Volume 92, Issue 80

Thursday, February 18, 1999


The Concrete Beat

Kicking cubicles in the ass

Currie spices up art vs. commerce debate

Space flick for beings of all sizes

Celebrity sighting

Underground sound

Diviners play with poison

Corporate greed at Sineplex


Currie spices up art vs. commerce debate

By Mark Pytlik
Gazette Staff

The Spice Girls do a Pepsi commercial for millions. The Sex Pistols reunite, citing bankruptcy as their primary motive. Garth Books releases the same album with six different covers in a calculated attempt to become the first artist ever to sell one million albums in a week.

Sell-out. It's a term commonly applied to artists who align their craft with financial gain. Indeed, it seems as if the standard in modern culture dictates that any use of art for overt monetary gain somehow signals a lack of artistic integrity.

England's Nick Currie is doing his best to challenge this idea. Currie is a noteworthy figure in the British underground music scene and is best known as the brainchild behind Momus, a long-standing cult act. It is because of Momus' latest project Currie has found himself at the centre of a widespread debate on the relationship between art and commerce.

Last year, Currie's independent record label, Le Grand Magistery, incurred serious legal bills which threatened to force them to the brink of bankruptcy. In order to save his label from financial ruin, Currie came up with a creative solution. For a fee of $1,000 US, Momus fans were offered the chance to have a song written about them. Currie called them "musical portraits."

He designated 30 spots on the new Momus album titled Stars Forever for portraits and offered them to fans. The slots were snapped up by ardent followers, fellow musicians, small corporations and members of an internet music mailing list. Currie is currently writing the songs, using biographical information provided by his subjects as inspiration.

Although the idea was not designed as a media ploy, it has garnered Currie a substantial amount of attention, something which initially surprised him.

"I suppose it's an unusual and interesting idea," he reasons. "But so many of those go unnoticed that it's surprising when one gets its due. Maybe it's because this one has money, lawsuits and celebrity involved."

Not to mention controversy, something which Currie is quick to diffuse. He laughs off the accusations of "sell-out" and questions the logic which leads to such claims. "The things you can say and the commercial structures which allow you to disseminate them are so closely linked that it makes no sense to separate them," Currie says.

"To say that pop music risks getting too commercial is like saying water might get too wet."

Moreover, Currie seems comfortable enough with his own motives to worry about those who question his integrity. "My main obsession in life is creativity, so I never worry about whether people see me as commercial."

Ultimately, Currie is more concerned with innovation over image and attributes part of the reactionary response to the sheer originality of the idea. After all, the idea of visual artists charging people for portraits is not controversial.

"I suppose the difference is that a canvas is an investment, whereas a song, not being a unique object, is not," Currie says. "But then again, a song has amazing emotional value and cultural staying power. I really believe I am immortalizing people, in my own small way."

And, in his own small way, Nick Currie is having his cake and eating it too. The Stars Forever project is set to put Le Grand Magistery back in the black and Currie is getting the opportunity to offer his unique perspective on art and commerce.

In the meantime, he's eager to get on with the recording process and views Stars Forever as the perfect direction for the next Momus album. "A lot of my work is about me trying on masks," he reflects. "And 30 people have just handed me their real faces."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999