Negativland PhotoFORMED: 1979, Berkeley, CA

A Firesign Theater for the postpunk era, Negativland was a conceptual group specializing in multi-media manipulation, pop prankishness and cultural terrorism. Initially comprised of Mark Hosler, Richard Lyons and David Wills, Negativland formed in Berkeley, California in 1979; initially, projects like their 1980 eponymous debut and 1981's Points consisted of tape loops and cut-and-paste audio montages, but by 1982, when they began hosting their own radio show, Over the Edge, the trio had begun incorporating music, sampling, skits and phone-ins into the mix.

With the addition of master tape-manipulator Dan Joyce, Negativland's self-described "cultural jamming" grew more complex and intricate, and in 1985 they issued Over the Edge Volume 1: JamCon '84, a remarkably dense sonic pastiche of looped noise, media pranks, original music and general mayhem taken from their radio program. Their assault on the media stepped up with the release of 1987's Escape From Noise, which featured the track "Christianity Is Stupid"; after reading about a Minnesota teen who murdered his parents with an axe, Negativland issued a mock press statement falsely claiming that "Christianity Is Stupid" influenced the boy's lethal behavior. A media furor ensued, and the group became the center of considerable controversy, never once cracking a smile. The prank later became fodder for 1989's Helter Stupid, which detailed the origins and aftermath of the stunt while simultaneously exploring the ready manipulation of the press.

After three more 1990 cassettes taken directly from Over the Edge, Negativland issued 1991's U2 EP, its most ambitious statement yet. Packaged to look like a U2 single titled "Negativland," the record featured a cover of the Irish mega-band's hit "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," played on kazoos and synthesizers; added to the mix was a bootleg tape of a studio rant by deejay Casey Kasem, who seethes "That's the letter U and the number 2...These guys are from England and who gives a shit?" The joke turned sour, however, when U2's label, Island, and the band's publishers brought suit against Negativland and their label, SST; ultimately, U2 was recalled and destroyed, its copyrights reassigned and damages recovered.

Bloodied but unbowed, Negativland soldiered on, dedicating 1992's Guns to "the members of our favorite Irish rock band, their record label and their attorneys." (U2 themselves, it should be noted, later incorporated many of Negativland's notions of media manipulation and cultural appropriation into their blockbuster Zoo TV tour.) Following the lawsuit, the group's focus remained centered on issues of free speech, corporate greed and intellectual properties; they published two books, 1992's The Letter U and the Numeral 2 and 1995's Fair Use, and starred in a documentary, Sonic Outlaws. Their subsequent audio releases consisted primarily of material from Over the Edge; Dispepsi, their first full-length collection of new material since 1993's Free, appeared in 1997. The ABCs of Anarchy, a split EP with Chumbawamba, followed two years later.

2000 and beyond has brought a new, if generally lower-key, era to Negativland, with the group's most notable later work being a well-received tour, True/False 2000, featuring much newer material as well as an old standby or two, not to mention some amazingly nutty between-set skits and films (and, as always, Wills only turning up on video). As of 2001, a live document of that tour is still in the offing, while the most recent release is sort of a bootleg, These Guys Are From England and Who Gives a Shit, revisiting the whole U2 blow-up with numerous alternate versions (and the originals) of Negativland's most (in)famous effort. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide