Since 1980, the 4 or 5 Floptops known as Negativland have been creating records, fine art, film, video, books, radio and live performance using appropriated sound, image and text. Mixing original materials and music with things taken from corporately owned mass culture, Negativland re-arranges these bits and pieces to make them say and suggest things that they never intended to. In doing this kind of cultural opposition and "culture jamming" (a term coined by Negativland in 1984), Negativland have been sued twice for copyright infringement. 2005 marked the 25th anniversary of their being together as a group.
Okay, but what, you still ask, is Negativland exactly? That’s hard to answer. Negativland definitely isn’t a “band,” though they may look like one when you see their CDs for sale in your local shopping mall. They’re more like some sort of goofy yet serious European-style artist/activist collective - an unhealthy mix of John Cage, Lenny Bruce, Pink Floyd, Bruce Connor, Firesign Theatre, Abbie Hoffman, Robert Rauschenberg, 1970’s German electronic music, old school punk rock attitude, surrealist performance art, your high school science teacher…and lots more.
Over the years Negativland’s “illegal” collage and appropriation based audio and visual works have touched on many things - pranks, media hoaxes, media literacy, the evolving art of collage, creative anti-corporate activism in a media saturated multi-national world, the bizarre banality of west coast suburban existence, file sharing, intellectual property issues, wacky surrealism, evolving notions of art and ownership and law in a digital age, artistic and humorous critiques of mass media and culture, and, of course, so-called “culture jamming.”
While they have, since getting sued, been aggressively and publicly involved in advocating significant reforms of our nation’s copyright laws, and are often perceived as creative and funny shit-stirring anti-corporate activists, Negativland are artists first and activists second, not the other way around. Their art and media interventions have (often naively) posed questions about the nature of sound, media, control, ownership, propaganda and perception, with the results of these questions and explorations being what they release to the public. Their work is now referenced and taught in many college courses in the US, has been written about in over 30 books (including NO LOGO by Naomi Klein, MEDIA VIRUS by Douglas Rushkoff, and various biographies of the band U2,) cited in legal journals, and they often lecture about their work here and in Europe.
Besides occasional live touring, Negativland has maintained a densely collaged weekly live improvised radio show since 1981 (OVER THE EDGE, KPFA fm 94.1). In 1995 Negativland released a 270 page book with 72 minute CD entitled "FAIR USE: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2." This book documented their infamous four-year long legal battle over their 1991 release of an audio piece entitled "U2". They were the subjects of Craig Baldwin’s 1995 feature documentary SONIC OUTLAWS. In 1997, Negativland created the soundtrack and sound design for Harold Boihem’s documentary film THE AD AND THE EGO, an excellent in-depth look into the hidden agendas of the corporate ad world that goes very deep into the gross and subtle ways that we are adversely affected by advertising. 2002 saw the release of their provocative and challenging book/CD project, DEATHSENTENCES OF THE POLISHED AND STRUCTURALLY WEAK, and in 2004 Negativland worked with Creative Commons to write the Creative Commons Sampling License, an alternative to existing copyrights that is now in widespread use by many artists, writers, musicians, film makers, and websites. In 2005 they released NO BUSINESS, a hilarious and elaborate CD/book/video/whoopee cushion package that thoroughly explores, in both theory and practice, issues of art, appropriation and file-sharing in our corporately driven digital age. In September 2005 they debuted “Negativlandland” at New York City’s Gigantic Artspace. “Negativlandland” is a major retrospective of their visual collage art and video that has most recently shown at Consolidated Works in Seattle and Creative Electric Studios in Minneapolis.
Negativland is interested in unusual noises and images (especially ones that are found close at hand), unusual ways to restructure such things and combine them with their own music and art, and mass media transmissions which have become sources, and subjects, of much of their work. Negativland covets insightful wackiness from anywhere, low-tech approaches whenever possible, telling humor, and vital social targets of any kind. Without ideological preaching, Negativland often becomes a subliminal culture sampling service concerned with making art about everything we aren't supposed to notice.

 

Here Are Some Actual Big Time Media Quotes About Negativland That Make Us Sound Legit:
A provocation and a punk-inspired commentary on our mercenary culture…eloquent and impassioned spokesmen for ideas like a “creative commons”…it’s salutary to see these smart and influential guys get a gallery show.
- ART IN AMERICA
Declared heroic by their peers for refashioning culture into what the group considers to be more honest statements, Negativland suggests that refusing to be original, in the traditional sense, is the only way to make art that has any depth within commodity capitalism...
- NEW YORK TIMES
Negativland isn't just some group of merry pranksters; its art is about tearing apart and reassembling found images to create new ones, in an attempt to make social, political and artistic statements. Hilarious and chilling.
- THE ONION
Collage pioneers...genre-defying, densely layered, strangely accessible...
- WASHINGTON POST