ONE sure way for the Grammy Awards to court controversy is by not recognizing an increasingly significant music genre. It seems another sure way is to recognize an increasingly significant genre.
When the music business' top awards show added rap in the late '80s, there was an outcry when the first few awards went to such safe acts as DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince rather than to more cutting-edge figures. And when the first heavy-metal Grammy was awarded in 1989, it was one of the most embarrassing moments in Grammy history: Jethro Tull winning over Metallica.
Now, after years of petitioning from supporters, the Grammys have added a category for best electronic/dance album. And sure enough, the recently announced nominations brought an uproar in the electronic and dance music community over the inclusion of Paul Oakenfold's "Creamfields," an album that some believe skirts the category's rules excluding "mix" collections of previously released material. The album is meant to approximate Oakenfold's live DJ presentations featuring remixes and edits (some rather subtle) of songs such as U2's "Beautiful Day."
The other nominees in the category -- albums by Basement Jaxx, the Crystal Method, the Prodigy and Paul van Dyk -- consist of music created and produced by the artists.
"It's a tricky one," says David Ireland, publisher of electronic/dance magazine BPM. "A lot of times you have things in electronic music that get blurry. Does an edit count as a remix? If Oakenfold takes a drum pattern out of a song and it essentially sounds the same otherwise, does that make it his music? I don't think so."
The Crystal Method's Ken Jordan and Scott Kirkland, while big fans of Oakenfold themselves, are concerned that his album might be an apple thrown in with four oranges.
"The category was created for artist albums," says Jordan. "It very specifically was not to have mix CDs included or albums where the artist was DJing. But there are a lot of things that make that hard to define."
That difficulty in defining the criteria, says Jason Bentley, a veteran DJ and dance music authority who served on the Grammy screening committee for the category, is exactly why it was decided to make "Creamfields" eligible.
"In this case we are dealing with a DJ who had a strong hand in production by either featuring his own remixes or production of songs," he says. "This allows us to embrace the craft of the DJ."
Oakenfold declined to comment, but Ricardo Vinas, president of his label, Thrive Records, and himself a member of the screening committee, says it is important for the first electronic/dance Grammy to cover the genre's full range of artistry.
"I think we all felt we had to find a way to allow DJ culture to be recognized when a DJ alters the music," he says. "When you look at the history of electronic music, you have to."
The ultimate solution may be a separate category for DJ albums, but Bentley says it was such a struggle to get the one category that he is not counting on it, though he does acknowledge that defining the criteria is a work in progress and changes could be made next year.
No one seems to fear that an Oakenfold win would be a Jethro Tull situation in terms of Grammy credibility, though.
"No, I don't think so," says the Crystal Method's Jordan. "One thing people aren't talking about is that Paul makes really great albums."
Oakenfold and the Crystal Method are scheduled to perform at the Giant Village event in L.A. on New Year's Eve.
Savoring an early stage of Nirvana
IF the new "With the Lights Out" boxed set of music and film clips whetted your appetite for more from the Nirvana archives, circle Feb. 2 on your calendar. That may be your only opportunity to see a video of a performance the band made at Rhino Records' Westwood store in April 1989, well before the band broke through to fame and even two months before the release of its first album, "Bleach."
The 35-minute performance was shot by Sam Epstein, a filmmaker and Rhino employee who routinely taped in-store concerts. He says that leader Kurt Cobain saw him shooting and asked for a copy, and Epstein later sent it on to the band's management and was told the band loved it.
But except for short excerpts aired as part of MTV's coverage after Cobain killed himself in 1994, it has never been screened publicly. (A crude, one-song video shot by someone else the same day is featured on the boxed set.)
The Feb. 2 screening at Rhino (now at another Westwood location and long separate from the Rhino Records label) is a free event meant as a thank-you to customers and as a promotion for the store and its adjoining sister shop, Duck Soup, which features pop culture items.
"The video is called 'No Autographs, No Encore,' which is what Kurt says at the end when he was announcing the band's show at Al's Bar that night," Epstein says. "He comes across as very human. They do 11 songs, mostly from 'Bleach,' but also 'Polly,' which wouldn't be recorded for another couple of years."
Epstein, who owns the rights to the video but can't release it or charge admission to see it without the band members' permission, was not familiar with Nirvana at the time but readily saw that Cobain was something special and that the music had distinctive power.
"The film really captures that," he says. "I call this my Nirvana Zapruder movie -- I just happened to be there and caught it. People there saw that this was one heck of a band."