When longtime netlabelism contributor Simon Haycock mentioned it would probably be improper to review his latest Bitbasic release in the magazine, I decided to check it out anyway. Not only is he very modest, he also happens to be an excellent musician. Excellent in that he has managed to keep an open attitude towards creating music regardless of his extensive experience. He constantly tries out new things and I was genuinely interested in hearing what he’d come up with this time.
‘Eer’ is a release Bitbasic composed some years ago, and has just now been picked up by the exquisite Dedpop label. We reviewed one release from the Dedpop catalogue before: ‘Mender – Resonant Tense‘. That release has become an absolute favourite of mine, and ‘Eer’ seems set to follow in its footsteps: it’s eclectic, wildly original while at the same time referencing some very good music of the past. The opener, ‘Pancho’s Cuban Music-Hour’, embodies this duality perfectly. It reminds me of Squarepusher’s ‘Beep Street’ but gives this a more modern twist. When the Dedpop manifesto claims they’re a record label for people who can’t decide if they’re forward thinking or stuck in the past, it’s quite clear why they chose ‘Eer’ to be part of their legacy.
I fell in love with the release shortly after the intro of the second track: ‘Fractal Pants’. What starts as an intense build-up during the intro section continues throughout the rest of this song: Bitbasic modulates the chord progressions in an almost heart-wrenching fashion. Right when the tension reached max value a glitchy drum fill announced sweet, sweet release through kick and snare drums. Nevermind that this is the oldest trick in the book. Classic song structure became classic for a reason: the beat drops at all the right moments throughout the song. I am not ashamed to say the wonkiness of this track, and in particular its total breakdown of a finale made me indulge in some rather embarrassing – scrap that: truly epic – dance moves.
‘Origami Guy’ has that skitty, nervous drumbeat I always equate with ‘DJ Food – The Riff’: Jazzy, stimulating, nerve-wrecking. But Bitbasic isn’t one to leave his listeners disorganized and entirely dysfunctional. He quietly returns them to earth through a myriad of ever-slowing dreamy scenes in ‘Alert’ and ‘Dans la playet’.
I haven’t touched upon the coolest (and perhaps most controversial) part of this whole release. It’s not free. It is a paid release on… drumroll… cassette tape! Now why on earth would anyone do that? The Dedpop website elaborates on this choice:
“This year we’re starting to release music on tape. Weird no? But we make music for people who enjoy the collecting as much as the listening, so it makes sense to create something tangible. And don’t worry if you don’t have a tape deck anymore as every tape includes a download code so you can load up your fancy, new-fangled MP3 player.”
The price tag of £6.00 GBP is not exactly steep, and I think it’s more than worth it for a quality release like this. I will treasure my cassette tape. I’ll even look for a crummy cassette player to play it on before relaying the included digital version through my studio monitors. This release excites me in a way music hasn’t done in quite a while. Both the contents and the packaging (and I think that – strangely enough – the fact that it’s a paid release) have something to do with this. What excites me the most, however, is how the final product just oozes the dedication and love it received from everyone involved in its creation. Highly recommended.
I love netlabel culture. One of the reasons for this is because talented artists put a lot of time and effort into creating their work, which they distribute for free. I’ll say that again: netlabel culture thrives on hard work and generosity.
Art is an important part of the oil that keeps the machinery of our daily lives running. It’s a sense of wonder that does not just come natural, but requires a fair bit of effort to keep going. That’s why I become infuriated when I see people take these ideals, twist and distort them or even throw them out of the window altogether. One of these who has been at it for quite some time now is Danny Bow. I’m writing this review because I feel there is something fundamentally wrong with his releases.
From the Export Label website:
“This newest release is a continuation of the creative path he took in 2010 with the album ‘Frozen Memories’. Back then it was his first release under a new alias and with a new approach to composing and creating original music. The new album, entitled ‘Unspeakable’, on the one hand confirms these creative choices, on the other it elaborates on them.”
Now here’s how to read between the lines here. ‘Frozen Memories’ was a shameful collection of plagiarized material. ‘Unspeakable’ shows that Danny Bow continues ripping off well-known artists and presenting the material as his own.
Export Label continues:
“The material is entirely instrumental, with a few tracks enriched with vocal samples and dialogues. The sound of piano, which is the leitmotif of the album, has already become Danny Bow’s trademark.”
Calling the piano his trademark is a bit misleading, as that’s basically the only thing he did himself. Almost every track is built from large chunks of music he has stolen from other artists. And not the smallest ones at that. Now these are some very serious claims. Allow me to back up my argument.
I first got a nagging suspicion when I was listening to ‘Frozen Memories’ on my iPod and thought I had it on shuffle, as I recognized one of the songs. Upon looking, however, this didn’t seem to be the case. I was sure I had heard a lot of parts before, but when I came to track no.7 “Different Life” I was instantly certain this was a rip-off. The track used the entire string section from The Cinematic Orchestra’s ‘All things to All Men’. Hold on there, mister reviewer, isn’t that just called sampling? Well, what is sampling? You take a short snippet of sound from whatever source (another release, a movie, a radio-programme,etc.) and use this as a part of a new composition. The shorter the snippet and the more creative you are in putting it to a new use, the better the sampling and the more this can be considered art. Squarepusher’s endless restructuring of the amen break is something so unlike the original it can hardly even be called sampling anymore. The artist has created something entirely his own, with building blocks provided by somebody else.
If, however, the building blocks you “borrow” from other artists become longer, you run the risk of actually using their hard work as a base for your composition. This isn’t sampling. This is plagiarism. Danny Bow takes this one step further and just “samples” several long parts from one song, speeds them up or slows them down a little bit and puts a new beat underneath this. The string section from “Different life” is definitely too long to be called sampling in my opinion.
Then there’s the song called ‘Lonley Traveller’ [sic]. I’m sure I’ve heard this before, and thought it was something either by Kruder and Dorfmeister or Thievery Corporation, but I can’t figure out what it is. Perhaps some of our readers can? I have similar doubts about ‘Anger’.
I have no doubts at all about ‘Nine Tears’, though. This shameless rip-off of ‘Lamb – I cry’ is not sampling. Why? Lamb is largely defined by the vocal characteristics of their singer. You can’t just borrow that voice, her specific sound and incorporate that in your own songs.
With this background I listened to ‘Unspeakable’, hoping that I would be wrong. I was, unfortunately, not. The artists copied in this release are even easier to spot than in the last one. Track no.7 ‘God Sin’ copies both piano parts and vocals from ‘Tori Amos – Spring Haze’. The following track ‘Afternoon’ copies the entire (!) iconic riff from ‘Dire Straits – Money for Nothing’. As with Lamb’s vocals, the more defining a piece of music for the original, the less right you have to sample it and call this “creative”.
Track no.13 ‘Seven Town’ is stealing from ‘Tori Amos – Little Amsterdam’. Danny Bow’s fatigue is showing as he can’t even be bothered to steal from a different artist any more. The cherry on his plagiarism-pie comes with track no.15: ‘You’. Here, he just sped up the entire song ‘Dido – Who Makes You Feel’, and slapped one short loop over it. It took me 10 seconds to emulate this brazen theft. Literally. Done. New Song.
These are only the songs I have recognized, and I’m not that well-versed in the more classic pantheon of great music past and present. I’m sure many of you will find even more. Add this to spelling mistakes in track titles (on both ‘Frozen Memories’ and ‘Unspeakable’) and it shows these ‘releases’ are hastily slapped together pieces of grand theft music. What’s even more disturbing is that he is doing this with signed artists, basically endangering the creative commons label. Had this release been marketed as a collection of remixes, that would have been a completely different story. Claiming them as your own material is the lowest of the low.
Export Label’s motto is the following:
“We all work out of passion for good music and true art, and the need to create something new, original, fresh and, more than anything, our own. We do it to counteract the omnipresent mediocrity and banality.”
While this was true for some of their excellent earlier releases, it’s a cynical insult when paired with their latest. Don’t get me wrong. I like Export Label. I really do. While they might occasionally put out some work that is below the very high standards they have set with releases like ‘Blossom- Blue Balloons’, they have provided us with some really, really good music in the past. They also show that netlabels aren’t just an online entity, organizing live events that feature several of their artists. This is something other netlabels should do as well.
I believe there’s too much faceless flaming on the internet as it is, but for all of Export Label’s hard work, I just can’t let this pass unnoticed. This has not been easy to write for me. I do not enjoy talking in such strong terms about other people’s work. If I don’t like it, I try to be constructive. But this review is not even talking about Danny Bow’s work. It’s about how he steals from other people’s work. There’s not much work involved in speeding up some samples and then slapping a drum beat on that. It’s pure plagiarism and consequently, I feel like both ‘Unspeakable’ and ‘Frozen Memories’ are an insult to the hard work and dedication of the entire netlabel scene.
Danny Bow – You (or actually: Dido – Who Makes You Feel)
Statement from Export Label in response to my review:
In view of the fact that the media allegations of plagiarism made against a number of tracks on Danny Bow’s album have turned out to be true, the Export Label team has decided to remove the material from the label’s listing. This decision has been made due to the questionable artistic and creative value of „Unspeakable”. It is a serious moral shortcoming on Danny Bow’s part, in no way consistent with the policy of Export Label.
We extend our apologies to our listeners and fans as well as all organizations cooperating with us on a regular basis (news services, radio stations, media patrons) for this unfortunate situation.
We would like to inform you that the album ”Unspeakable” will still be available online (on social networking and music sites), however, Export Label has withdrawn from the distribution of the above mentioned material. It will no longer carry our label’s logo.
We would also like to assure you that we will go to any lengths to avoid similar errors in the future, and to make sure our releases meet the highest artistic standards, and never give rise to any such suspicion.
This review was originally published on netlabelism.com, an online music magazine covering netlabel culture and releases. I was editor for the magazine from January 2011 until December 2014.