A slightly fuller report is available from my Jamaica blog, but specifically music stuff I will repost here.
The jamaica project will soon have two riddimmethodists! (I’m here in Kingston as part of a Jamaican noprofit that has set up low power radio stations, internet radio (soon come!) and recording studios in the Jamaican prison system.) Wayneandwax will arrive shortly for a week or so, but I’m here for the summer. The blog linked above will have more stories from this adventure, but the stripped-down account of the dj skills apparent at my Saturday night at the biggest club in Kingston is below: When we first came in, around 1am, the main floor was pretty bad – everyone standing around stoneface, and the dj playing sort of non-diva house, unmelodic and slightly breaky, but really uninterestingly mixed. Nobody was having it. It reminded me that Jamaican audiences are pretty intimidating, from a DJ perspective. Never seen people so specific about what they want, or so clear about how much they were not into it. No bottles were flying, but there could be no doubt about people being unimpressed. We went upstairs to the “voodoo lounge” where they were playing 80s funk, better mixed, but not my scene. When we headed back down to the big dancefloor, a good dj came on, and it was pretty fascinating to hear him work.
The crowd got pretty crazy and was fun to watch, but I was most interested in what the DJ was doing. Selection-wise, he was playing local hits, hip-hop hits, interspersed with Jamaican lyrics over big hits. When the big hits relied on a sample, he would often cut in the original for musical emphasis. One example: the Jamaican version of Mims’ “this is why I’m hot” featuring Junior Reid and, I think, Bounty Killa, also samples the intro to Dawn Penn’s “No no no,” which then the dj cut to the actual Dawn Penn version. Another popular thing was dropping in totally obscene Jamaican sex chat on top of hit tunes, sometimes letting the vocals play out after the instrumental had ended. What I could follow made even me blush a bit. Also because a lot of it describes what happens to the female anatomy when it is receiving aggressive attention, and it was obvious the singer was not imagining what that would feel like if you identified with the female. “poom poom split in two” is not really an attractive image to me. Ouch. In other places I heard some songs or segments of his sets as a dizzying selection of samples and references that caught you up in a web of references, where the familiar pulled you into the unfamiliar, or was in conversation with other tunes with similar lyrics, sonic qualities or references. The sonic and lyrical interrelationships were a major highlight of the dj skill, and also really engaging as a listener.
The most impressive skill showcased was the dj’s sense of pacing. There was a clear rhythm and cycle – he would start slower, then build the crowd up, speeding up the music in intensity, peaking with a hit song where everyone knew the lyrics, getting everyone to sing along at top volume, cutting out the sound so you heard everyone singing, and then he would cut out the tune and drop back to something slower or less familiar and start building it up again. The songs that really got people going (not usually the peak song, but the tunes building up to the peak) were usually extremely homophobic lyrics, unfortunately that’s what got people jumping, lyrics about burning, shooting and killing batty boy, and songs distancing the singer from ‘dirty’ acts like gay sex, but also about “nah f*ck batty,” or “nah s*ck batty” or “p*ssy.” The peak song was usually a tune I recognized as a big dancehall tune, but occasionally a US hip-hop tune or a remix would get in there. The level of vocal interaction between the crowd and the dj increased as the excitement increased. Really good to be involved in Content-wise, the DJ played no Sean Paul at all, I noticed. I guess he has no big tunes right now. Also, my impression is he is not considered big here as he is in the US. I did hear a decent selection of big hip-hop tunes: some JayZ track, and Rick Ross (2 versions of every day I’m hustling”), and “It’s Going Down” and the awful T-Pain song about the bartender.
I heard almost no female lyrics/chat (although there were crooning female backup vocals in some of the songs early in the cycle). At near-peak times he would occasionally play a really sexual female chat. Around mid-cycle or right after the most homophobic lyrics he would drop some tunes that were really political. I wished I knew what they were, but they were really dancehall-sounding (not roots) and were about politicians, and pretty specific political criticisms. A couple of them were really impressive, both as good dancing music and good lyrics. More of this please!
Recently the Recording Industry Association of America to college students on 13 campuses (Arizona State U.; Marshall; North Carolina State; North Dakota State; Northern Illinois; Ohio U.; Syracuse; UMass, Amherst; U. of Nebraska, Lincoln; U. of South Florida; USC; U. of Tennessee, Knoxville; and U. of Texas, Austin) whom they suspect of illegally downloading copyrighted music: “pay us off now, and we’ll give you a discount on what you’ll be hit with after we take you to Federal court.”
Some reasons why this deal is bogus:
First: there are many examples of uploading/downloading music that are completely legal: if the copyright holder has given permission, if the music is in the public domain or creative commons-licensed, or if the purpose of the downloading is covered by the fair use exemption of the Copyright Act. Some of these defenses cannot be known without knowing how the file was to be used, which requires more investigation. Second: there’s no way for the RIAA to know which actual student did what on a university computer without filing a lawsuit (which costs them more money) or convincing the university to hand over names (which costs money and time). Just because you got the letter, in other words, doesn’t mean you broke the law, or that they know what you did at all. Since that time, the RIAA has sued or threatened suit in waves, altering their plan each time it is, or a judge rules that their previous plan is.
The scarily high cost of legal representation plus the inflated value of statutory damages for infringement usually leads to staggeringly high numbers facing a student (or anyone) at the outset, since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act specifies minimum damages are $750 per infringement. All of these factors could scare students into settling even if they have a valid legal defense of their actions. The deeper reason this is terribly bogus is the RIAA’s claimed motivation: that downloading is “devastating” to “those who create the music and bring it to fans.” Sounds like “downloading hurts artists.” But of artists’ deserved rewards happens way before the music gets recorded at all, it’s during the contract negotiation. Most artists signed to Big Four don’t own their copyrights at all, and usually receive a pitiful percentage back from their CD sales, if it’s not eaten up entirely by the.
The numbers don’t lie: artists have been getting ripped off by major labels since before the internet, and even if all downloading stopped today that wouldn’t change. So the deal isn’t even between the artists (whom students might care about) and the students, but between students and the people who rip off artists. Remind me why you’d want to deal with them? has called for a one-month boycott of RIAA products (although some students and musicians I know who are part of underground music scenes have already been boycotting these products for years). For those who’d like a sense of what’s out there, is a tool that music consumers can use to easily and instantly distinguish whether an album was released by a member of RIAA, and incorporates quite a few searches of amazon.com and other sites.
Tools like this one, in the wake of RIAA-led legal action against music fans may be a sign that the 90’s-era business model of enormous content companies (that ate all the indie labels and intimidated small artists into terrible contracts) may in fact be ending… However the enormous content companies aren’t giving up without a fight So, is it working? While some people have complied (fearing prosecution), others have a different responses. The reaction of students I’ve talked to who hear about this deal has mainly been fear: “I was totally paranoid already” and hostility “I’m going to go download music for sure now.” But even students who are nervous about file sharing don’t necessarily buy the RIAA’s arguments –several I spoke with said they now ask their friends to burn copies of CDs instead of downloading music. Maybe people are more committed to their access to music (and less committed to the RIAA’s vision of the music industry) than the RIAA would like.