DJ Rolando

When Underground Resistance heard of Sony Music's plans to release a tone-by-tone remake of DJ Rolando's famous Jaguar track, they countered the corporate giants with spectacular success, as Rolando explained to Overload's Nick Doherty

By Nick Doherty

Imitation is the highest form of flattery / talent borrows, genius steals / money is the root of all evil.

The internet may yet strangle the music industry. The off-white hope of using computers to make, break, share and sell could become a well-rooted reality. Or everything may stay roughly as-was, but be quicker, smoother and more convenient. The old practices may survive the e-volution, with the web rendered as the ultimate meeting place for supply and demand: just one big marketplace. These are tenuous times. In a society divided well beyond class, we are quickly categorised and reminded of apposite things to consume. Soon you may be the proud owner of something you can’t yet afford and don’t yet know you need. Amidst this conformity, the release of a techno record recently reminded us that the greatest possibility of cyberspace is it’s ability to mobilise and organise the disparate. Resistance is still an option.

In electronic music the cover version has been usurped by the remix. Copying the material of others is rarely used as a tribute, although examples, like Anthony Rother’s reading of Trans Europe Express, do exist. The need to provide radio with an instantly recognisable hook, or to associate a fledgling artist with a respected past is not as pronounced either. The closest cousin is possibly the ‘leg-up’ scenario – Surgeon’s remix of Dave Clarke’s Storm for instance. Covers, if they happen at all, tend to be ironic. They are still the mainstream’s cornerstone, as they were for the likes of the Rolling Stones (first hit: I Wanna Be Your Man written by The Beatles) and Motown (each track would be covered by at least two or three in-house artists). Our rave new world has encouraged us to work harder – to deconstruct rather than imitate. But technology brings clever stings. The ‘tone-by-tone’ remix is occurring, and new issues are being raised.

The Aztec Mystic (DJ Rolando) grew up in the Latino-populated southwest of Detroit, literally in the shadow of Ford’s mighty Rouge assembly plant. His music betrays the aspects of his upbringing, merging the natural rhythms and vibrancy of the neighbourhood with a techno sound that seduced him elsewhere in the city. When Sony Music copied the finest encapsulation of his technique (Jaguar) without permission, they propagated a form of cultural imperialism. It’s not only the music that is undermined, but also its messages and meanings. The situation was also an inversion of bootlegging – if someone in Rolando’s street had been found duplicating Macy Gray CDs in their bedroom, they would probably still be serving a sentence. It was capitalist protectionism in its purest form – the strongest survives. Though Rolando, and his colleagues had other ideas.

Underground Resistance were to play the corporates at their own game and win. The legions of record-buyers and UR fans (‘killer bees’ as they were christened collectively) orchestrated one of the web’s most concentrated campaigns of complaint. Having been encouraged in the past by UR not to purchase records "from any large commercial chain store" but support "knowledgeable speciality shops or local mom and pop stores", a volte-face was staged meaning the reactionary re-release of Jaguar would be conducted centrally through chart-returning outlets. A video would be shot in Detroit to accompany it and promote the city’s vitality.

"That was the reason why I shot the video in my neighbourhood," explains Rolando. "I needed to show people where I come from and what it’s about. When people think of Detroit they think of crime and a rundown city, vacant buildings, crackheads and all that. I wanted to show all the positive sides to it. Like any other city it has its good and bad points. It's like a magnet – it pulls me back always." The only connotative content approved by Sony for the ‘illegal’ version was an ecstacy tablet which decorated the cover. The two intentions could not be further apart.

Finally, to fend off the re-licensing of the track from Sony to BMG, UR released a remix package one month prior, leaving the cover-version dead in the water. These tactics have been incorrectly interpreted as a sell-out, something the producer has to grudgingly acknowledge; "I still haven’t seen the video myself, but everybody’s called me and been like ‘hey man, I saw your video on MTV!’ That’s cool, it was just something we had to do, y’know, we felt it was right. Some people may not have believed in the way we did it but hey, fuck it man, that’s the way the shit happen."

So what mark has the episode left on the record’s producer? "Now I know how Derrick feels with Strings of Life," he admits. "He had that added pressure. At first I was a bit intimidated and worried but as time passed I felt confident in myself. I get it all the time; ‘Hey! When you playin’ Jaguar? You startin’ off with it?!’ To be honest I think there’s been two or three sets since where I haven’t included Jaguar – and I caught hell from that! I didn’t hear the end of it and I was like ‘I can’t do that again!’ But that’s how DJing goes. Musically I felt pressure because people were thinking ‘OK, we’ll wait for the next one, compare it to that record’. We’ll see what happens when the time is right."

‘Underground’ as an abstract adjective or collective noun means very little. It doesn’t come with a set of regulations. It’s defined by, and exhibited as an attitude. The actions of UR wholly befit their provocative name. To enlighten the music-buying population, to confound the expectation that what is popular must be of little worth, and to promote the representation of a people through mainstream channels requires inclusivity. Or put simply by Rolando; "Who are we to say ‘You can’t listen to this, but you can’. It’s a good quality piece of music and it should be out there for everybody man."

Your failed systems will be overcome electronically and eliminated worldwide / know your enemy / we are older.
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