guns by negativland

How an Experimental EP from 1992 Still Has Relevance in 2021

When I’m not listening to or researching articles for this website, I spend my days working through discographies, in order to uncover a hidden gems that others may have missed. I’ve been recently listening to the San Fransisco experimental band Negativland, and came across their 1992 EP Guns.

Consisting of only two tracks ‘Then’ and ‘Now’, Guns provides a satirical look at gun culture in the United States. Both tracks are not truly ‘songs’ as such (Allmusic actually labels the EP as being a ‘Sound Collage’), and are made up of samples and sounds taken from other mediums like films, advertisements and radio shows. Each track has a simple beat behind all of the samples, which is used to keep the story of each track moving forward. A deep voiced narrator saying ‘Guns’ is present through both tracks, to reinforce what these tracks are truly about.

The first track ‘Then’, contains samples of gun play and clips of dialogue from a variety of 1940s and 50s western films and radio shows. The track seems to suggest that the ‘old’ approach to guns is that of the wild west, with good guys and baddies, and that the guy with the gun is always seen to be the hero, someone to be admired.

When this EP came out in 1992, and especially in light of recent events, this approach seems quaint and dangerously old fashioned, with the gunplay considered brash and exciting, with little thought to the consequences of shooting a firearm.

On the flipside, the track ‘Now’ takes all of its samples from 1980s commercials for guns that were primarily aimed at women. While the first track consists of nearly all male voices, this track highlights female voices talking about guns in an almost ‘fun’ and poppy manner.

These advertisements age extremely poorly, with all of the women sounding ditzy and cutesy. Including a question around how to conceal a gun while wearing a bikini, despite the fact they are advertising automatic and semi automatic weapons. This track highlights the commercialization of gun culture, moving beyond the old fashioned heroes and shootouts into firearms for everyday, that could be fun and handy to have around the home. This track also contains audio of the both John F and Robert Kennedy assassinations.

When put together, these tracks satirize the American approach to guns and gun culture, showing how the idolization of gun toting cowboys has turned into creating specific gun advertising for women in order to broaden the commercialization of guns, ultimately leading to the destruction and murder of two prominent US leaders.

I feel this EP has the same impact as a good John Oliver breakdown. It makes you shake your head at the pomposity of what you’re hearing, before your head starts shaking at those who may be living and breathing these attitudes.

It’s not for me to tread on anyone’s second amendment rights, particularly when I’m from a country with some of the most stringent (and most successful) gun laws in the world. But I wanted to write about this EP to highlight how, especially in light of recent events, this approach to guns and gun culture are still a major issue in the US today. Take a listen to this EP and see what resonates with you. Did Negativland get this right, or wrong?

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