Brian Joseph Burton is a distant memory to Danger Mouse; a man intent on releasing his music by any means necessary



When you sleep with your enemy either fuck ’em so hard that they fall in love with you or kill ’em before sun-up. That’s the first and only rule, and surely the whole point of ‘doing the rude’ with those against you. EMI, we presume, were not aware of this when they planned to work with old foe Danger Mouse. Either that or the major label is crap in the sack and/or equally as inefficient at striking deadly blows.

To be fair, Brian Joseph Burton has given the home of Coldplay plenty of reasons to trust him since his initial spat with the company in 2004. That was the year that Danger Mouse sampled The Beatles without permission, mixing the Fab Four’s ‘White Album’ with Jay-Z’s ‘The Black Album’ to create the controversial, and instantly vetoed ‘The Grey Album’. The producer’s plan to release just 3,000 copies of the mashup was quickly halted by the label (copyright holders of The Beatles) only to see Internet protestors organise a 24-hour free give-a-way – tagged ‘Grey Tuesday’ – in which the record was downloaded over 100,000 times. EMI had thrown water on a fat fire and made a star out of their target, but the following three years saw Danger Mouse produce albums for Gorillaz, Sparklehorse and The Good, the Bad and the Queen, all released by Burton’s previous rivals. All had been forgiven (no doubt because ‘The Grey Album’ hadn’t reaped any financial reward) and both parties set about planning a unique Danger Mouse/Sparklehorse project with film auteur David Lynch – ‘Dark Night Of The Soul’. It’s here, in case you haven’t heard, that the line between heroes and villains gets thumbed into a greasy smudge.

Arranged and produced by Sparklehorse main man Mark Linkous and Danger Mouse, ‘Dark Night of The Soul’ is more than a 13-track album that features guest vocals from Julian Casablancas, Black Francis, Nina Persson, Suzanne Vega, Iggy Pop, Wayne Coyne and Jason Lytle – it’s the soundtrack to an audio/visual art collaboration with David Lynch who has produced a 100+ page book of photography inspired by the record. The two were to be released together, 5,000 times over, for $50. But after a statement from Danger Mouse disclosed how an ongoing dispute with EMI prevented him from releasing the album, Lynch’s book was put on sale early containing a blank CD-R and a label that read: For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.

Appearing to incite piracy of an album that he ‘owes’ EMI, Danger Mouse has seemingly damaged relations with the label beyond repair. “Everything I’ve ever worked on has leaked early,” Danger Mouse commented in the press “so I can only presume that this record will also.”

Then came an official statement from Burton’s press office: Due to an ongoing dispute with EMI, Danger Mouse is unable to release the recorded music for Dark Night Of The Soul without fear of legal entanglement. Danger Mouse remains enormously proud of Dark Night Of The Soul. He hopes that people are lucky enough to hear the music, by whatever means, and are as excited by it as he is.

Presumably due to boring legalities, EMI have still not commented on the feud or their plan of action against Danger Mouse, and in a BBC Radio 4 interview with Nicola Stanbridge Burton also said “I can’t get into too many details with it,” before defending his decision by saying, “This was the only real way I thought I could get everything out there. It’s very frustrating. On having done all of the work for this record and having the seeming doom of this not being able to come out it was the last bit of power that I had as the maker of this art.”

Corporate machine Vs lone producer who has always held the art-form of music in such high regard that he considers himself more an auteur than anything else (Burton once compared himself to Woody Allen rather than the likes of Dr Dre and Rick Rubin) – choosing sides in this one should be simple, and perhaps it is. But we have to spare a thought for the Goliath for as long as such a large piece of the puzzle is missing, namely the reason EMI and Danger Mouse have fallen out once more. As Stanbridge rightly countered in her BBC interview, “Nevertheless, you are an artist signed under EMI and rules are rules‚” and what isn’t being said here is that [fans] are downloading [the record] from the Internet, and isn’t that just encouraging people to break the law?”
Came the answer: “I don’t know who legally owns this record, I just know that I don’t want to spend years in court trying to fight it. I’d much rather have the record come out, and if legal problems come from this, that’s just something I’ll have to deal with.”

One half of Gnarls Barkley and producer of Beck and The Rapture, Danger Mouse is certainly no ‘everyman’ who watches the free minutes on his mobile and frets about how the TV being on standby might double his electricity bill, but EMI’s size – a company with a revenue of ¬£1.46 billion – pulls the man’s courage into perspective. Owned by business giant Terra Firma, the label could surely crush Burton if they so wish, tangling him in a web of court dates that’d see the artist run out of money, patience and time to pursue the more important things in life, like making music. And yet Danger Mouse remains too close to his art to not risk such a fate. Like with ‘The Grey Album’, he’d become too engrossed with the project to not complete it, regardless of consequence, which he reportedly saw coming long before ‘Dark Night of The Soul’ was completed.

“The worst thing that I could think of was that if this didn’t get out there, that people didn’t get to hear it‚”” he explained to Radio 4. “If there was another way I would have definitely done it. Sometimes when it comes to all of the record label business it can really get it down. I just wanted to bring a little more imagination to the music that I was making.”

Lynch’s photo album would have managed that if label squabbles were nonexistent and the record had been released officially as planned. Now, in true increase-mass-interest-by-banning-it fashion, even more excitement and imagination has been generated around this album – after all, we all love a bit of taboo. Hopefully the boardroom circus won’t pull focus from the record itself, though, because at the epicentre of this silly debate there is an album the deserves to be half of an audio/visual art project with one of the most profound visionaries living today – a largely beautiful labour of love of all involved.

If there is a next time, EMI are best off smothering Danger Mouse with a pillow, or realising that musician who care to extraordinary extents do still exist.

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 7 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2009

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