An artist from XL Recordings, the British label which has worked with Radiohead, Adele, and Beck, has taken an unusual approach to critiquing today’s electronic music. In his single, Insomniac, which features vocals from veteran rock producer Steve Albini (Nirvana, The Pixies), the electronic musician best known simply as “Powell” decided to rent a billboard that displays an email from Albini criticizing “club culture.” The weirdest part? While Albini is certainly known for vocalizing his opinions on the music industry, he wasn’t involved in the scheme — and Powell doesn’t even work with Albini.
Powell, whose full name is Oscar Powell, initially reached out to Albini to ask him if he could use a vocal sample from Albini’s old band Big Black for his new single according to The Guardian. After the electronic artist explained his admiration for Big Black and asked for permission to use the vocal sample, Albini replied in an email saying he didn’t care and that he was welcome to use it. But then he quickly went into a rant about EDM music.
“I am absolutely the wrong audience for this kind of music,” began Albini in his email response. “I’ve always detested mechanized dance music, its stupid simplicity, the clubs where it was played, the people who went to those clubs, the drugs they took, the shit they liked to talk about, the clothes they wore, the battles they fought amongst each other…,” continued the producer.
When Powell received the message, he decided that he should recreate it on a billboard. So he asked the producer if he could use the email publicly, to which Albini responded simply “still don’t care.” While Albini told the Chicago Tribune that he didn’t “really have an opinion” about the billboard, we imagine that the producer wasn’t expecting his email to be reproduced for the mass public when he first wrote it.
In explaining the bold move, Powell told the Tribune that he used Albini’s words to “help start a conversation about the mess contemporary electronic music finds itself in,” not to criticize the producer. “This isn’t a ‘Steve vs. Me’ at all,” he said further. “The reason I wanted to put his response on a billboard is, because like almost everything he’s said about the state of music before, I agree with him.”