Iggy Pop has hit out against U2 for the way they ‘gifted’ new album Songs Of Innocence to all iTunes users – and praised Thom Yorke for distributing a solo album via BitTorrent.
Delivering the fourth annual John Peel Lecture at the Radio Festival in Salford last night (October 13), Pop said: “The people who don’t want the free U2 download are trying to say, don’t try to force me. And they’ve got a point.”
“Part of the process when you buy something from an artist, it’s a kind of anointing, you are giving people love. It’s your choice to give or withhold. You are giving a lot of yourself, besides the money. But in this particular case, without the convention, maybe some people felt like they were robbed of that chance, and they have a point.”
The subject of his lecture – which marked ten years since Peel’s death – was “free music in a capitalist society”. Dressed in a barely buttoned black shirt revealing his bare chest and reading glasses, the punk godfather prowled the stage as he told a packed auditorium how digital advances have caused the music industry to become “almost laughably pirate” and that electronic devices “estrange people from their morals and also make it easier to steal music than pay for it.”
He claimed the normalisation of illegal downloading is “bad for everything”. “We are exchanging the corporate rip-off for the public one. Aided by power nerds. Kind of computer Putins. They just wanna get rich and powerful. And now the biggest bands are charging insane ticket prices or giving away music before it can flop, in an effort to stay huge. And there’s something in this huge thing that kind of sucks.”
However, despite his distaste for the act of piracy, he did express sympathy towards low-paid individuals who face legal action because of it. “I think that prosecuting some college kid because she shared a file is a lot like sending somebody to Australia 200 years ago for poaching his lordship’s rabbit,” he commented. “That’s how it must seem to poor people who just want to watch a crappy movie for free after they’ve been working themselves to death all day at Tesco.”
While criticising U2, Pop applauded Thom Yorke for offering Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes via a peer-to-peer file sharing service usually associated with illegal downloading. “I actually think what Thom Yorke has done with BitTorrent is very good.”
“I was gonna say here: ‘Sure the guy is a pirate at Bit Torrent’ but I was warned legally, so I’ll say: ‘Sure the guy at Bit Torrent is a pirate’s friend’ But all pirates want to go legit, just like I wanted to be respectable. It’s normal. After a while people feel like you’re a crook, it’s too hard to do business. So it’s good in this case that Thom Yorke is encouraging a positive change. The music is good. It’s being offered at a low price direct to people who care.”
Similarly, he championed independent labels as housing the “almost all the best music”, and urged them to resist the “squeeze” by YouTube.
“As the commercial trade swings more into general showbiz, the indies will be the only place to go for new talent, outside the Mickey Mouse Club, so I think they were right to band together and sign the Fair Digital Deals Declaration.”
During his half-hour address, the 67-year-old shared anecdotes and experiences from his own career, and at one point noted: “If I had to depend on what I actually get from sales I’d be tending bars between sets.” Defending his Swiftcover commercial, he said: “If I wanna make money, well how about selling car insurance? At least I’m honest. It’s an ad and that’s all it is”
The event was broadcast live on 6Music – where Pop presents a weekly Sunday afternoon show – and will be screened on BBC Four this Sunday (19 October) at 8pm. The audience included Jarvis Cocker, former Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, Tracey Thorn and members of New Order and Everything Everything.
Afterwards, he said of the lecture: “It was wonderful. It took me back about 40 years. I felt like a kid trying to learn. The most difficult part was stopping my own mind. I had pages and pages [of text] that looked like [it had been written by] someone from a mental hospital.”