In Defense Of Stealing: If Hannah Wants is Guilty, Then So Are The Rest Of Us
In response to the accusations that Hannah Wants stole Boddika’s ‘Mercy (VIP)Hannah Wants', Mike Smaczylo decided to remind fans about the creative theft that the genre was founded on by delving into the history and meaning of sampling. Do you think fans are being hard on Hannah Wants?This article originally appeared on Stamp The Wax
The past weekend I’ve seen an outpouring of moral indignation from fans of a genre founded on creative theft. Hannah Wants has stolen Boddika’s ‘Mercy (VIP)’! I’ve also seen a lot of hate from a scene founded on equality and acceptance of difference; one which, despite its demographic shift in the years since the notion of ‘underground dance music’ came about, still has the pretension to hold itself in exemplary contrast with the misogyny of the big-room ‘bro’ culture it tends to associate with fans DJs like Hannah Wants herself.
Her Wikipedia page has taken a Protean turn over the course of the day, telling us that she is “a British DJ and plagiarist from Birmingham”, “the sole cause of Fabric’s closure”, and that her “notable instruments’ consist of CTRL+C. ‘DJ’ and ‘plagiarist’ seems like an unnecessarily tautological bit of filler. DJing is, by definition, a form of plagiarism, like collage or TS Eliot’s poems. It’s about finding skill and beauty in the way things are re-contextualised against each other. Just like when Duchamp put a urinal in a gallery and called it ‘Fountain’, a track finds new meaning in the context of a mix. And the Fabric accusation is plainly untrue – because Hannah Wants plays below 140, amirite? However, the line about ‘CTRL-C’ (read: ‘sampling’) as a notable instrument raises more interesting questions.
It’s no secret that since Pierre Schaeffer (above) and the beginnings of the Musique Concrète movement in the 1940s, sampling has played an integral part in the compositional practices of experimental musicians. In the late 70s DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash (below) pioneered turntable sampling, repeating instrumental breaks from disco records to provide backing tracks for MCs. This move was inherently political. It provided a means for artistic expression to young African Americans in deprived communities, who couldn’t afford ‘legitimate’ (expensive) musical instruments. Of course the backlash from the mostly white, relatively affluent fans of rock and more traditional genres was strong. To them hip-hop wasn’t democratic, it was stealing and therefore less credible, less artistic.
Today stealing has become sampling, it’s become white-washed or universalised. It’s become credible. As with most political art forms subsumed into the establishment, it’s been blunted and de-politicised. What started as an innovation – with poor artists using small sections of wealthier artists’ work to create commercially viable music, that lifted many of them out of genuine poverty – has become free game even for the middle class bedroom producer who wants to release a white label edit of a rare (read: ‘not originally commercially profitable’) afrobeat track he/she has found on Soulseek. The language around it has changed. Stealing has become sampling...