and everything that comes with it, the videos, lyric sheets, photos — support this service, use it, help build a better system. We have started to put some stuff up there, it’s fun again, makes me want to make music! There is the right kind of thinking behind it.
In 1999, the Anti-Fascist Action and other political groups asked us to play a rally on May 1st in Berlin. This was during the NATO bombings in Kosovo. Back then the Social Democrats in coalition with the Green Party pretty much wanted that Germany played a more ‘active role’ in wars globally, send troops to fight, not to defend. It was a big deal for everyone and it was debated with a lot of passion. Emotions ran high. Keep in mind this was the first time after World War II in which we've seen how technology can be developed and used to murder millions of people.
I remember when I first met Jacob Applebaum, he recommended me to read “IBM & The Holocaust” — I advise you to read it if you haven’t yet.
We set up on a truck — a huge advantage when you can use minimal equipment to play at events like this. First it was an okay show, some fans even shouted at us:” Where is the mosh-pit?! This is like jogging very slowly!” But then the police decided to break up the protest — watch what happened.
Riot sounds produce riots — play them in a riot situation and the police will come you’ll see…
It’s important to mention that this footage aired the day after on some music channels on TV back then. German equivalent to MTV Viva showed parts of it in the ‘news’ program, screenshots were printed with the story in the international music press. But also this footage was used in court as evidence to prove how the police started the violence. I remember at one point tear gas flying everywhere, it makes it hard to use your voice to even speak. Then the truck stopped and we wondered “Why are we not moving anymore?” We checked… the driver had escaped, took the keys with him.
You don’t see this part in the video because the guy who filmed it, video maker Philipp Virus, stopped filming for a bit because the police wanted to confiscate his camera and tapes. In all the chaos he just said to them “No, it’s okay, I work for ARD” which is a major public television network , similar to the BBC, in Germany. Police nodded and let him continue. It was this classic Star Wars moment “These aren't the droids you are looking for”.
It was one of our most watched videos on YouTube for years uploaded by a Russian fan as far as I know. A few months ago, it disappeared from YouTube. No conspiracy, I hope, I guess, I don’t know… weird timing. We uploaded it again to our account.
In 2011, it was considered to be really “cool” for a band to have an iPhone app. We were just in the process of releasing our album “Is This Hyperreal?” on Steve Aoki’s Dim Mak label in the US. Critics called it the “definitive protest album of the Google age”.
We spoke about Wikileaks, Anonymous, hacker activism and even human trafficking on there. I was really excited about this but every time I spoke to people from the music industry working on the record I heard “Hey Alec you know what would be really cool. If you guys did an iPhone app.” “Alec! Pink has just done this amazing iPhone app, how cool is that.” I didn't even have an iPod, I never liked the sound of these things. But it got to a point where we were like “Really? You want an iPhone app, okay, let me call some buddies of mine.”
A few weeks later, the first week of May, the story broke “Atari Teenage Riot Beef With Apple Over Riot-Inducing iPhone App” — many websites ran it, even print.
But let me read you what Pitchfork, influential music blog wrote:
“Recently reunited German electro-punk spazzes Atari Teenage Riot are still causing controversy. ATR’s iPhone app has been delayed by the German iTunes store due to a dispute over its content. The free app is set to feature every ATR album, song, and video, as well as photos, news updates, and more. But it also included something called “Riot Sounds Produce Riots”, an audio player that features sounds that ATR used at a May Day protest in 1999, at which the band members were arrested. Those sounds include “very low sub basses, square waves, noise sounds which trigger hysteria and panic within the audience.” So your iPhone could make a whole lot of people very uncomfortable, if hooked up to big speakers — which ATR encourages, via press release.
But Apple has held up the app’s release while they investigate whether it’s legal to release an app with all those noises on it. The band had hoped to get the app out in time for this year’s May 1 protests, but that didn't happen.
Responding to inquiries about the app’s status, ATR mastermind Alec Empire writes, “Today’s status is that the ATR iPhone will be released within the next ten days. The Riotsounds player might be added later with an update. It’s a legal loophole. So not sure yet what the outcome will be. But the free app which includes all ATR songs and videos plus a lot of extras will still be pretty awesome, even if the Riotsounds player is not included in this version. ATR plans regular updates for the app including free bonus tracks, unreleased songs, outtakes and more.”
Mistrust authority — promote decentralization
This leads me to something very important : Violence vs. Non-violent activism.
Since we started, we declared that we use music and culture to bring change. These are non-violent means. We love violent sounding music though.\ Outsiders can get confused about that sometimes. Use technology and culture for non-violent activism. Music can reach people on an emotional level, so you have to be careful and constantly read your crowd. To incite people to violent action is easy, especially when they are already in rage about a police shooting or something similar. Making people think is more challenging and harder to do, but you will do the right thing.
I have met amazing political activists who were inspired by our music. In all kinds of situations, in countries all over the world.
Our style can’t speak to everyone, I think it shouldn't. That’s why we need more musicians to join and add to the debate. Without the artists on board we are not reaching an important part of the population.
Hackspaces, find musicians, team up with them on a serious level and start moving. Don’t make the mistake and think that you need to love every piece of music they will create. That won’t happen. Speak through them to those people you have difficulties reaching.
There is something else I want to bring up. I keep noticing that many are not aware of this reality.
The music industry lives in constant fear, new technology could suddenly appear that could end it all. People in the music industry remind me of my parents’ generation who lived in West-Berlin surrounded by the Berlin Wall asking themselves every morning if the Russians would drop an atomic bomb on them. Nobody wants to admit it, because it’s entertainment, so it’s all about putting on a show. This means nobody takes risks. People all react to stats, they make business decisions based on stats, they filter out the fact that these stats, and I am talking about YouTube, Facebook and Twitter mostly, maybe also Soundcloud, these stats are deeply flawed & corrupt.
And they are preventing people, especially young people, from forming their own opinion, their own music taste; their own political opinions. If we as music fans are uploading music of young artists or less well known artists against their will, we screw up the stats. Stats that make promoters decide if they book a band or DJ, stats that make teams who put playlists together for radio decide if they include something that is innovative.
It’s time to debunk a myth here:
You heard it a million times before: When people hear a song they like, they go to see the band live and buy a t-shirt. I know it sounds nice, but it simply does not work like that. If the industry doesn’t see what is going on, it doesn’t move into that direction. Repetition of old formulas is the consequence.
You don’t believe me? Look at the movie industry. The same thing is happening there. Mid budget films are not getting financed, and if they get made, they have trouble finding distribution. Now why is this a problem? It is a problem because we need diversity, and different voices to be heard, what we don’t need is a handful of super hero movies that do well and thousands of DIY crap films that nobody wants to watch.
The same goes for music. And journalists will tell you the same thing about the press. Investigative journalism? There is less money for it now. This is because the architecture is wrong. I think we, who favoured free content for over a decade now, must admit that this system of making money with ads, trying to generate large quantities of clicks, could lead us into a disaster here. When a journalist asks me in an interview in which I want to bring the topic of online surveillance to the music scene, if I could say something about Miley Cyrus so more people will find the article through Google, there is something going very wrong here!
It is my generation and the one that came before that who created all of this. And it is hopefully the next one, yes that’s you, who will get us out of it. But you need to start questioning it!
Before this event, I met with Erdgeist, a really great guy! I mean really! I wish there were people like him in the music industry. Okay, maybe I have met already those who are the exception to the norm, but you know what I mean… ;) We spoke about how the older generation of hackers was much more aware of philosophy, history and how they were into radical, often Utopian ideas. They spent more time thinking and less time clicking!
You know that matches exactly my experience in the global music scene. A lot of the great things that we have today started here at the CCC, or at least they came through here before they were accepted by the mainstream. But we all have to stay open and flexible. This summer YouTube bullied all indie labels and indie artists into accepting their licensing terms for their upcoming streaming music subscription service. Sign here or you get removed from YouTube. Removed from YouTube??? But as an independent artist, you have to hire teams to get videos removed that were uploaded without your permission.
In my 25 years in the music industry, I have never come across behavior like this. A whole generation of African-American musicians and songwriters fought for their rights during the 60ties and 70ties. It is sad to see that Internet companies crush those rights and are doing it under the banner of internet freedom.
The world is split into two sides it seems: One sees the creative as a slave to the audience, self-exploitation 24 hours a day… the other sees the creative as the master of his audience, like they are an army of slaves that have to pay and pay…
If you never saw it this way, go read the comments below music videos on YouTube. Suddenly it all makes sense. By the way this is a phenomenon that is part of our culture, we inherited that from the times of the Cold War, when the battle between capitalism and socialism, West and East, was fought.
Other cultures, for example in Africa, have never looked at music through those lenses. I think it’s time to look at those, get inspired by them, so we can move forward and create something better, and finally leave the old battles behind! We were all born into this, but together we can find a way out of it. We have to.
How the media reported on the latest hack of “Sony by North Korea” couldn't symbolize this better. Ask around in a few months — how will people remember this story? Most will probably repeat the headlines that were written to generate the most clicks, fast.
I do care a lot because there are real victims of this by now. Aaron Swartz was one, the guys from Pirate Bay as well, but also thousands of kids who have to work shitty jobs during their summer holidays to pay a fine for downloading a top 40 pop song… But the victims are also the musicians, independent film makers, photographers, authors, designers, indie game developers and plenty more.
These are all not bullies or super greedy people, these are the minds that we need right now!
Simplistic notions and the damage they can do.
For decades people believed that music and art were processed in the right hemisphere of the human brain, while language and mathematics were processed in the left hemisphere of the brain.
We know better by now!
Music is distributed throughout the brain!
It always struck me that even very intelligent people who are surrounded by music every day, absorb it, admit that they know nothing about it. For them the creative process is something so irrational and weird that they can only react on an emotional level to it.
I believe that when even the most conservative teachers in our education system have understood that math and music belong together, that’s when we’ll all understand that we have to work together. The battles over copyright and artists rights will come to an end.
The reason why we haven’t been able to win over the majority of professional artists is because of all the things I mentioned here.
Hackers and artists must unite more, and start working on a much deeper level!
Originally published at atari-teenage-riot.tumblr.com.