Steve Albini vs. Sampling

PBS aired an hour-long documentary on sampling about an hour ago, featuring one very odd talking head. “Copyright Criminals” had a fantastic array of characters involved in sampling music, including a pretty interesting discussion with Clyde Stubblefield, who’s “funky drummer” beat has provided countless hip-hop hits with one intense breakbeat.

Stubblefield’s inclusion in the doc. was hardly “odd.” Steve Albini on the other hand… now that was just plain weird. Albini is known as something of a punk curmudgeon who has some pretty high standards and irregular perspectives when it comes to his thoughts on music. He’s beloved and loathed in the punk community, be it for his work in bands such as Big Black and Shellac, or his role producing albums by The Pixies and Nirvana. He’s known for a very specific, muddled punk sound that he imbues into nearly every album he touches.

Needless to say, an unusual inclusion for a sampling documentary. But, the folks behind “Copyright Criminals” sought out both sides of the sampling story, and Albini was the only non-suit, 9-5 lawyer type in the bunch who had some pretty nasty things to say about hip-hop. (Unlike, say, a lot of the nasty things he tends to say about a lot of music anyway.) Albini was featured saying that, in many cases, sampling is lazy and uncool.

Big surprise? Not really. But it is a little odd that a man who fronted a band backed by a drum sampler can’t see the parallels between his use of programmed drum beats and someone taking snippets of instrumentals for a similar purpose.

I won’t bother to question Albini any further… It’d be a long winded battle with no end and no real winners there. It’s his opinion, and to each his own. What struck me the most about the documentary might have been just how offended, and in a way scared, Albini is of sampling. Here’s a legendary punk musician known for having produced some pretty taboo, offensive and perhaps “dangerous” material. And he can’t wrap his head around sampling, and even seems a little afraid of its omnipresence in our culture.

“Danger” has always played something of a role in pop music. From the moment Elvis’s hips were banned, danger (as a social construct) seemed to be a potent part of pop music. And nothing is more dangerous in pop music today than sampling. Punk, black metal, you name it… it seems to pale in comparison to some of the “dangerous” aspects of sample-based music. Cause when Green Day gets Grammy nominations and it takes nearly a decade for The Avalanches to clear their sample-heavy new album, there’s a strong sign that one method of musical creativity is still considered a little too hot to handle.

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2 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. cjcorter #

    You are crazy. Steve Albini is doing what he always does, just giving his opinion of what is crap/not crap in his acerbic way. He doesn’t say anything about it being a copyright issue. He says the government shouldn’t get involved. Albini is the last guy to side with the suits!

  2. Leor Galil #

    And you didn’t read what I wrote. I never said that Albini cares about copyright issues, but that he was put on the side opposed to sampling. It was odd because he was the one non-suit who didn’t judge the issue of sampling based on legal cases and did it on his own view. I’m guessing you came to the conclusion that I was accusing Albini of caring about copyright issues because you didn’t accurately read this post and just saw the title of the doc. (Copyright Criminals) versus what I actually wrote about Albini giving his two cents on why he thinks sampling is bad.

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