(record) Labelled without Love

Those of you who have received your copy of At Ebbw Vale will have read the piece on the back about copyright. Thee Faction do not respect the capitalist courts. Nor do we respect the prevailing copyright laws. We do, however, hope that people will respect the labour that went into the songwriting and the delivery of the songs, and that they will see the record as the fruits of our labour, to be shared between all, but not to be alienated from those that made it. That is, we hope that everyone will do the right thing with the contents of the record. You all know what the right thing is. You don’t need a court to spell it out to you.

Today’s Guardian contains a piece perfectly demonstrating why the current system does not operate in the interests of the workers, and how it legitimises doing the wrong thing. Our old comrades in Squeeze – a band much admired by Thee Faction since we first picked up Packet of Three  – have found an ingenious way around the absurd rules which favour the capitalist ‘invester’ over the creative labourer.  The comrades have re-recorded their back-catalogue. So, while Universal still own the version of Up the Junction that you all know from Cool for Cats, they don’t own this new one. Squeeze do.

Comrade Tilbrook is very grown up about the whole thing. There isn’t the usual hissy fit that  accompanies the moment that big rock stars discover the true nature of the relationship twixt capital and music. He understands how Universal see the relationship, and he understands that there are legal and commercial restraints that aren’t going to be dropped, no matter how much wailing and gnashing of teeth the comrades might get involved in. Universal put the money up in the first place. In a society such as ours, that is what counts. Record companies, as we know, are just banks with a marketing department for hire. We shouldn’t expect them to behave any differently.

Antonio Gramsci - this war of position stuff was all his idea

So he has done the Gramscian thing. He’s found a work-around, which offers an example to the rest of us of how the new society might look. He acknowledges that they are lucky to be able to afford the studio time to do it themselves, of course. But in our piece on this blog some months ago we outlined the benefits of the DIY approach, and how far it has come since the days of photocopied cassette sleeves and biro-drawn record covers. We can all bypass the major labels. If someone else owns your recordings, record ’em again.

Comrade Tilbrook offers a couple of hints as to why this might about something more than money. Adverts, for example. As it stands, he and the other comrades in Squeeze have no say over when their songs appear in adverts, nor what those adverts are for. As you know, this is something that drove a huge wedge between the comrades in the Dead Kennedys a few years ago. Levis wanted to use Holiday in Cambodia for a TV ad. Comrade Biaffra was having none of it. The others were. Fortunately, they were in a position to make such decisions – and Jello made the right one. The comrades in Squeeze are not. Grim – particularly when every catfood manufacturer, coffee conglomerate, and Belgian moules-frites house want in on your ‘product’.

So this Squeeze thing is important, comrades. It’s another example of people refusing to be alienated from the product of their labour. OK, it’s at the level of the artisan. But it sets a great example. And is an important moment in the war of position.

Speaking of which, the Guardian is doing great work at the moment in reminding us of the war that needs fighting. Not only have they got Comrade Tilbrook to write this piece, but they’ve also started to write explicitly about a Gramscian war of position in the paper. Look here. Or, if you can’t be bothered, here’s the salient paragraph:

“Those who remember the ideologically charged 1980s may remember there were those on the left who, in the spirit of Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci, declared that “Thatcherism” was a “hegemonic project” designed, among other things, to engineer precisely the outcome outlined above. Is it going too far to suggest that George Osborne and David Cameron are embarking once again on the “war of position” that one of their icons began 30 years ago but never managed to see through to the end?”

Thee Faction aren’t the ones noticing this, comrades. It’s all around us. Join the fightback.

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