Moby, Minstrelsy and Melville

Osborne, Richard ORCID logoORCID: (2018) Moby, Minstrelsy and Melville. In: Mute Records: Artists, business, history. Beaven, Zuleika ORCID logoORCID:, O'Dair, Marcus and Osborne, Richard ORCID logoORCID:, eds. Bloomsbury Academic, New York and London, pp. 169-182. ISBN 9781501340604, pbk-ISBN 9781501365478, e-ISBN 9781501340635, e-ISBN 9781501340611, e-ISBN 9781501340628. [Book Section] (doi:10.5040/9781501340635.0018)

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In 1999 Mute Records released Play by Moby. Daniel Miller has admitted that the label was not in ‘great shape’ at this point and nor was Moby’s career. The performer had had chart success in the UK with his 1991 single ‘Go’, which was released by the Mute sub-label Rhythm King. His left-turn turn from electronica to hardcore punk with Animal Rights (1996) was poorly received, however, confusing fans and record company alike. Play was therefore an unexpected triumph. By 2016, it had sold more than 12 million copies, making it the world’s highest-selling electronica album. For Miller, this turnaround was ‘like the cavalry coming over the hill’, safeguarding Mute for the twenty-first century. This chapter explores the phenomenon of Play but in a tangential manner. It traces three overlapping stories. It explores ‘Blackface’ minstrelsy, the most popular form of entertainment in the US from the mid-1840s until the end of the nineteenth century. It addresses the work of the author Herman Melville, whose quest was ‘the absolute amidst its relative manifestations [...] the delicate and shifting relationship between its truth and its illusion’. And it examines Moby and the music he recorded and sampled for Play. This album, through its use of sampling, bears hallmarks of minstrelsy. It also raises questions about truth and illusion.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: Hardback: Published 27-12-2018
Paperback: Published 25-06-2020
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts > Performing Arts > Music group
Item ID: 26043
Notes on copyright: The full text is a non-final version of the chapter and is not to be cited. The final print version published by Bloomsbury Academic is available via
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Depositing User: Richard Osborne
Date Deposited: 25 Jan 2019 12:31
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 19:24

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