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Ramon+Pedro's Grey Video

by Steve Anderson

This video was released anonymously in October 2004. The background of the song on which it is based is widely known: on February 24, 2004, a group called Downhill Battle organized a day-long electronic civil disobedience action called Grey Tuesday. Downhill Battle sought to protest the legal action taken by EMI to suppress a remix by DJ Danger Mouse that combined rhythm tracks from the Beatles' White Album with vocal tracks from Jay-Z's Black Album to create the underground sensation, the Grey Album. During the 24 hours of Grey Tuesday, more than 100,000 copies of the Grey Album were reportedly downloaded from hundreds of sites across the Internet and an estimated million more copies were traded over file sharing networks. At the same time, hundreds more websites demonstrated their support by converting their home page color palette to all grey. Although its impact was largely symbolic, Grey Tuesday is still regarded as the most successful instance of organized civil disobedience against the music industry. Nine months later, the Grey Album was followed by the Grey Video, which was created and released anonymously by the design firm Ramon & Pedro. The "official" Grey Video website was predictably shut down within a few weeks of its launch, although the video continues to circulate on mirror sites and peer networks across the Internet. The Grey Video begins with a performance by the Beatles before a live television studio audience. Just moments into the song, images of the rapper Jay-Z begin to encroach on the performance and his own lead vocals are added to the background music of a cut-up Beatles song. Images of bumbling and ineffectual broadcast engineers may be understood as a metaphorical jab at the RIAA, who are powerless to recover control of the images being disseminated, first as Jay-Z's image appears on one and then all three television monitors in the control booth and later as the musical remix causes a breakdown of both artists' performance. As Ringo's drum kit is replaced by a set of turntables and the words "DJ Danger Mouse," the vestigial musicians Paul and George are perfunctorily replaced by dancers, and John performs a virtuosic break dance punctuated by a protracted round of spinning on his head and a screen-exiting backflip that leaves the singer's signature mop-top wig lying symbolically on the stage. On one level, all of this amounts to little more than a parodic gesture, but the electronic civil disobedience of Grey Tuesday and the visuals of the obviously hastily produced Grey Video eloquently speak both to consumer frustrations with increasingly restrictive copyright laws and to the growing power of peer networks to subvert their enforcement. Apart from the barely noticeable R+P logo that flashes on screen at the end of the video, Ramon & Pedro nowhere acknowledge responsibility for the Grey Video, which was made with no possibility of direct profit for the design team. Indeed, a disclaimer at the head of the video announces that it was made as an experiment and not for commercial purposes. But the video was also made in full knowledge that the official site would be shut down and trusting in the hope that a decentered grassroots network would step in and take over distribution of the video. I don't necessarily want to offer Ramon & Pedro as outlaw media hackers — they are rather savvy entrepreneurs who understand the economy of value in viral marketing and the power of aligning themselves (albeit slightly disingenuously) with the anti-industry, anti-commercial sentiments of today's remix culture. Taken in aggregate, however, I believe the Downhill Battle protest, coupled with the widespread, illicit circulation of the Grey Video is exemplary of a mode of practice that is defined by the logic of the open source network at the level of production, distribution, and reception. Another direct legacy of Downhill Battle's Grey Tuesday action is the group's own spinoff organization, The Participatory Culture Foundation, a non-profit advocacy group which seeks to create tools that facilitate the conjunction of culture and politics. As legal and cultural struggles over copyright and control of the internet continue, the networks and tools of such organizations, along with widespread cultural practices based on participation and collective action, offer crucial sites of potential resistance.

by Alistair Chains

so good

Grey Video

A mashup music video that combines a simulated TV broadcast of a Beatles performance from Hard Day's Night with a Jay-Z performance.

from Grey Video (2004)
Creator: Ramon & Pedro
Posted by Ala' Diab