In the so-called Information Age, Mark Hosler continues to volley his thought-provoking and assaultive mockery of media, one blast at a time. As a founding member of Negativland, Hosler helped create music that merged humor, digital sampling, commentary and criticism of the media that rendered the band peerless. At his upcoming Feb. 22 appearance at Sun-Ray Cinema, Hosler will explain Negativland’s history and influence on the deepest levels of underground music. “It’ll be a combination of a lecture, a standup comic, a storyteller, and an experimental film festival all mixed into one,” says Hosler. “I’ll talk about pranks, hoaxes, ethics … all of that stuff. If you’re a fan of our work, it’ll be interesting and if you’re not, it’ll be interesting, too.” Interspersed among his stories, Hosler screens the films Favorite Things,Gimme the Mermaid,No Business, and Christianity is Stupid (Mashin’ of the Christ).
While still in his teens, Hosler cofounded Negativland with Richard Lyons and David Wills in Concord, California in 1979. The band took its name from a song by ’70s German experimental band NEU!, and self-released an eponymously titled debut in May 1980, a month before Hosler’s high school graduation. “We were really naïve, thank goodness. Because a lot of interesting things happened because we didn’t know any better.”
Hosler and the band arrived on the scene in the wake of DIY-driven punk, but there was something that he felt was lacking in that sphere. “I liked found sound; taking things out of their original context and reusing them; bits and pieces of TV shows and commercials, answering machines records, and radio,” says Hosler. “And then mixing them with noises and tapes of sounds, but with kind of a sensibility that you’re doing experimental music but you also like pop music.”
The band described this approach as “culture jamming,” redirecting facets of media back into itself to create art. “We can use the culture itself to talk about the culture we live in,” explains Hosler of their methods. “And to me, it’s almost paradoxical that’s it’s actually more honest. You’re using the actual ‘stuff’ to talk about the stuff.”
Perhaps the band’s most infamous recording was 1991’s two-song U2 EP. Both songs were anchored by a sample of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” while the radio edit mix included a vulgarity peppered blooper reel of radio DJ Casey Kasem losing his shit. The cover art for the release featured a giant U2 logo, along with the word Negativland and the image of a Lockheed U-2 spy plane. The Irish-four-piece and their label Island Records moved quickly, threatening the band with all kinds of legal delights. While U2 allegedly told their label to cease and desist their legal attack on Negativland, the band eventually discovered that was not the case. “They absolutely did not tell Island to drop the case,” says Hosler. “The band’s manager and label were just the ‘bad guys’.” Negativland survived the experience and the case became an early example of the sometimes-contentious convergence of trademark law, intellectual property, sampling, and the world of art. In 1995, Negativland documented the full saga in the magazine-and-CD release, Fair Use: The Letter U and the Numeral 2.
Nearly 40 years into their patented commando-style multimedia collagism, Negativland continues to be a viable entity in experimental music. The band’s latest release, It’s All in Your Head, is a double-CD set that finds the band aiming their sights at religion. Their back catalog lists more than 20 studio and live releases, as well as videos. And their website is an exhaustive online codex of past and current digital guerilla uprising.
While Hosler and Negativland have never performed here, they’ve already made some kind of impact on the area.
“In the ’80s and early ’90s, we used to get fan mail all the time from Jacksonville. And it confused us, because it seemed like an odd place where people liked what we did,” says Hosler. “But we figured that it was people like us, maybe other likeminded weirdos in their bedrooms making weird music. So maybe it was also a kind of sign that we were kind of ‘making it’.” [Laughs.]