With the current furore about students with no money and less taste playing swap shop with stolen music (i.e. Napster), Negativland’s stock has rarely been higher. This is a good thing, surely, since Negativland are a cutting-edge political band who have made a career of revolutionising the ways people think about music and sound, right? Well…

Like rural gun nuts and Orange Order marchers, Negativland are ‘political’ inasmuch as they will campaign like crazy whenever their hobbies are threatened. In Negativland’s case this means those funny little cut-up records they make in which celebrities like Casey Kasem say the craaay-aaay-aaaziest things. Sometimes they can’t get tapes of actual celebrities saying these crazy things, but that’s OK: they get a friend of theirs with a silly voice to read stuff out instead. In fact they have a whole host of silly voices – sorry, ‘recurring characters’ – to draw fans into the wild world of Negativland. The band even release CDs from their Over The Edge radio show, where these zany characters (The Weatherman, and that fake priest person whose name unsurprisingly escapes me) get to strut their solo stuff. Since the band have the comic timing of a stick insect, these discs are deeply unfunny, and all the monologues are insanely long to boot, ironically for a group whose one claim to our musical attention is that they’re dab hands at tape editing.

Negativland’s satirical humour is in the tradition of the 60s Situationists, who would ‘detourne’ cartoon strips, magazine advertising and billboards in an attempt to wake the ignorant masses up to their reified existence, leading to a revolutionary situation where boredom would be banished (One suspects Guy Debord would doubt Negativland’s ability to achieve this aim if he heard Over The Edge). This is well and good, but unfortunately both Negativland and the Situationists are part of a deeper tradition, that of annoying kids in the school playground who would run around singing “Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin flew away”. The fact that the other children, exposed to these savagely satirical acts of cultural reversal, did not revolt against the banality of their ordered lives goes some what to explaining why neither our Parisian friends nor Negativland have brought the culture industry down just yet.

Negativland, though, are leading the fight against copyright (or CopyWRONG, ho ho). This is true, but frankly it would mean considerably more coming from a band whose records people might want to buy. As it is Negativland appeal to a worldwide but thankfully tiny audience of clever-clever slackers looking for intellectual justification of their tight-arsedness. They’re infinitely worse than fellow West Coast politicos Rage Against The Machine, who may be naive and hypocritical (crying ‘hypocrite’ being the first resort of the apathetic intellectual) but at least state a problem straightforwardly and don’t spend all their time attacking straw men targets like Bono and their one-time record companies.

Sure, Rage’s political content is blindingly obvious, but so’s Negativland’s: advertising is manipulative, stop the fucking presses. If you listen to Dispepsi, once past the pretentious “Ooh, we’re going to get sued” packaging (they didn’t, because Pepsi didn’t get where it is today by giving a shit about sad media whores), you’ll find tracks which amount to simply lists of brand names, read out in a silly voice, natch. The band’s audience are so self-satisfied in their cosy countercultural opinions that just saying the words “Mountain Dew” in a ‘satirical’ context gets a snigger, just like ‘alternative’ comedians in the 1980s used to build whole lazy careers by dropping the names “Reagan” and “Thatcher” into their routines.

The final insult is that Negativland aren’t even very good at noise manipulation. They’re still stuck in the 1980s, back when their ideas seemed to mean something, and back when taking one fucking sample and just repeating it again and again was radical sound art. The worst thing about 90s Negativland isn’t their self-serving ideas or their political irrelevance, it’s the sheer embarrassment you feel listening to their clumsy cut-ups and tail-chasing tape loops. Like the man said, “GIVE UP NOW!”.