If you're as crazy for content as we are, you can't have escaped the Steve Albini vs Powell beef* that took over the world of online dance music writing a few weeks back. Steve Albini, for the unaware, is an American guy who used to be in Big Black, still plays in Shellac, engineers records, and is a professional crotchety old man. Oscar Powell, for the uninitiated, is a British electronic music producer who also runs the record label Diagonal. Powell, it turned out, had sampled a snippet of Albini, taken from an old Big Black gig, for his new single on XL Recordings, "Insomniac". Being a nice bloke and fervent copyright law obeyer, Powell reached out to the man behind Songs About Fucking for permission and to explain the rationale behind the use of the sample and to also just say, hey, Steve, I think you're a cool guy. Steve Albini, professional curmedgeon, amazingly, wasn't happy.
Albini emailed Powell a pretty sour response and the wags at XL thought, hey, let's promote the record by pasting Steve Albini's email on a massive billboard in Hackney. This was the result. If you've got your reading glasses on, have a skim.
Yep, shocking, isn't it, that a bloke who predominantly records and releases scratchy, scrappy, scrawny caustic rock, isn't that into clubbing and club culture?
The beef broke the internet. We've only just recovered and we only managed to wake ourselves from the walking nightmare we've been consumed in since we saw that billboard when Powell asked if we wanted to premier the video for the "Insomniac" b-side, "Should Have Been a Drummer". He was also up for answering a few questions about the saga.
We say video, but as you can see below, nothing really happens. Which makes us think about the actuality of what "anything happening" actually means. Strictly speaking, does "anything" have to "happen" for us to be able to confidently state that "anything" is actually "happening"? Surely nothingness is a state of anything "happening" because even stillness "happens", right? Judge for yourself below, and then read what Powell had to say about the tear up of the century.
THUMP: Obviously we're gonna start with the Albini thing…art prank or just a bit of fun?
Powell: It was really just a bit of fun. There's an art element to it, too, I suppose. It definitely wasn't a prank as the intention was never to make a fool out of Steve.. Anyone who knows the first thing about me or my music would recognise that I agree with the things he said. So in some sense it is a prank, because the joke is on the people who positioned it as me against Steve — so basically most of the music press.
Was Albini's response indicative of a wider generational refusal to engage with electronic music or just some old stick in the mud self-consciously showing off for attention and approval?
No, it was indicative of how awful most electronic music is today.
Does he deserve the acclaim and praise he gets as an engineer?
He deserves all the love he gets because of his contribution to music via Big Black, Rapeman and Shellac. I'm not so concerned with the engineering side of things, although clearly the two worlds combined make him a very important person indeed.
ANYWAY, onto the new track. Do you really wish you'd become a drummer?
No, I wish I'd been a marine biologist.
Right, that's that sorted then: the joke was on us, there is no beef, Powell's new single is great, and he wishes he was a marine biologist.
* "Beef" here being used in possibly the loosest way it's ever been used before. It's basically tofu.