Producer, turntablist, and “musician” DJ Shadow’s latest album, The Less You Know, the Better, marks his 20th year in the business. That’s a whole lot of time to harbor a whole lot of hatred for the music industry. You could say he’s nally scratching that itch.
1. They don’t make record executives like they used to. An archetype often used to condemn the traditional music industry is that of the “evil record company boss,” a balding mobster behind a mahogany desk, wearing dark sunglasses and smoking a big cigar, who cheats naïve kids out of their publishing royalties. Of course, that has about as much in common with the modern music business as the Savage Skulls do with post-Giuliani New York. Suge Knight, for all of his wrongs, was perhaps the last of the true record company gangsters, a Morris Levy for the ’90s. It’s hard to imagine Levy or Nate McCalla submitting to the tech-geek larceny of P2Ps. If the recent crop of execs were just a little more badass, artists wouldn’t have to resort to doing the free-download shuffle just to stay competitive.
2. Quantity over quality. It annoys me when I hear artists talk about the 200-odd songs they left off their latest masterpiece. How is that supposed to make us feel better about the end product? Likewise, the current trend of recording minimalism: “I created my latest album on a laptop while sitting in airport lounges.” Nothing says rock ’n’ roll like spilled lattes and Fox News.
3. The VMAs. How is MTV still allowed to have something called the Video Music Awards, despite the fact that they abandoned the art form years ago? I can’t say that Justin Timberlake and I have connected on many topics, but when he exclaimed “Play more videos!” during the awards broadcast a few years back, he climbed a few notches on my righteous meter.
4. “Tonight.” Turn on any pop station that plays Black Eyed Peas, Pink, and the like. Listen to the music and lyrics. If you don’t hear the word “tonight” at some point during the hook or chorus, I owe you five dollars.
5. Burning Man. Maybe “hate” is a little strong, because I’ve never actually been. What I mean to say is that I hate the 40-something investment bankers and efficiency experts I meet at social engagements who describe their Burning Man experiences as “transcendental,” and then when pressed for an example can only offer that an erection resulting from being jabbed in the stomach by a cattle prod is unlike any other. Either way, Burning Man is strictly a no-fly zone for me.
6. I miss Tower Records. I was on a road trip through Houston recently and stopped to look for old vinyl. I did okay, but I noticed that there were essentially no stores in town selling new music—even the swap-meet scene was dead. Over the course of several days listening to satellite radio, I heard promotional interviews with many different artists, all of whom invariably concluded the conversation by saying, as is customary, “Yeah, so go pick up the album at your local record store.” After the third or fourth time, I literally screamed at the radio receiver, What record store?
7. Hotels. Being a touring “musician,” I stay in a lot of hotels all over the world. It doesn’t matter whether you spend $30 for a room or $300—all hotels are shit. Designer minimalism that renders faucets and light switches unusable, 24-hour room service available eight hours a day, and bed bugs are just a few of the wonders that await the weary traveler. The only hotel I ever stayed in that wasn’t shit was the Grand Hyatt Santiago in Chile. Just putting that out there.
8. The “Steven Tyler Effect.” Contemporary society loves to perpetuate myths about the staggering wealth of recording artists. It’s easier to justify illegal downloading when you imagine every artist to be an eternal Peter Pan, ditty-bopping through life with bare feet and a tenuous grasp on reality. Similarly, I’ve noticed that one of Yahoo!’s favorite home page topics is “wealthiest rappers,” a list that hasn’t been updated in five years. What I’d like to see is a story about all of the rappers who’ve had to go back to hustling because they can’t pay their bills.
9. Not enough political novelty records. In years past, any scrappy non-talent with a few dollars could voice their opinions about a given political issue in a manner that was productive, creative, and (essentially) harmless. This seems to have peaked in the ’70s and early ’80s, when favorite topics included the gas crisis (Gotta Have a Little Talk with the Peanut Man was one such gem) and the Middle East, in which every dictator and political bogeyman from Khomeini to Gadda was instructed to “shove it.” Sure, it was ignorant and banal, but at least the outbursts were contained within seven inches of paper and plastic. No harm done.
10. Too much Shakira, not enough Charo. At least Charo was in on the joke.