Photo of Cassetteboy & DJ Rubbish by Steve Ullathorne
Cassetteboy are the Arch Princes of satirical cut-up, video splicing and misquoting to create a surreal, very funny and probably truthful image of the so called 'great and the good'. From CD releases like the classic The Parker Tapes to live shows with their sometime collaborator (and MI5 mole, sorry chaps) DJ Rubbish, they have forged an odd 'career' which has led to where they are now, a monthly video for The Guardian and regular TV work (alongside being YouTube stars of a sort). Ex-Friendly spoke with the half that is Mike (apparently his real name).
JT - When the baddies impose a full-blown totalitarian state..you do realise that you pair are first against the wall? Is this fear the reason you have both maintained an anonymous public persona?
M -'Post-election that time seems even closer. When we first started, we were definitely worried about being sued. Our first album sampled pretty much everyone you can think of, so we decided to never use our real names. As time went on, and no one tried to sue us, we relaxed a bit, but were having such fun using stupid pseudonyms and wearing ridiculous disguises that we never stopped'
JT - Can you tell us a brief synopsis of what has changed legally that is enabling you to get more work? And can you afford to do it full time yet?
M - 'Amazingly, it's now legal to use any copyrighted material for the purpose of making parodies. The definition of what constitutes a 'parody' is up to a judge to decide, if it ever goes to court. So after years of working on the wrong side of the law, we've now been legalised. Which means we've been able to work for Charlie Brooker, The Guardian and Michael Winterbottom in the six months or so since the law changed. It's incredible how much material new material you can make when you're actually being paid to do it - we've probably released more new videos in the last six months than in the previous three years.'
JT - Have you received any correspondence from any of your ‘targets’?
M - 'We've had some nice tweets. We're doing news cut ups for the Guardian every month, and the news readers seem to be delighted about it! The only complaint has been from Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who was disappointed that he featured so little in our February Channel 4 News cut up.'
JT - Technology must inform how you work to a certain degree. How has it changed your work practice and is it a good thing or do you miss something? Do Cassetteboy’s Dream Of Electric Sheep?
M - 'It's a long time since we worked with actual cassette tapes. I can't say I miss the tension of having to make edits 'live' with fingers on the pause buttons. But I do miss the fact that making a tape was a linear process - you made an edit, then moved onto the next, then the next. It wasn't really possible to go back and make changes - recording over sections always sounded very messy. Now we work on computers, we spend a lot of time revising and refining. The end results are better, but it takes a lot longer, and it lacks the immediacy of tapes.'
JT - You now do a monthly piece for The Guardian, have you had to self-censor a lot more?
M - 'Not really. We had to take out a libellous joke about Leon Brittan, but not much other than that. In our most recent piece, we had a joke about Nick Clegg being shipped off to Dignitas, but that video was released on the day Charles Kennedy died, so joking about the death of a Lib Dem leader wasn't as funny, and we quickly changed it. Having done a few commissioned pieces now, I've been quite surprised with what we've got away with - it's always the jokes that I think we'll be asked to cut that go down the best. So we don't try to second guess what people will want - they've hired us because they like what we do, so we just do what feels funny to us.'
JT - Did you ever dream when you made your first 7” record ‘Di and Dodi Do Die’ that you would still be doing this all these years later and being recognised for it?
M - 'I think it's fairly clear from our 'career' to date that we've never had a long term plan! For most of the time it was not much more than a hobby, so I guess I thought we'd always do it because we enjoy it. Fortunately we're only 'recognised' on the internet, not in real life, so it's easy to ignore that side of things, which I think is for the best.'
JT - How far would you go with subject matter? Would you go for Hate groups? Get jiggy with Islamists or Nazis? (Thanks to Scott Oliver for this Q)
M - 'We got a death threat when we did a cut up of BNP leader Nick Griffin, but we didn't take it too seriously. I don't think any area should be off limits as far as jokes are concerned, so if we found a good joke at the expense of a hate group, I think we'd go for it. I do think with areas like that, you need to be extra careful, and should probably know quite a lot about your targets / subject matter. You want to make sure your joke only attacks the intended target, and can't be twisted into something you didn't intend.'
JT - At the recent Q & A session you did for Confetti ICT during their Industry Week, you suggested that your/our generation came with a darker source of humour, informed by Chris Morris et al. What has changed? Apart from Frankie Boyle, Stewart Lee, Armando Iannucci and yourselves (and maybe more I don’t know about), real satire that has crossed over has died somewhat. Are we so fucked, we are now post-satire?
M - 'I certainly hope not, although I think some mainstream satire has been toothless for quite a while now. It did seem to amount to little more than "John Prescott is fat" jokes under Labour, which seamlessly transitioned into "Eric Pickles is fat" jokes with a change of government. There also seems to be an obligation for satirists to attack both sides equally, which isn't always helpful. People who were maybe left-leaning felt they had to criticise Labour, and as they didn't want to fault the policies, they helped drive the narrative that Ed Miliband was a wally - ha ha, look at him eating a bacon sandwich. I'm hoping for more satire that picks a side and is shamelessly partial, rather than being watered down and impartial. It's hard for mainstream media to do that (although John Oliver's HBO show skewers his targets very effectively) but the internet seems like the ideal platform for a bit of rabble rousing.'
JT - Who else apart from Chris Morris has influenced or excited you? Satire, TV, literature, internet, whatever?
M - 'I grew up on shows like Blackadder and Bottom, and I think the influence of good old fashioned British innuendo is quite apparent in our work. Douglas Adams is another influence, the sonic experimentation in the Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy radio show. I basically only watch comedy shows, which I guess endlessly presses the rhythms and structures of jokes onto my brain, which must help when looking for elements of gags in political speeches or reality TV.'
JT - How do people know if your work is really yours? Cutting up video isn’t such a difficult thing to do now so do you have your own stamp on it, tricks that are uniquely yours? Or a watermark? :)
M - 'That's a good question. I have seen videos claiming to be us which aren't, and videos stolen from us presented as someone else's work. I can't think of any unique tricks we have - people were making cut ups long before we started any way. I would like to think that our jokes are better than average, and we also tend to put more time into it than most other people. If you see a video that uses material from 20+ episodes of a TV show, that's probably us, because who else could be bothered?'
JT - Who would you really love to work with and why?
M - 'I would love to do more collaborative work, as the Cassetteboy process is quite solitary. We tried to get a TV show off the ground featuring us, Cyriak, Swede Mason and other internet stars, but sadly nothing came of it. I still think it would be interesting to take people who make short internet skits, and chuck them all together to make something longer. On the internet everything has to be a hit single, and we miss making albums. The TV commissioning process was not fun though, so I don't think we'd put ourselves through that again.'
JT - As serious musical crate diggers, we have to spend a lot of time searching and listening for what turns us on. Watching your work gives me the sweats just thinking about how much content you have to trawl through! How time-consuming and difficult is it?
M - 'It's very time consuming, but the only difficult part is forcing ourselves to do it! When we're making a new piece, probably 80% of the time is spent watching, collecting and organising the raw material. Which is extremely boring. The fun, creative part of the process is definitely a small fraction of the total time it takes.'
JT - I imagine that you’ve made some seriously unbroadcastable pieces that your fans would love to see..do you have alter egos for your darker work (go on, tell us)?
M - 'No, afraid not. We have a few pieces that we developed for projects that didn't get off the ground, and we save those for our live shows, so we have something the audience can't see anywhere else. Other than that, the only unreleased material we have are pieces that just aren't very good!'