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Underground Resistance vs. Sony/BMG (2000)

On the original Jaguar 12":

"Please do not purchase this record from any large commercial chain store. These stores have never supported this type of music and only do so now so in order to appear cool and current. If you decide to buy this record please only purchase it from a knowledgeable specialty shop or a local Mom & Pop store or smaller business that have supported the music from its inception. Super chain stores have never had the time or focus to search out cutting edge underground music! They can only react once the specialty shops and underground labels have created a market for the music, then all of a sudden they and the major music labels start wanting the music because they know they can overpower the small labels and work their network of retailers that made this music possible with their massive advertising campaigns and prefab artists, that do weak imitations of what the music really is. And worst, it's 10 or 12 years late. We have two questions for you: 1. Would you watch or read news that was 12 years old? 2. How long you gonna let them do this to you? Support your local retailers and specialty shops. Out - UR."

It is well known that the majors constantly rip off independent artists. Tracks are blatantly stolen, and bands are gobbled up and spat back out as the flavour-of-the-month. This time around, the majors have picked on the wrong people - Underground Resistance. UR is a collective of techno, electro and house producers in Detroit, Michigan. Musically, they are an integral and outspoken part of Detroit techno's history. Started in 1993 by Mad Mike and Jeff Mills, UR immediately took a political stance with their music. Focusing on Detroit as the failed modernist city, UR picked up on the beginnings of Detroit techno started by the "big three": Juan Atkinson, Kevin Saunderson and Derrick May. They mixed a message with the music, often through the words of the anonymous "Unknown Writer" whose poetic words of resistance can be found written across Detroit's dead warehouse sprawl. The music was also different from the traditional Detroit sound. Harder and coarser, the work of Jeff Mills became increasingly dissonant, minimalist and angry, while Mad Mike's experiments blended elements of funk, jazz and blues with incredibly diverse beat structures and themes. Jeff Mills, aka the Wizard, gained his fame in techno as UR's first Assault DJ. After Mills left around 1994 to found his own label, Axis Records, DJ T-1000, aka Alan Oldham, stepped in as UR's Assault DJ. The UR Mission is to "deprogram the programmers" - play the music, the independent fighting music, to show what can be done, what can be felt, what can be thought.

Fiercely independent, UR distributes through its own company, Submerge, and actively promotes an anti-major message, and often an anti-racist, Black power message as well. T-1000 left around 1997 to work on his own projects, and by this time UR had grown to more than a dozen producers, artists and DJs. The identities of several of them remain unknown, such as the Martian, whose Detroit-techno-acid trance projects are now infamous, and Drexicya, the otherworldly aquamarine electro assault crew (person?). It was into this climate that DJ Rolando stepped.

Part of the third or fourth wave of Detroit producers, Rolando came from a skilled DJ background, and immediately began putting out subtle techno-house tracks under the moniker "The Aztec Mystic." He was soon instated as a UR Assault DJ, and began to tear up dancefloors everywhere with his skilled beatjuggling style, following in the footsteps of Mills and T1000.

The Knights of the Jaguar EP was released during the summer of 1998. A beautiful, moving track, "Jaguar" captured the essence of Detroit: sweeping, haunting and beautiful strings, a subtle melody, a crying sense of beauty compressed by a driving 909 kickdrum and punctured with a bassline with debts to the Motown roots of Detroit. It was monumental. It was Detroit techno all over again. And Dirk Dreyer of Sony Germany saw the perfect opportunity to make a quick buck by getting two progressive trance producers to produce a stinkingly cheesy smash club hit. This is where the trouble began.

Although picking out the bad guys in this sort of game can be sometimes too easy (and perhaps too simplistic for the case at hand), Dirk Dreyer plays right into the hands of this evil persona. Without permission from UR or Rolando, Dreyer either commissioned or convinced (it is very unclear) two German trance producers to do a "tone-by-tone" "remix-cover" of the track. Covers are usually done several years, if not decades later, and with permission; remixes are done with the artist's permission and with the intention of creating something new. A tone-by-tone track, however, is a rip-off which skirts the law. It's not really a remix, and it's not really a cover, either. You're just sort of copying it and then calling it your own, throwing out anything too mature or subtle and turning it into a cheese-dance hit for the rave kiddies.

When UR found out about this, Dreyer tried to contact UR through Submerge. He claimed that he had "tried to license the track for a compilation via our vinyl partner Discomania but we did not get a response." This lack of response, for Dirk Dreyer, somehow meant "yes." So, "As we don't want to be seen as guys who rip off or bootleg a well known track, we have chosen the way of re-recording the track tone by tone." What sort of legal precedent is being set here? Dreyer states himself in his letter that "the philosophy of Underground Resistance not to cooperate with the industry is well known." UR responded with the only way it knew how. Unable to fight in the courts, UR went to its supporters, and to the internet community, with Cornelius Harris as the UR spokesperson. Harris outlined the campaign: "We urge all concerned individuals to flood Sony's offices worldwide with calls, emails, and faxes expressing those concerns. This kind of crap has to stop and it has to stop now." Websites popped up across the internet; mailing lists such as 313 and Global-Techno started email campaigns and a petition list. DJs and producers refused to play Sony records and returned Sony promotional products. The end result was a victory, albeit a bittersweet one. Dreyer and Sony decided that "Sony Music will not commercially release the track rather on CD maxi or compilations. We are quite sure that a different company will use the idea and milk the cash cow." How telling - ending with a blow to the stomach and a slap to the face. Who picked "Jaguar" up next? BMG. With many UR supporters basking in this false victory, BMG stepped in to license the track from the same "2 cheesy trance DJs" (in the words of Mad Mike).

This is what happened (Cornelius Harris): "In the new German dance charts, "The Jaguar" is at #4 with the label BMG, no longer Sony! BMG make a deal with the cover version producers after Sony has cancelled the record." UR's response was to proceed with a remix project of "Jaguar" which was originally cancelled after Sony misappropriated the track. This time, however, UR's own remix release was to be a rallying cry from the underground, fighting back with remixes by Jeff Mills, Octave One and 430 West producers. Meanwhile, DJ Bliss from Renegade Rhythms, who has a comprehensive website on the whole issue, began hunting through the corporate structure of BMG to try and pin exactly who was responsible. At the same time, BMG was flooded with more emails from UR supporters. Cornelius Harris tried to get in contact with BMG but was given the go-around, same as everyone else. Eventually, Richard Griffiths of BMG UK responded with this: "They [BMG Germany] maintain that they released a cover of "Jaguar" in the form of a maxi-single which they licensed legitimately from a label in Cologne, which had in turn licensed it from a Frankfurt DJ." They then referred Harris to their lawyers. Might is right - money talks. UR, like most independents, does not have the money to fight within the courts. BMG claimed to know nothing, even though this was on their website:

"The original of this number from Aztec Mystique was not to be missed this summer. This title is not only the highlight of every Sven Vath set, but also the first Technohouse consensus hit since years. Without exceptions, every top DJ - no matter if into Techno, House or Trance - spins this song and the feedback from the crowd is without comparison. Because the original of this title will not be released, a production team from Frankfurt has re-recorded it and added a Trance remix which will blow your hairs away. "The Jaguar" - available on 02/14."

DJ Bliss then sent a long email with all the names from the petition, and demanded:

1. Complete removal of said product (
2. Payment of Licensing Fee and Royalties for all shipments have occurred to this point (including promos).
3. Open apology in all major press (US, Europe, Asia, Africa, & Australia).
4. Provide publishing and licensing rights to Mad Mike and Rolando for the cover of "Jaguar" so this will never happen again.

According to the Renegade Rhythms webpage, there has been no further response. This should not be taken lightly. As Cornelius Harris says, "While this is an unethical and unprincipled act in and of itself, it is also a very dangerous act. In doing this, a major label, Sony [and now BMG], has determined that it has the right to stomp all over an independent label in its pursuit of profits. With this as a precedent, the question that should concern any and everybody in the music community is who will be next? It is imperative that Sony [and BMG] be held accountable for its actions."

What can you do? Get online. This is where the fight brews. Go here:

You'll find the complete text of all the letters, links to information, interviews, UR and other websites, and the UR vs. Sony/BMG mailing list. Email BMG's CEO. Buy the original record. Tell your local record store not to order the BMG rip-off. Boycott BMG and Sony. Let your voice be heard. And go here: Underground Resistance -

At the time of press there was a rumour going around that BMG had dropped the Jaguar rip-off. However, no confirmation of this could be found.

© 2000 Tobias Van Veen (Discorder, April 2000)