In Support of Kevin Saunderson – Copy/Paste Culture Rears its Ugly Head

Kevin Saunderson made a post recently on his website calling out a pair of Italian producers for lifting, wholesale, a loop from an iconic track of his and apparently making a name for themselves off the back of his original tune.

I am not going to even name the two Italian producers, fuck them. Why should I give them even more internet time and attention than they deserve?

The Sound – a track he co-produced with Santonio Echols and released under the Moniker Reese and Santonio is an early techno hit that, among others, set the tone for all future generations of Techno to come and as such is a benchmark and easily recognizable.

Kevin’s response was to post their version on his Soundcloud account for free download (they were selling it via their label), and make the original 1987 version of the track available for free download from his website.

I do have to say that I listened to both tracks and what they did is clearly out of line, but Kevin’s response, to make both tracks freely available, is a double edged sword I think.

In this day and age any publicity is good publicity and it pains me that on some level these guys are going to benefit more, rather than less, from all the attention they are getting because of this. If I thought they were smarter, I would hazard to guess that they played Kevin’s hand and wanted him to react in order to boost their own profile and already, online, it seems as if some people are actually in defense of what the Italian duo did and it leaves me flabbergasted.

This is why:

Kevin Saunderson practically invented Techno as we know it (along with a few others of course, another debate entirely) and to take one of his most beloved and well known tracks, barely change it and then sell it as your own is just plain disrespectful.

They only sampled and looped the hook of his iconic techno track, added some lazy post production, modern breaks, whooshes and reverbs and left the original loop almost entirely intact.

One of the unspoken (tongue in cheek here) rules of lifting a sample (or samples) from another track in Techno is at least fuck around with it a bit man, Jeezus.

The sheer laziness of what these guys did is staggering and offensive.

It’s all fine and well to find inspiration in another artists work, even to copy it, but make an effort to bring your own touch to it, expand upon it, evolve the idea – you know like those other sampling maniacs, Daft Punk.

This rip-off track, which is ultimately just a weak, sound-of-now re-mix, is artistically void and an insult.

The equivalent would be lifting a key scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, calling the play a different name (but not even bothering to tweak character names or setting) and then hawking the crude edit as your own creative work and binding it in a fancy cover.

I’m comparing Kevin Saunderson to William Shakespeare deliberately for several reasons.

First, both WS and KS are/were pioneers in their respective fields, both created something new and ground breaking, different from anything that preceded them (and I go to great pains NOT to say original), second, both were “plagiarists” (read: samplers) of their generation and finally, they both produced works of artistic merit and historical significance.

So here is the interstellar difference between KS/WS “sampling” and what the Italian duo did – when WS “plagiarized” small bits from other writers it seems to have been done out of respect and historical awareness. It’s no secret, for example, that Shakespeare read and was influenced by the writings of Montaigne and others – even to the extent of lifting entire phrases (translated) verbatim into his own plays. Also this “plagiarism” makes only the smallest fraction of his body of work and are the exception rather than the rule.

The same goes for Mr Saunderson’s body of work relative to his influences but this is not the case with how the Italian Duo sampled his track.

The process of sampling and expanding on influences lies at the very heart of artistic endeavor and is traceable back to cave art in Southern Africa or primeval camp songs, but it is ambiguous ground to cover because one meanders quite quickly into the quagmire of originality and pursuit thereof. The problem with the modern concept of originality is that it denies the very fundamentals of the aforementioned artistic process and it’s misguiding. “Originality”, now closely associated with “inventiveness” is not necessarily always about creating something new from scratch but rather about selecting existing techniques and materials and combining them in interesting or new ways – precisely what Mr Saunderson was doing at the time of producing the original track.

In the post on his site Mr Saunderson quite rightly gives this kind of sampling due credit, it lies at the very heart of modern music production, but the sampling process he is referring to is creative/selective, not copy/paste and the rip off track is clearly the latter.

Building on previous ideas and quoting influences is not stealing or plagiarism but copy/pasting something word for word/sound for sound without significant changes or credit is and that is what the Italian duo did.

I am thrilled to be living in the era of read/write culture, where anyone and their uncle can create mash-ups, movie trailer edits and slow pithy pop tracks down 800x to make epic hour long soundscapes, where everyone is capable, if wiling, to create as well as consume, but I’m very wary of its cheaper and lazy parasite twin, copy/paste culture, where memes go to die, “like” buttons flock like flies and people take credit for and profit from content that they did not create.