It’s ten years since opera critic Jeremy J Beadle penned Will Pop Eat Itself?, detailing the plagiarist tactics of the Kopyright Liberation Front, M/A/R/R/S, Technotronic and Jive Bunny. Believing they had overcome the hip-hop copyright crisis, record corporation lawyers suddenly faced bigger battles. Increasingly Baroque copyright breaches were aided by the explosion of cheapo samplers based on the £13,000 Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (1980), once the exclusive preserve of Her Majesty The Kate Bush. The early nineties were a musical carnival, during which the reproduction of cultural history became exponential to the swiftly escalating rate of consumption.
This account of pirate pop culture tells only half the story. Programma 100, a Soviet plan to replace 100 Western products denied in the embargo that followed the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, overshadowed maverick breaches of copyright in the West. Knowing that their technological research was lagging behind the capitalist countries, the Soviet Union dispatched KGB spies to steal Western technology plans. Meanwhile, denied access to basic home computing by exorbitant prices, Soviet citizens took matters into their own hands, smuggling in small bits of Western computer technology and making back-room copies. Since the Soviets had no domestic software or pop music markets and no laws to protect imperialist copyright claims, Western software was regularly hacked and recorded music freely bootlegged. By the late eighties, Soviet gamers were enjoying Cyrillic versions of Manic Miner (1983) on machines such as Hobbit, Moskva 48, Bajt, Spektr 48, Dubna 48K and Fanny – homemade clones of Sinclair’s 1982 ZX Spectrum. With Spectrum clones used widely in schools and even on the odd nuclear submarine, one time samizdat Soviet culture was churning out instant nostalgia for the masses. Glasnost helped to accelerate the bedroom mores of pirate video games, music bootlegged on vinyl and exposed x-ray film and apartment-based Sots Art.
If Beadle’s harbinger of future pop correctly predicted the trend towards piracy and über self-consumption in the West, it perhaps overestimated the continuing appeal of pop glamour, a bastion of Official Culture. Browbeaten by the pantone boyish girl bands of the nineties, the plagiarist pop world of the early 00s more closely resembled the black market of the USSR’s twilight. If pop music was finally buried in the later nineties, it was being regularly mourned by a magpie möbius strip of retrofuturism aided by the speedy distribution of eighties computer simulators, MP3s and MP3 mixing freeware. Retrogaming on 8-bit simulators regularly breeched software developer’s rights, and the utopian polyphonic minimalism of the Commodore 64 SID chip bounced of the bedroom walls of the world once more. C64 superstar composer Rob Hubbard played live gigs, the Internet filled up with SID files and Commie rockers such as Ladytron did good business with their Uncle Robert’s analogue Moog, Trio’s Casio VL Tone and a Speak and Spell once swapped on Swap Shop.
Bastard Pop made headway on the airwaves in the early 00s, skilfully broken into the mainstream by XFM’s Remix Show, which encouraged young listeners to send burnt CDs. Home mixers sporting pseudonyms such as Freelance Hellraiser, Girls on Top, French Bloke and Soulwax pulled off inspiring and often hilarious mixes, combining metal with hip hop, grunge with R&B and new wave techno pop with, er, R&B. Totalitarian Superstar DJs were placed under house arrest as the masked masses took to their PCs. Inspired by Orc, the spirit of Revolution, the firstborn of Los and Enitharmon, they pulled up the spiralling roots of corporate pop, and shared the spoils among the lepers of Soho. ‘Destroy originality’, they instructed as they dug their polished nails into the eyes of Whitney Houston. Despite the DIY democratic energy, sticking to the rules of ironic juxtaposition quickly threatened to transform Bastard Pop into a musical equivalent of Dogma film. Luckily for the majors, this restricted the sacking of the back catalogues. Unluckily for the listeners, unnecessary dogmatism transformed Missy Elliot’s whining acapellas into the James Brown back breaking beat of Bastard Pop. The customary litigation threats piling up under XFM’s letterbox soon came in perfumed envelopes, S.W.A.L.K as the record companies whiffed the sweet stench of cultural sterility. Sporting MBEs awarded for charitable contributions to the world’s fastest burning subculture, by 2002, the major players of the bootlegging blip were signed up as Kylie and Cher’s superstar megamixers. Those who remain