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Music / Negativland

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The Four Floptops. Left to right: The Weatherman (David Wills), Mark Hosler, Don Joyce, and Richard Lyons

Negativland is an Avant-Garde Music group from Concord, California. Formed in 1979 by high school students Ian Allen, Mark Hosler and Richard Lyons, later joined by David Wills, Chris Grigg, Peter Conheim, Jon Leidecker and sound collage master Don Joyce, the group's work runs the gamut from abstract sound collages to almost normal pop-rock songs, all with a biting satirical edge.

The New York Times says the band uses "improvisation and scavenged audio detritus as raw materials. It is an evolving experiment in which the notion of a band is a framing device to explore issues, including media, religion and global capitalism; in an interview this week, Mr. Hosler called it 'a giant conceptual art project about intellectual property and the privatization of culture.' Hosler detracts the right-wing use of culture jamming to confuse and manipulate viewers/listeners: rather, Negativland is "trying to get people to look at things in a different way, trying to create a more educated, thoughtful, compassionate, kinder, better world. In our own weird-ass way."

Joyce's KPFA program Over the Edge was (and is) devoted to themed mixes of sampled sound, commentary, and the all-important call-ins from listeners ("receptacle programming"), with snappy satire, crazed humor and a Firesign Theater-like cast of lunatic characters. Originally airing Sunday nights right after Music from the Hearts of Space, it could be so jarring that Hearts of Space announcers used to remind listeners in their concluding remarks that "the next show is very different." You may still hear Over the Edge at on Thursday/Friday nights at midnight Pacific time, hosted by Leidecker or by Rob "Krob" Cole of the Puzzling Evidence show which usually follows Over the Edge. Past episodes, including nearly all of Joyce's shows, are at the Over the Edge Radio Archive (as of June 24, 2020, 150 of the very earliest episodes have been uploaded, and on July 24, 2020, 201 more were added!!) Keep checking back at the Over the Edge radio collection at as more episodes are added. Not only are people donating their personal recordings, but as of 2024, nine years after Don Joyce's death, volunteers are still going through his immense cassette archive to digitize and upload them note  and post-Joyce episodes are listenable/downloadable on the KPFA website. Some of the best episodes were issued on tape and CD, and the band continues to make them along with the occasional in-studio album. Here's a 2015 article with more details about Joyce, the history and origins of the show, and the archived episodes.

No description of Negativland is really complete without mention of the "Super Booper" circuit bending electronic oscillator. Invented by David "The Weatherman" Wills, and explained by him here, here, and more detail by him and Mark Hosler here, it's an inherent part of the Negativland oeuvre. Don Joyce, David Wills and others use it quite often on Over the Edge and in live shows (especially by Mark Hosler, to create musical soundscapes); it's "an electronic noise-making device that creates unstable feedback using multiple transistors and an FM radio receiver. The resulting sounds are different each time they are played but are sure to excite the ears and engage the mind."

Ian Allen died January 17, 2015 of complications post-heart surgery. Don Joyce died July 22, 2015 of heart failure (he was a lifelong heavy smoker). Richard Lyons died April 19, 2016 of melanoma. Following their wishes, the rest of the band has kept Negativland alive.note 

Studio Album Discography

Justin Moore has an extensive review of these albums at his SothisMedias blog.

Over The Edge series (originally on cassette, then re-released on CD):


  • Sonic Outlaws is a documentary of sampling artists in which Negativland members are prominently featured. Don and Mark are interviewed here, on the Circuit show, episode 7.
  • Ryan Worsley has created several short films with Negativland-produced soundtracks, plus an affectionate documentary about Don Joyce's life and art, How Radio Isn't Done. You can see all of these on Vimeo.
  • Coming in November 2022 - Stand By For Failure

  • There is much more Negativland — film, outtakes, ephemera, master tapes — at Negativland on

Special designer tropes follow in 5 4 3 2 1:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: This was Pepsi's reaction to Dispepsi, the group's album-length Take That! against celebrity endorsement in general and Pepsi in particular. It came as a relief to the group, who had thought Pepsi might try to sue them. See Writing Around Trademarks for how it came to be.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Discussed (and mostly Played for Horror) throughout The World Will Decide.
  • Alphabet News Network: The Universal Media Netweb, often referred to as UMN. All of Joyce's creations including Over the Edge were presented under the aegis of UMN and its mind-breaking or mind-controlling (or mind-liberating) agenda.note  UMN was founded by C. Elliot Friday, the wealthiest man in the solar sphere, who lives on Howland Island, runs Fridatronics Industries and still (despite Joyce's death) runs for President of the United States every four years on the Universal Party ticket. Casual listeners are probably most familiar with Crosley Bendix, UMN's Director of Stylistic Premonitions and Cultural/Arts Reviewer.
  • Artistic License – Geography: U2 infamously samples an outtake of Casey Kasem introducing a record by the Irish group U2 (in a longer version of the clip, he even mentions them being from Dublin) and exclaiming "These guys are from England, and who gives a shit?". Ireland is not even part of the United Kingdom, let alone part of England.
  • Ashes to Crashes: Don Joyce died in July 2015. After his cremation, the band packaged the first 1,000 copies of The Chopping Channel with two grams of his ashes per CD.
  • Black Comedy: Practically their trademark once they brought Don Joyce on. Compare for example, the studio cut of "Four Fingers" from A Big 10-8 Place to live versions from the 1990s. Founding member Richard Lyons was no slouch in this department, either: he was the one responsible for the media hoax which alleged axe murderer David Brom had been listening to Negativland's "Christianity is Stupid" song.
  • Broken Record: As expected from sound collagists. One particularly obvious example is "The Gun and the Bible" that repeats and echoes the word "wilderness" for a good minute - taken from the song's namesake:note 
    The gun and the Bible carved this nation out of the wilderness.
    America was built / built / built on a gun / gun / gun.
  • Book Ends:
    • Dispepsi starts with the sound of a Pepsi can being opened, and it ends with the sound of a Pepsi can being crushed and thrown on the ground.
    • Its' companion EP, Happy Heroes, begins and ends with commercial jingles for Mertz, (fictional) brain-stimulating pills from (also fictional) Fridol Labs.
    • No Business almost ends on the "reversed" edit of its' title song, "New is Old", appropriately titled "Old is New" - but then its' followed by the real final track of the album, "No Business Again".
  • Buccaneer Broadcaster: At least once, Lyons played "Jack Diekobisc" (pronounced Dick-o-bitch), in a micropower radio culture jam featuring an extremely nasty takedown of Clear Channel, KJR-FM Seattle, and its program director Bob Case. KJR advertised itself as playing only music from the '60s and '70s, but even a casual listener could hear plenty of tunes from the '80s as well, in an attempt to attract a younger money demographic. Explanations about Richard and his 'Mosquito Fleet' microradio pals here, and more here. KJR did get the message, and changed its playlist accordingly.
  • Canned Orders over Loudspeaker: "Christianity Is Stupid" takes the piss out of an excessively violent Christian propaganda film (see it here) by Sampling a sermon by Rev. Estus Pirkle. The preacher describes what he thinks the U.S. would be like under totalitarian Communist rule, with loudspeakers constantly blaring "Christianity is stupid! Communism is good! Give up!". The track repeats these words obsessively and completely out of context over a musical backing of insistently pounding drum machines and ominous Heavy Metal guitars.
  • Celebrity Endorsement: Among other quotes on its' cover, Our Favorite Things has:
    "It's goofy."
    Goofy, Cartoon Character
  • Censored for Comedy:
    • "Happy Hero" censors the F-word for comedic effect - or, rather, splices a long beep into the middle of the word "fucking".
    • These Guys Are From England And Who Gives A Shit ends with a painstaking re-edit of "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" in which every swear word is replaced by a Sound-Effect Bleep.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: The many eccentricities David Wills attributes to his Weatherman persona are almost all completely genuine.
  • Concept Album: Pretty much all of their albums. Among them...
    • A Big 10-8 Place is about their home county, Contra Costa County in California. (10-8 is CB radio slang for "en route" or "on my way").
    • Escape From Noise, their biggest hit on College Radio stations, is about noise incursion and noise pollution of all kinds. "Christianity Is Stupid" is found on this album. (And yes, some campus & community stations got in trouble for playing it.)
    • Helter Stupid is about the ineptitude of media reporters, citing as its case study a prank from Richard Lyons that local news affiliates took at face value.
    • Guns is about the role of guns in the American culture - both past and (at the time) present.
    • Free is about the United States of America and various concepts of freedom.
    • Dispepsi is about Pepsi, corporate advertising, Pepsi, celebrity endorsement and Pepsi again.
    • No Business is about copyright, sampling and stealing music - if not in the lyrics of the songs on that album, then in the way they're stitched up.
    • Thigmotactic has a musical concept rather than a thematic one: unlike their other albums, it's just a collection of straightforward humorous songs.
    • True False is about disinformation and personal echo chambers. This is one of their most successful live shows as well and has gone through many permutations and incarnations over the years.
    • The World Will Decide is about humanity's relationship with technology, its' role in the themes explored by True False, and the narrowing boundary between human and machine.
  • Continuity Nod: Escape From Noise comes with a "Car Bomb" bumper sticker. The song "Car Bomb" ends with the only surviving car driving away - with a different sticker on its' bumper that reads "No Other Possibility". That sticker was real, and included with some copies of A 10-8 Place.
  • Continuity Porn: Pretty much everything related to U2 post-U2, namely the music video for "Special Edit Radio Mix" and the extended These Guys are From England and Who Gives a Shit, have many things thrown into it regarding the U2 plane incident, the single itself, lawsuits from both Island Records and SST Recordsnote , Casey Kasem's radio outtakes and the dog named Snugglesnote . Snuggles's death may have also been the inspiration for "Dead Dog Records", the album Negativland bundled with the newer edition of "The Story of The Letter U and The Numeral 2".
  • The Cover Changes the Meaning:
    • Track 10 on Negativland is essentially a cover of of the sentimental ballad "Cara Mia", but the eerie background noises and half-whispered delivery turn it into a rather creepy Obsession Song.
    • U2 starts with The Weatherman dramatically and awkwardly reading the lyrics to "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking for" giving the song a weird and funny vibe.
    • "No Business" is basically a YTPMV that takes "There's No Business Like Show Business" from Annie Get Your Gun - in two different flavours, in fact, - and reframes the song to be about how liberating it is to steal music.
  • Deranged Animation: When their music videos aren't clip shows or sped-up, they usually fall into these. Special mention goes to Tim Maloney's videos for "Gimme the Mermaid" and "Aluminum or Glass (The Memo)" which, much like Negativland's cut-and-paste music, use plastic-looking CGI modelsnote , cutouts of The Weatherman and scenes from Indian mythology, badly-drawn cartoons and Ariel, all in one video. That last one's not surprising, as the man used to work for Disney.
  • Driven to Suicide: The bunny in the music video for "Over the Hiccups". Also lowkey qualifies as The Cover Changes the Meaning.
  • Eagleland: Guns and Free are very extensively themed around the United States - both the glorious and the noticeably less glorious elements of its' culture.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Their first three albums are mostly just minimal musique concrete without the social commentary and dense montage of their later work.
  • Enhanced on DVD: Our Favorite Things, despite being named after a song featured in No Business, is made up of Dispepsi material for at least a third of it. Aside from several back-to-back music videos, the Dispepsi block also features a lot of things not featured on the album proper, including The Weatherman narrating One World Advertising's proposal to Coca-Cola and Pepsico to pace out their ad campaignsnote , interludes taken from Coca-Cola's promotional movie filmed in the The '50s, the "Try It, Buy It" prelude to "Why is This Commercial?" and a remix of "Humanitarian Effort".
  • Epic Rocking:
    • Helter Stupid has an 18 minute title song that focuses on the media and their obsession with sensationalistic stories — in this case, about the supposed connection between rock and roll and murder (see Gone Horribly Wrong for details, below). This is the longest song they've got to date.
    • The ABC's of Anarchism is a collab with Chumbawamba. The title track on this EP is 13 minutes long.
    • The title track of True False is 10 minutes long. Conversely, the title track of its' companion album, The World Will Decide is only 7:30.
  • Gun Porn: The entirety of Guns. May contain traces of people getting shot.
  • Fake Radio Show Album: While the Over the Edge albums were all culled from actual broadcasts, they still had a few works along these lines. Helter Stupid's b-side "The Perfect Cut" was treated as a broadcast, whereas It's All In Your Head recorded the band acting out a phony radio broadcast on stage.
  • Fictional Colour: Cultural reviewer Crosley Bendix (one of Joyce's many characters) once reported the discovery of a "fourth primary color" called Squant. It is one of his best known monologues.note 
  • Genre Roulette: Negativland has done many different genres including Pop, Country, Metal, Disco, and even just straight up noise.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Richard Lyons' "axe murderer" prank. Lyons, with typical macabre humor, had created a fake press release saying that the band could not go on a planned tour because they'd been warned by the FBI not to leave the state while the investigation of the David Brom axe murders in Rochester, Minnesota was going on, as their music might have inspired his sickening deed. Brom really had argued with his family about religion and music; Lyons claimed that the song they'd argued about was "Christianity Is Stupid". The real reason the band couldn't tour is they couldn't afford it, but local Bay Area news outlets picked up on the story and ran it, as Lyons knew they would, without fact-checking or verifying the sources. It got as far as the San Francisco Chronicle and NPR before Lyons revealed the prank. To this day, there are people who believe "Christianity is Stupid" really was the song. Mark Hosler, who had not wanted to do it and felt it was exploitation of a human tragedy, later wrote that a classmate of Brom's had confronted him at a party talking about the fallout from the prank. "Our prank fueled the town and the parents' fears that MUSIC was making their kids crazy and violent. This led to weird kids being kicked out of school (including the guy who was confronting me), being persecuted, beat up, etc."
  • Gratuitous Panning: Tons.
  • Harsh Noise: Negativland is about making weird noises and collaging it all together.
  • Hidden Track:
    • Some editions of Escape From Noise (mostly the vinyl ones) have one, a minute after "Endscape". Negativland themselves, whenever they perform it live, call it "Fire Song".
    • Our Favorite Things features a post-credit sequence with a beat and numerous news anchors spliced in, all of them hard-panned.
  • Hurricane of Puns: The verses of "Drink It Up" are mostly puns on the names of commercial soft drinks.
  • Last Note Nightmare: Speech Free ends with a track present neither on True False nor on The World Will Decide: as radio noise slowly clears up to reveal birds chirping, both get rudely interrupted by aggressive (and loud) dog barks.
  • Instrumentals:
    • After Casey Kasem's death, Negativland made the stems from both U2 songs available on their website, for free. They've since pulled them off, but naturally, someone'd make a copy sooner or later.
    • Speech Free is unique in Negativland's discography in that it consists mostly of instrumentals (some of them edited) of their previous songs - all of them from their early 2020s lineup: True False, The World Will Decide and No Brain.
  • Miniscule Rocking: Negativland has made a handful of short songs.
    • "Hyper Real" is barely under a minute.
    • "Humanitarian Effort", being a clean interview segment, clocks in at 32 seconds. The remix featured on Our Favorite Things is only slightly longer, at 36 seconds.
    • "No Business Again", being a blooper reel of Annie Get Your Gun, is 36 seconds long up until it fades out.
    • "Either Or" and "Secret Win" on True False are both under a minute.
    • "Unlawful Assembly", "Why Are We Waiting" and "I Didn't Know I Was Dead" all clock under a minute and a half.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Lyons' "Nesbitt's Lime Soda Song" is an overwrought mournful ballad about having to throw a drink away because a bee landed in it. On the day of Lyons' death, one of the hospice workers brought a guitar and gently sang the song with him. (They also sang "Happy Birthday", not only because it really was Richard's birthday but because the song had recently been freed of copyright restrictions.)
  • Neat Freak: The Weatherman is, in real life as in his media persona, very concerned with cleanliness. He's a big fan of Formula 409 and other cleaning products. Here he is showing you how to get gunk off your shoes before you come inside.
  • Retraux: "Visit Howland Island", featured as an extra on Our Favorite Things, despite being obviously sentence mixed, with stock footage that very vaguely relates to what the narrator is saying, looks convincingly like it came from the sixties - even the title cards look like they're from that specific era. Granted, the overlay of the Howland Island map, in the first scene, doesn't, but that's probably on the people who re-edited it.
  • The New Rock & Roll:
    • "Michael Jackson" features a snippet from the "Invocation for Judgement Against and Destruction of Rock Music" sermon hosted by Church Universal and Thriumphant. It's worth mentioning that most artists listed by the priest are not, in fact, rock musicians.
    • Mocked even more deliberately in "Christianity is Stupid", which samples Estus Pirkle yelling "Christianity is stupid! Communism is good! Give up!" over a piece of straightforward Industrial Metal. Naturally, that was carried over into "Helter Stupid".
  • Title Drop: "Hyper Real" briefly mentions a "Dispepsi marketing ploy by Coke" - pretty much the only time Dispepsi does a direct title drop.
  • Trade Snark: Part of Negativland's branding circa early ninetiesnote , particularly the "N©!" design.
  • No Title: None of the tracks on their self-titled debut have titles. The 180 Gs tribute album to Negativland does title a couple of them, however.
  • Parody Product Placement: Dispepsi constantly repeats the brand name Pepsi as a way to satirize product placement in media; Coke is also featured, but not as extensively. Mark Hosler said he wanted people to be sick of hearing the word "Pepsi" by the time the album is over.
  • Packaged as Other Medium:
    • Both the front and the back covers of Escape From Noise are sandwiched between columns of black text on white background - not unlike musical publications of its' time. In fact, it has several paragraphs' worth of an elaborately-worded "review" right in front. The rereleased CD version un-boxes those, bringing you the full artwork in its' full glory.
    • Dispepsi has its' boxart fashioned like a genuine Pepsi product, complete with the nutritional facts table for its' track listing and the CD label resembling the top of an aluminium can, revealing a pool of cola underneath. Happy Heroes does something similar, but uses a tin of brain-stimulating pills instead - this time not based on any real branding.
    • Both discs of It's All in Your Head are packaged into paper envelopes, themselves packaged into real copies of ''King James's Bible'' or, in rarer cases, The Qur'an - plastered with Negativland stickers. That album was released in very limited quantities - and it wasn't until 2023(-ish) when Negativland decided to reissue it in the exact same packaging.
  • Publicity Stunt: The hoax behind Helter Stupid could arguably be seen as a publicity stunt.
  • Recurring Riff:
    • The title track of Escape From Noise bleeds into other songs on the album a few times: once as an intro for "Michael Jackson" and then twice as... basically the same song with a different arrangement on "Stress in Marriage" and "The Way of It".
    • The words "guns" and "wilderness", sparsely used in at least a few of their America-themed collages.
    • Dead Dog Records has a guitar hit spliced throughout the whole album for at least several dozen times. "Gimme the Mermaid" starts off with eight of those.
    • "Hello, this is Ricardo Montalbán" is present on "A Most Successful Formula" about 27 times. The man really wants you to know who he is.
    • "Don't fuck with me, fellas!", taken from the movie adaptation of Mommie Dearestnote  and spliced into "Bite Back" either as the whole thing or just as "don't".
  • Red Herring: Mark Hosler himself said that Negativland loves to put irrelevant lines into a song so that things don't make too much sense. This is done to make the listener think about the music to know what it's really about.
  • Red Scare: Three examples, all courtesy of Escape from Noise:
    • "Christianity is Stupid" turns the reverend Estus Pirkle's description of an imagined Communist invasion of the US into a Voice Clip Song.
    • The song that follows, "Time Zones", takes a KABC radio broadcast hosted by Ray Breim - specifically a segment in which he was assuring the caller that the United States is nowhere near as powerful as the Soviet Union.
    • "Yellow, Black and Rectangular" samples a badly-acted therapy session with a psychiatrist and a woman who keeps seeing fallout shelter symbols everywhere and feels very uneasy about it. Naturally, those were introduced in the wake of Cold War, which is when this PSA came out.
  • Sampling: It's not all they do, but they're particularly known for producing sample montages often with a satirical intent.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Famous!: "Happy Hero" is a song about celebrities and how they get away with doing terrible things because of their status.
  • Sensory Abuse: Negativland are arguably the first people to ever do ear-rape. A Big 10-8 Place and 'The ABC's of Anarchism'' both have loud distorted ear-rape-esque effects.
  • Sound-Effect Bleep: These Guys are From England and Who Gives a Shit, a retrospective based on the U2 EP, ended with a painstaking edit of the notorious "Special Edit Radio Mix" in which every single obscenity (and there were a lot of them) was replaced by the sounds of, among other things, breaking glass, dogs barking, and horns.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: The premise of "Car Bomb", which replicates this trope in glorious detail.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Guns took the place of U2 after the latter was pulled off the shelves - while both EPs don't have much in common, they both have similar cover art. Funnily enough, Negativland music video DVD, Our Favorite Things, features music videos for tracks off of both records.
  • Take That!:
    • Dead Dog Records is a big one to the corporate music industry - and specifically to SST Records that published Negativland's albums up until U2 and Guns. Negativland had since fallen out with the record's owner, Greg Ginn, since he knowingly published lawsuit bait (even though his lawyer apparently advised him not to) and used that to attempt to drive the band into paying him up. Made even more obvious with "Gimme the Mermaid" and The Weatherman singing the chorus to Black Flag's "Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie" for a good minute - no prizes for guessing who sung that originally.
    • "Happy Hero" on Dispepsi may or may not feature one specifically towards Michael Jackson, who was accused of child molestation for a long while - that's the one bit Negativland "bleeped out" on that song.
  • Titled After the Song: They took the name Negativland, and that of their record label Seeland, from songs by the Krautrock group Neu!.
  • Voice Clip Song: Another of their specialisms. Most of their albums from A Big 10-8 Place onward are packed with them.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: Thigmotactic is a good example of this trope sometimes. "Lying on the Grass" uses this trope the most.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Not risking to have another lawsuit bomb on the scale of U2, Negativland decided to not explicitly feature Pepsi's name anywhere on Dispepsi's packaging - it's only there in anagrams. The album's actual title could either be unscrambled by reading the front cover letter-by-letter, from biggest to smallest, or by calling Word-of-the-Mouth hotline set up specifically to give you the name outright. It's worth mentioning that Pepsico did previously sue Tad Doyle for his song "Jack Pepsi" for allegedly denigrating the brand - which is kind of what Negativland were doing with their album, and why they resorted to anagrams in the first place. Even after Pepsico appreciated the parody and allowed the band to call the album what it was called, the Dispepsi block on Our Favorite Things flip-flops between this for the genuine Pepsi branding, and outright showing the word "DisPepsi" on the bum CEO's T-shirt.

To create is divine. To reproduce is human. Man Ray.