Music News

Cleared for Takeover

In the interest of full disclosure, I must take this opportunity to let readers know that Backwash is in the midst of negotiating a merger with America Online, Time Warner and EMI, so that, like the entire catalogues from Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, everything printed on these pages may someday become the property of a corporate oligarchy ruled by music lovers like Ted "Forget Illegal Drug Testing -- If You Smoke Cigarettes, You're Fired" Turner and AOHell head Steve Case. (For the sake of clarity, Westword is not involved, just Backwash and the soul of its creator.) Should the merger go through (and insiders say Backwash's stock is already jumping in anticipation of a slam dunk! Booya!) this column will become a major player in the new corporation, to be tentatively titled "Warner Wash EMI Music." We might even get to decide which bands get signed or promoted to radio stations and the press! Even better, we might be appointed to the committee that decides how artists should dress or comb their hair or -- the most fun of all -- which slow-selling, economically undesirable bands should be axed from the monolith's roster! After all, there should be plenty of openings once the ink dries on the papers, considering the way so many music industry employees -- not to mention artists -- were pink-slipped in the great Universal Music Group label-eating contest of 1999! In fact, EMI's chief exec, Ken Berry, says the company plans to lay off about 3,000 workers over the next three years! (What could be worse than getting fired by a man named Ken?)

Unfortunately, there's also the possibility that Backwash will be kept out of the music realm altogether, its efforts instead relegated to cruising AOL chat rooms in search of undesirable language to censor, making sure that banal and graphics-heavy advertisements appear on every screen and that unnecessary and slow-as-hell software is downloaded every ten minutes or so.

If Case, Turner and the others are smart in matters of marketing (duh), they'll figure out a way to cross-promote and marry the intellectual and artistic properties involved in this deal. How 'bout a Time-Life book series on the Spice Girls? Or a contractual mandate that all affiliate artists make reference to Daffy Duck at least once per album? Or, even better, an exclusive online distribution deal that would make sure that all artists wishing to release and promote their music through the Internet do so exclusively through AOL?

But, nah, what is Backwash saying? All of that would be unfair. It would erode the viability and artistic integrity of the institution known as the music business. It would mean that, as a partner in of one of four companies -- Warner Wash EMI Music, Universal Music Group, Sony and Bertelsmann -- that control the world's music, Backwash would be encouraging an approach that had more to do with profits than artistry. And Backwash would never merge with a corporate giant that engaged in that kind of behavior. Not to fear, folks. Warner Wash EMI Music will, as always, place the lovers and makers of music first. EMI group chair Eric Nicoli told Backwash so the other day. Of course, he seemed a bit distracted, running Excel to see how many units Van Morrison, that no-good Irish bum, had sold last year. Van, you'd better shape up, or Nicoli's gonna give you the slip faster than you can say "O-oh Domino."

The Denver-based Terraform Records has yet to be contacted by the folks at either EMI or Warner, which might mean, for now at least, that the imprint dedicated to releasing various forms of electronic music may just have to settle for independent production and distribution methods to get its music heard. No problem, says label president Jeremy Golgen, who, along with John Shamié and brothers Eric and Rob Gerd started the label back in 1994 while they were students at the University of Colorado at Boulder. And though Terraform has primarily released works on vinyl from artists in the drum-and-bass, trip-hop and house-music realms, the label's plans for 2000 include plenty of digitally encoded plastic. Golgen plans to release about ten full-length CDs this year, beginning with System Evolution. The compilation features cuts from most of the label's artists, including locals Sundog and Audiophile and former Denver-based drum-and-bass duo ph10, which relocated to New York City last year. (Recone Helmut, one of two members of the dermatologically sensitive outfit, points out the irony of the band's moving to the City to pursue musical greatness only to be signed by a label from home.) System Evolution also features work from Golgen, Shamié and the brothers Gerd -- who alternate musical styles, names and personalities in three different projects: Vandal, System and Agent Babylon, whose track "Liquid Loops" found its way onto Unknownwerks, Vol. I, from esteemed electronic-label Astrelwerks, home to the Chemical Brothers, among other luminaries.

"It's sort of like using pseudonyms to make music," Golgen says of the trilogy of projects. "I'm a Gemini; it's a split-personality thing. It just makes sense to have different things going. Sometimes you're in the mood for different types of music; you're in the mood to work on different stuff. It gives you an outlet." Terraform actually came into existence as a vehicle for Golgen and the Gurdts to simply record and release their own stuff, and that attention to artists' basic needs remains a key element in the label's approach.

"The label is so artist-driven," Golgen says. "We are artists. We want to work with people, get something going. It seems like electronic labels are more willing to work together than labels in other genres. At first we just wanted to find an avenue to get our releases out to everyone else, and since then we've grown and established these great relationships with other labels and artists."

Other releases slated for 2000 include efforts from Boulder's Moth and Audiophile, DJ mix CDs from Ivy, Fury Skunk and Vandal, and vinyl EPs from Vitamin D, Kenneth Graham and Le Pimp (which includes former Foreskin 500 member Mark Brooks). According to Golgen, the distribution engines are already churning to get Terraform music into major markets like Southern California, Florida and New Jersey, as well as making it available through -- what else? -- the Internet ( In the meantime, the curious can check out some of Terraform's more noted affiliates at a CD-release party for System Evolution, to take place at Bent, 17th and Clarkson, on Saturday, February 5. Moth, ph10, DJs Ivy and Fury are among the performers expected to evolve during the evening, which should be a good time, even if there's nary a reference to Daffy Duck.

News of the show arrived a little too late to secure more prominent mention, but Simon Joyner's performance at the Bluebird on Tuesday, February 8, is not to be missed by those who like their singer/songwriters a little broody, a little dark, and at times almost starkly depressing. Joyner, who recently released Lousy Dance on Chicago's celebrated Truckstop label, could easily swap guitars with Nick Drake, Vic Chesnutt or Wil Oldham around the same isolated campfire -- playing achingly lovely melodies that'll make you want to drink a lot of black coffee and sigh while staring out of a window. And while we're talking about depressing things, here's a zinger of a reminder: The Big Bopper, Richie Valens and the magnificent Buddy Holly all died on that same damn day, back in 1959, after their plane crashed in Iowa. It's still a distinct bummer 41 years later, isn't it? Jim Ratts of Runaway Express -- whose covers of classic tunes serve as a living archive of rock-and-roll music (check out his Those Fabulous Sixties project) -- has organized an evening of Holly music to celebrate the songwriter's life. Festivities are to be held Saturday, February 5, at the Little Bear in Evergreen. Ratts and an eight-piece band that includes banjo, mandolin and steel guitar, Holly's premier instruments, will jam for Buddy from 4 to 8 p.m. Sounds like a pretty-pretty-pretty-pretty good way to spend an early evening.