he first thing you notice about it is, of course, its size. Boom Selection_Issue 01 is 432 tracks and 11 DJ mixes—42 hours of music spread over three CD-Rs. Compiled by the creators of the influential UK-based bootleg Web site BoomSelection, it’s a nearly overwhelming treasure trove of the semi-history of appropriationist music. It’s a delightful dance through the history of plunderphonics, mashups, turntabalism and other adventures on the wheels of steel and, perhaps more importantly, the laptop.
The collectors understand that this isn’t definitive or comprehensive, and they don’t make any such claims. The history of recontextualizing music didn’t start with them and it doesn’t end with this collection. Its compilers wisely didn’t even attempt to be definitive, they include numerous mp3s that capture the spirit of giddy pop or are ingredients in a mashup or mix. They simply love the music, which is why after hearing the Freelance Hellraiser’s “A Stroke of Genius,” a deft blend of the Strokes and Chrsitna Aguilera, they started the site in the first place.
Appropriationist music has been around for years—usually sonic experiments, political satire, or flagrant copyright challenges—but as a genre the relatively new bastard pop was considered temporary on arrival. Most features written about bootlegging called it a fad, a curiosity at best. The implications (I think false) that pop is disposable are seen as somehow magnified by the bootleg when instead they should reveal it and them to be timeless, elastic.
Similarly, Boom Selection_Issue 01 seems most often considered a snap shot or a slide show of Now, but little else. That may be true, but rather than be evidence of disposability I think it’s more accurately evidence of a shift in how music is archived and compiled and the increasing breakdown between the past and present.
Everything is available now. We aren’t only learning about music through the more typical means of radio or video, but WinAmps, Soulseek groups, and Direct Connect. Word of mouth isn’t limited to others within a geographic region potentially hampered by poor record distribution, a lack of independent record stores, stale radio formats, or a dirth of adventurous local artists and entrepreneurs. If you don’t like what is being played in Peoria, go on line and check out Chicago or London or Kingston or Dakar.
Boom Selection won’t be an artifact of these times, but it could be a blueprint. This is an instant compilation, archiving (mostly) the present rather than waiting a decade or two to see what someone else has sifted from the sands of time. Armed with our DSL lines and CD burners, we can unearth our own Nuggets, or compile Neptunes-produced tracks. Anthologies don’t have to be the work of sonic archeologists—hey, they aren’t called Now! That’s What I Call Music for nothing.
This record and these tracks aren’t having a dialogue with history, despite many claims to the contrary. Post-Internet, past and present are increasingly nebulous concepts—not only the way we listen but the way we seek and organize music as well. It’s no wonder that the big hypes of the moment—neo-garage, electroclash, and the “new” post-punk—are so revivalist. It’s no wonder, too, that a hangover after the feeding frenzy of file sharing, anthologizing, message board discussion has left many feeling spent and cold toward new music. Cordoned off from the machinations of music promotion, armed with Internet discographies and scribbled recommendations, what is new is what is found on-line—it’s what is new to you. And for the wide-eyed 14-year-old with equal access to past and the present, it’s no wonder that today’s carbon copies don’t make the grade.
Ah, but bootlegs are just reappropriation and context-based music, goes the claim. The reality is these are new, original tracks. The bootleg artists have (the same emotion and range and heart as any other music makers. It somehow only doesn’t seem as such because often the source material is in some cases quite well known. Somehow reapprorriating obscurity is considered noble and skillful, but isn’t it more of a challenge to get a listener to love a new arrangement of tracks with which they’re already familiar? Anyone unfamiliar with “That’s the Joint” is bound to love the Beastie Boys, but getting some indie snob to bounce to the vocals of “Genie in a Bottle” is something else entirely. It’s a moot point here, I suppose, because both cratedigging and Strokes of Genius are presented.
Still the bootleggers are hamstrung by the smoke and mirrors of talent and focusing praise on the process of making music rather than the product. Forget the classic rock lie of technique and playing notes—this is the organization of sounds. And if you want to bother with ethos, this is the most DIY collection of music in history. It’s a movement built around peer-to-peer sharing, passed files, and facelessness in which a16-year-old from London can make better use of Christina Aguilera or the Strokes than either of them does on their own and ask for nothing in return—to say nothing of the effort of this collection’s compilers.
Mp3 compilations such as this also highlight how much we’re listening to music one song at a time. As listeners track songs down one at a time, albums are increasingly being considered malleable collections of songs rather than singular statements. Witness the on-line message boards for complaints by the poor kid who downloads Radiohead’s “Hunting Bears” or a Queens of the Stone Age skit only to feel cheated by the reward for his patience and time. Even U.S. indie bands, too many of whom have checked their progressiveness and invention at the door and comply with the Clapton- and ELP-era elevation of the album format to the top of the musical food chain, are embracing the single for more than economical reasons. The Strokes, Interpol, the Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, Hot Hot Heat, Adult., and Gold Chains are among the recent indie hypes to come to prominence with singles or EPs.
I know, I know—those are still working bands, and this is just a collection of MP3s, albeit a large, thoughtful one. It’s just access to the WinAmp of a guy with a love of pop music—but that’s precisely the point. Grand statements aren’t made, revolutions aren’t being stated, credos aren’t spoken—but they’re here. They’re here in its obvious challenges to copyright laws. They’re here in its means of distribution (now that a small number of discs being offered at Rough Trade is sold out, this collection is mail-order only). Most importantly, however, they’re here in the way this collection neatly posits what we consider pop and how we now approach listening to it, reacting to it, and even discussing it.
Still there must be those who think Boom Selection is much ado about nothing or a parlor trick piggybacking off the inspiration of others. Technology has always been questioned, usually by the status quo. The microphone; the sampler, the phonograph, the electric guitar, the DJ, all of have infringed upon the sanctimony of contemporary popular music and came out vindicated. With this record, the next wave of musical distribution, inspiration, and organization are set to do the same.
Oh, and did I mention that how great it all sounds?
Reviewed by: Scott Plagenhoef
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01