Negativland is an experimental music and sound collage band which originated in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1970s. They "lifted their name" from a Neu! song. [1] (



The core of the band are Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons, Don Joyce and David Wills. Chris Grigg is a former member.

Negativland has released a number of albums ranging from pure collage to more musical affairs, these have mostly been released on their own label, Seeland Records. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, they produced several recordings for SST Records, most notably Escape From Noise, Helter Stupid, and U2.

Negativland's main claim to fame is the U2 lawsuit which nearly destroyed them as a band.


Early history

Negativland started in Concord, California in 1979 around the core founding members of Lyons and Hosler (who was in high school at the time) and released an eponymous debut in 1980.

A number of releases followed in the early 1980s, but it wasn't until after the release of their breakthrough sample and cut-up sonic barrage: Escape From Noise in 1987 that Negativland gained wider attention.

Following the somewhat unexpected success of this album, Negativland faced the prospect of going on a money-losing tour. To prevent this, they put together a phony press release claiming that "Christianity is Stupid" was an inspiration for a real mass-murder that had occurred in Minnesota.

The resulting fallout and media frenzy had the desired effect of preventing a tour, but it also resulted in much confusion about the murder, and Negativland were criticised for their manipulation of the press. Negativland argued that the "Christianity is Stupid" furor spoke more about the state of the media than a desire on their part to exploit a tragic situation.

In any case, the scandal became the foundation for the next release Helter Stupid and set the stage for the incident for which they are most widely known: the U2 record with samples from Casey Kasem.

The U2 record incident

In 1991, Negativland released a single with the title "U2" displayed in very large type on the front of the packaging, and "Negativland" in a smaller typeface. An image of the Lockheed U-2 spy plane was also on the single cover.

The songs within were parodies of the group U2's well-known song, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", including kazoos and extensive sampling of the original song. The song "The Letter U and the Numeral 2" features a musical backing to an extended profane rant from well-known disc jockey Casey Kasem, lapsing out of his more polished and professional tone during a frustrating rehearsal, commenting, for instance: "These guys are from England and who gives a shit?" (U2's members are in fact from Ireland.)

U2's label Island Records sued Negativland claiming that the "U2" violated trademark protection, and the song itself violated copyright protection. Island Records also contended that the single was an attempt to deliberately confuse U2 fans, then awaiting Achtung Baby.

Funds exhausted, Negativland settled out of court. Most copies of the single were recalled and destroyed. By the mid-1990s, rap had made authorized sampling more common in mainstream music, but the single "U2", for which Negativland did not obtain clearance to use U2 samples, is still illegal to sell in the United States, but is available for free download from Negativland's official web site (

In June, 1992, Joyce and Hosler interviewed U2's Dave Evans (a.k.a. The Edge) for Mondo 2000. Evans reported that U2 were bothered by the sledgehammer legal approach Island Records took in their lawsuit, and furthermore that much of the legal wrangling took place without U2's knowledge: "by the time we (U2) realized what was going on it was kinda too late, and we actually did approach the record company on your (Negativland's) behalf and said, 'Look, c'mon, this is just, this is very heavy...'" Island Reconds reported to Negativland that U2 never authorised samples of their material; Evans response was, "that's complete bollocks, there's like, there's at least six records out there that are direct samples from our stuff."[2] (

The "U2" single (along with other related material) was re-released in 2001 on a "bootleg" album entitled These Guys Are From England And Who Gives A Shit, released on "Seelard Records" (a parody of Negativland's record label "Seeland Records"). It is thought likely that Negativland themselves were responsible for the re-release, and that U2 gave their blessing; although the Negativland website refers to this release as a bootleg, it is available from major retailers like Best Buy, Amazon, and Tower Records, as well as Negativland's own mail-order business.

Negativland are interested in intellectual property rights, and argue that their use of U2's and others' material falls under fair use. In 1995, they released a book with accompanying CD called Fair Use about copyright law in general, and the U2 incident in particular. There are many other artists who push the boundaries of copyright law in a similar way to Negativland, including John Oswald, the Evolution Control Committee, The Bran Flakes, Sir Mildred Pierce, and People Like Us.

Negativland's Mark Hosler pointed at the irony of U2 infringing copyrights on a massive scale during their Zoo TV tour by broadcasting live satellite images on stage, and getting away with it.


In 1999 Negativland collaborated with UK anarchist band Chumbawamba to produce the album the ABCs of Anarchism, which is largely based around the writings of Alexander Berkman and cut-up versions of Chumbawamba's hit song "Tubthumping", the theme tune to the children's program Teletubbies and the Sex Pistols' "Anarchy in the UK".

Recent developments

In 2003, members of Negativland contributed their efforts to Creative Commons, an organization devoted to providing artists with a broader range of copyright options.

As of 2004, Negativland exists and has released several albums including Points, Dispepsi, Free, Escape From Noise, Helter Stupid, and A Big 10-8 Place. Their records are released on the band's own Seeland label. Member Don Joyce hosts a weekly radio show called Over The Edge most Thursdays at midnight on KPFA.





  • Negativconcertland (1993)

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