Ace in the hole?
Focus on: Australia
by Alan Connor
6 December 2003
As the music industry changes, and no-one knows what will happen next, various shitstorms in Australia give some clues.
For example, it was in Oz that we first saw a federal police raid on a family home to arrest a teenager for mucking about with music.
The felon was Tommy Le, but he doesn't call himself Tommy Le. He calls himself DJ Ace. And he is ace. Respected as a DJ on the Sydney scene, Ace learned his craft making mixtapes of his favourite choons (he likes to include Mya's 'Free', 'for all the single mothers'.) A mixtape (where the tracks are chopped up with samples, new material and bits of dialogue) for approaching clubs - and trading ideas and mixes with other DJs online.
'Online'. This is where the problems start. Music radio is so moribund in Sydney that there's nowhere else for urban (which in this case means South Asian) music. But combine 'music' with 'online' and you may have a problem.
Or so thought Universal Music, Sony, Warner, BMG, EMI and Festival Mushroom Records (the ones behind the music on Neighbours), who got together with the police and launched Operation Mezn. First call? A raid on a sleeping Ace's home to arrest him and compound his computer (school work included) in front of his non-English-speaking parents.
Ace's friend Ashlene Nand runs Hot Ashes, Sydney's 'Place to be for South Asian Youth'. As she understated it, things 'got out of hand': even though Ace had bought all the records he sampled at his local store, Operation Mezn claimed that by swapping his work online with his colleagues, he'd cost the corporations $60m. For which he would have to had about 170 million megabytes of data, or have traded the bits of music with half the world.
Actually, they went a little further than that. The prosecution likened the network of tech-heads to the structure of Osama bin Laden's terrorist cells. Luckily, Guantanamo Bay does not await Ace: but five years in jail and/or a $60,500 will, if Sony et al have their way.
Incidentally, another criminal who got a job by making street-mixes is 50 Cent. Eminem liked them. And, rather than arranging for his arrest, Em managed to make a few tens of millions of dollars. Some labels have realised that there's an enormous interest in street-mixes, and that selling them might be smarter than criminalising them. But then when they were unsurprisingly unable to find DJs with any reputation who'd agree to include only label-selected tracks, along came nasty cop. Literally.
The Friday Thing spoke to DJ Ace through his lawyer and across the timezones:
Why do you make mixtapes?
The same reason every DJ does: to promote my skills and establish my reputation as a DJ. It's a form of resume to get a job. I mean, if you approach a promoter and you're asking for a spot at the club, theyre not going to take your word that you're a good DJ. Its much easier than carrying around your turntables, mixer and speakers just to display your skills.
How do you envisage your future as a DJ?
A year ago I just wanted to become a DJ and play at clubs and keep on doing what I do. Now, after being arrested by Feds and undergoing legal prosecution over my mixtapes in the "first case in the world", I still feel the same way. It hasn't dampened my spirits and I still have the same passion for DJing as I did a year ago. Maybe even more so now.
Did you realise you have support and sympathy from the UK?
I've been receiving a lot of support all around the world and I just want to let everybody know in the UK that I appreciate all the support I can get. My situation not only affects me but every single DJ in the world and in the future. More exposure should be shed on this issue. My website will be up very shortly in November at thepimpfactory.com where people can read about my experiences and discuss other important issues.
Can you recommend two recent tunes for our readers?
"Cherish" (Miss P ft. Da Brat). It's a good track for all the ladies. It's sort of like the female response to "Crooked Letter" (Crooked). And "Where the hood at" (DMX). Its a good track for the fellas. If you're sick of hearing "Up in here" or "X gonna give it to yah" by DMX, then this track will definitely be a refreshing change.
Could you please mention that any emails of support can be sent to email@example.com. Thanks. I appreciate it.
Meanwhile, Australian universities are being closely by watched by others across the world as the academic community receives the current flood of writs from American record companies. Terrified that students might be sharing 50 Cent tracks, they invented a clever doodad to look around university networks and see if anyone had any Usher mp3s.
And the doodad found one, at Penn State University. Or at least a file called "usher" and another called "mp3". Sadly, once the legal threat was sent, and the finals exams disrupted, it turned out that "usher" was Professor Peter Usher's research, and the mp3 was of a song the Astronomy Faculty had written about the Swift Gamma Ray satellite.
Clearly, a change of plan was necessary. So the pop trade body apologised by sending an R&B t-shirt to the university, and to avoid such blunders in the future, Sony, Universal and EMI have enrolled a "forensic expert" who demands access to Australian colleges.
This "expert" demanded access to emails in case students were sending mp3s as attachments, which means either that he's no expert or that he's got a ruse for some serious snooping. Not a lot has come up so far, partly because the Supreme Court told the companies to stop being so nosy, and partly because the universities apologetically told them that they'd wiped all their back-up tapes to save on space.
How the Court responds to this will give an indication to other academic institutions on how they can avoid having their time wasted by these megacorps.
Finally, one of the most quietly-influential musicians of the last year is Dsico. If heard any of those mash-ups where David Bowie finds himself in an unauthorised collaboration with P!nk, or at least if you heard the best, then you heard Dsico.
He mostly distributes these online to enormous interest, but occasionally issues limited release CDs of his own work, for sale in independent record shops. The most recent of these had a run of 500, and in naming it, Dsico decided to take a pop at suberclub, label and failed publishers Ministry, because, as he told TFT, "they have the opinion that they are Gospel of Dance music."
It was called Ministry of Shit 2003: The Anus.
Ministry found themselves having to decide whether to laugh it off, or to exercise enormous financial and legal muscle to bully Dsico and the record stores into laying off their logo (itself a parody of HM Govt imagery), and destroying any remaining threadbare links to the street they might have had. Guess which way they went. And this to protect their brand.