In order to appreciate Negativland's latest CD, Thigmotactic, it is necessary to understand the band's complicated history. They must be explained, even though being defined or labeled is probably the last thing Negativland would want. Nevertheless, picking up a copy of Thigmotatic without any background would lead to great bewilderment.
Some have called Negativland “merry pranksters,” due to their often humorous sound collages. Simply put, the group deconstructs music, taking apart individual sounds, adding unconventional instruments (using everyday objects), then putting everything together in a seemingly haphazard way. The key term is seemingly, since much of their material contains a central point, from mocking those in authority to exposing quirks in human nature. Since 1980, founding member Mark Hosler and a rotating group of singers, musicians, (many of whom hold jobs outside of music) and graphic artists have created audio collages, art, and videos meant to provoke and entertain.
Negativland helped establish the “mashup,” also known as the “cutup” or “bastard pop” movement in the increasingly sophisticated ways they could chop up sound loops and clips, then rearrange them in a unique — and often amusing — way. For example, the title track of their 2005 album No Business contains snippets of Ethel Merman singing “There's No Business Like Show Business” (both the original and bizarre disco versions!) spliced together to sound as if Merman were enthusiastically endorsing thievery.
While humor figures prominently in much of their work, Negativland also likes to challenge listener's beliefs. In their 1989 release Helter Stupid, the 18-minute title track addresses the music censorship furor of the mid-80s. The track features sound clips of news reports sensationalizing the “blame music lyrics for rising suicide and murder rates” controversy.