Iggy Pop criticises U2's free album ploy

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Former Stooges frontman's John Peel lecture also takes aim at free downloaders and music industry executives

by John Plunkett, The Guardian

Iggy Pop has criticised U2 over their controversial tie-up with Apple in the course of a broadside against the record industry that also saw him lambast music executives and people who download songs for free.

The "godfather of punk", delivering the fourth annual John Peel lecture at the Radio Festival in Salford on Monday, said the music industry was now "laughably, maybe, almost entirely pirate" and said electronic devices had "estranged people from their morals, making it easier to steal music than to pay for it".

But he reserved some of his toughest criticism for Irish band U2, who prompted howls of protest when they gave away their latest album as a free download for iTunes users as part of Apple's launch of its new iPhones and Apple watch.

"The people who don't want the free U2 download are trying to say, 'Don't try to force me,' and they've got a point," said Pop at the event, hosted by 6 Music's Lauren Laverne, on Monday night. "Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it's kind of an anointing, you are giving that person love.

"It's not the only point, these are not bad guys. But now everybody is a bootlegger and not so cute as before and there are people out there just stealing stuff and saying, 'Don't try to force me to pay,' and that act of thieving will become a habit, and that's bad for everybody."

He said musicians who had previously suffered at the hands of record labels and executives who had taken all the profits were now being penalised by the digitally empowered public. "We are exchanging the corporate rip-off for the public one, aided by power nerds, kind of 'computer Putins'. They just want to get rich and powerful.

"Now the biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop in an effort to stay huge and there is something in this huge thing that kind of sucks."

Reflecting on his own career, the former Stooges lead singer said that if he had to get by on the proceeds from his record sales, "I would be tending bars between sets".

But despite his criticism of music pirates - "There are varying definitions of theft, but I know a conman when I see one" - he appeared to have some sympathy for people who face tough sanctions when they are convicted of illegally downloading or filesharing. "Is the thieving that big a deal? Ethically, yes, and it destroys people because it is a bad road you take," he said.

"There is a general atmosphere [in the music business] of resentment, pressure, kind of strange perpetual war, and I think prosecuting some college kid because she or he shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia a couple of hundred years ago for poaching his lordship's rabbit. That's how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free."

Pop also defended the car insurance adverts in which he has appeared, for which he has been accused of selling out. "At least I'm honest," he told the audience of industry executives. "It's an ad, and that's all it is."

He said the music industry was a "pond that is wide, but very shallow. Nobody cares about anything too deeply except money. Running out of it and getting it."

Pop, who presents a show on the BBC's digital music station, 6 Music, got his biggest laugh by advising his audience to "stay away from drugs ... and [TV] talent judges". But he also urged on his audience the importance of a musical education and the value of learning an instrument. "If you've got a kid and you can trick them into playing the French horn for a year, that is a good thing."

He said it was a "dream job" to be a musician, to "make people feel something and then trust in God. While you are waiting for god to show up, try to find a good entertainment lawyer."

Separately, Pop praised the Guardian, which he said was set up to "create a voice for the little guy". He said: "They have a moral mission or imperative that has given them the latitude to be interesting, thoughtful, helpful, and they bring Edward Snowden to the world stage, something that was not pleasant for a lot of people to hear about, but maybe you need to know."

Pop also had praise for Radiohead singer Thom Yorke, who he said was "encouraging positive change", and for Peter Gabriel, for his work promoting world music with Womad. He was similarly positive about Vice Media and Virgin Records founder Richard Branson.

In a question and answer session after the speech, he also revealed an unlikely fondness for BBC1's rural affairs show, Countryfile, and a sequence in which a sound recordist went into the woods to record birdsong.

The singer's lecture, called "free music in a capitalist society", was broadcast live on 6 Music and will be repeated by BBC4 on Sunday. It marked the 10-year aniversary of the death of Peel, who was the first DJ to play the Stooges on UK radio.

"I worked half of my life for free," said Pop. "The masters of the record industry kept complaining that I wasn't making them any money. When it comes to art, money is an unimportant detail. It just happens to be a huge unimportant detail."

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on October 14, 2014 12:13 AM.

Watch U2's performances of "The Miracle" and "Every Breaking Wave" from RAI Italian TV was the previous entry in this blog.

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