By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Photo Courtesy Analog Pussy|
I RECOGNIZED HER VOICE IMMEDIATELY, EVEN IN HER DISTRESS, even though it had been a long time since we'd talked. Jiga, the 26-year-old female half of Jiga + Jinno, otherwise known as the Goa trance duo Analog Pussy, was calling from the home she shares with Jinno in Bocholt, a German town near the Netherland border. I detected tears in the pace of her breath, the pitch of her first few words. I figured it must be 2 o'clock in the morning. "How are you?" I ventured. "Well," she said, "I'm a little bit confused. Would it be all right, do you think, if for these first three minutes I talked to you not as a journalist but as just another person?" I agreed, and Jiga began her story.
"You know," she started in, "for six months we've been all over the charts at MP3.com. We'd made over $35,000 there." Only a month ago, I had marveled at Analog Pussy's lock on MP3.com's Top 40 -- not the trance Top 40, or the electronic Top 40, but the general Top 40. One of their singles, "Shperma Pornomatic," ranked No. 5, right under Faith Hill and three spots above Madonna. There were four more Analog Pussy tracks on the chart, including "Fight to Trance" at 33, and "JigaBabe" at 31. On May 7, their "melodic trance" single, "Beautiful Stars," climbed to No. 1.
"About two weeks ago, somebody from MP3.com contacted us by e-mail," she continued. "They said they were going to take back the money we had earned and redistribute it, and drop us completely off the site." Jiga wrote back, pleading with the "KGB," as MP3.com's Artist Activity Department has been nicknamed for its habit of recruiting informers. She asked them to explain. They refused. "They said only that 'We suspect that you and other artists are involved in suspicious activities. Then they wanted us to admit to these activities before they even tell us what they are. They kept referring to 'the original issues.' We said, 'Okay! We plead guilty! Just tell us what we are pleading guilty to.'" Still no answer. "I finally figured out that it's just what happens when you earn too much money there," Jiga concluded. "Then they don't want you anymore."
On May 20, roughly a week after Artist Activity's accusatory e-mail to Analog Pussy, MP3.com announced it had been acquired by Vivendi, the French utilities-company-turned-media-conglomerate that owns Universal Music Group, the corporation that in the process of subsuming smaller labels has drawn the wrath of other artists, including Courtney Love. In Love's lawsuit against Vivendi Universal, she complains that when she and her band, Hole, signed with Geffen, her contract promised "unique services," which disappeared with the boutique label's autonomy. L.A.'s Ozomatli made a similar claim against Interscope when the label acquired Almo Sounds, the small independent where the band had labored happily in relative obscurity; suddenly it was expected to churn out hits. Aimee Mann, whose battles with record labels have defined her career since she left Epic in 1993, re-acquired her last album, Bachelor No. 2, from Interscope "after that company lost interest in most of its sub-blockbuster artists following the Universal merger," according to her Web site.
MP3.com is, if not a label, a centralized place where unsigned musicians can pretend they have a label and promote themselves. "You could have your page, with your own page content," Jiga said. "It has been so, so good for artists." The company offered a post-buyout FAQ for concerned artists, addressing the question on everyone's minds: "Will MP3.com artists remain independent?" The answer: "Yes. The terms and conditions of various artist agreements will not automatically change as a result of this transaction." Automaticallycarries a lot of weight in that sentence.
Analog Pussy is not likely to be of much use to Vivendi Universal; the group already has a label, Hadshot, in Germany, for which it sold about 30,000 copies of its last record. Most of their passionately wired fans in the international techno-trance scene come to them online: The Internet allowed the dedicatedly underground Analog Pussy to become the rare Goa act to gain recognition in the broader international rave scene. Now, it seems, one of their most powerful publicity tools has been ripped out from under them.
"I don't understand -- isn't America supposed to be about human rights?" Jiga asked. An even trickier question is whether the Internet is supposed to be about unexpected successes, cultural surprises. There was a time in its early years when the Web promised a parallel universe of fabulous chaos -- a place where anything could happen, anyone could score what would have been otherwise impossible. With MP3.com's sudden absorption into the multinational hit-making market, that universe seems in peril.
IN 1993, JEFF PATTERSON, A 19-YEAR-OLD SOPHOMORE AT THE University of California Santa Cruz, uploaded his band's single, "Tower of Babble," to the Internet. He could not have predicted the consequences. Like Dorothy throwing water on a witch in flames, he probably thought he was doing something helpful, like giving record companies a chance to discover his talent. His band, the Ugly Mugs, had developed a following in the Bay Area bar scene, and Patterson had wangled enough studio time for the band to record a demo. But no one had the cash to press a CD. Jeff Patterson just wanted the Ugly Mugs to be heard.