"['Mofo'] . . . became the heaviest song maybe we've ever written. I feel like my whole life is in that one tune."
Eavesdropping fan posts new U2 songs on web
A Dutch U2 fan put tracks from their new album on the internet after overhearing them being played at Bono's French home
August 24, 2008
They seem stuck in a moment they can't get out of. The launch of every U2 studio album since 1991 has now been preceded by a leak or theft of music, resulting in snatches of songs being posted on the Internet or circulated on bootleg tapes.
To lose one album would be unfortunate; to lose six smacks of carelessness. As well as being the wealthiest band in the world, U2 may also be the unluckiest. They have been the victims of a bizarre medley of mugged couriers, German chambermaids and light-fingered French studio operators, as well as Dutch and Spanish eavesdroppers.
In the latest episode, excerpts of four tracks from the Dublin band's next album ended up on YouTube after Bono blared them at high volume from his house in Eze-sur-Mer in southern France. Ben van Riemsdijk, a Dutch fan, recorded the material on his phone and shared it online with other U2 enthusiasts.
Cynicism about the latest leak, which has resulted in extensive publicity about the band's album, has been fuelled by the fact that this is the third time U2 fans have been able to tape new material played at high volume in Bono's house.
In 2004, shortly before the release of U2's last studio album, a Spaniard standing on the beach outside claimed he was able to use a video camera to record How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. He subsequently posted tracks, including "Vertigo," on the Web.
Contributors to Interference.com, the fan website on which the latest clips were shared, pointed out last week that other "beach clips" were recorded in 2006 after another high-octane performance on Bono's stereo. The clips are always of poor sound quality, mixed with background noises such as waves and crickets, but of huge interest to diehard fans who discuss them avidly.
Van Riemsdijk said he spent July 25 on the public beach beside Bono's villa where the singer showed up at 6 p.m. "He starts playing these new songs really loud. The whole beach was listening and he knew that. On Interference, many of these incidents have been reported by fans," said the Dutchman, who is also a member of a U2 tribute band.
"Once I came home, I first discussed on Interference whether or not to share the clips as the quality is really bad. But some fans were curious so I posted the clips on Rapidshare and sent the link to some forum members. In no time, things got out of control. Hundreds of requests were made and after two days an article appeared in The Sun."
Van Riemsdijk argues that leaks of "beach clips" are likely to be positive. "I sometimes think that Bono deliberately turns up the music just to stir up the fanbase a little," he said. "U2 let fans listen to new material in their HQ studio. This way, the diehards keep interested and come back for more."
His clips eventually ended up on YouTube, at which point the band's record label stepped in. "We can confirm we were aware of the YouTube posting and that the leaked audio was removed at our request," said Chantal Hourihan of Universal Music. "Beyond that I am not in a position to comment."
Paul McGuinness, U2's manager, has criticised Internet service providers (ISPs) for allowing theft of music. In Cannes earlier this year, he warned that "for ISPs in general, the days of prevaricating over their responsibilities for helping to protect music must end."
While Bono has praised Radiohead's decision to release their last album for free as "courageous and imaginative," U2 has no intention of following suit with its next offering, expected to be called No Line on the Horizon.
The complaint to YouTube is an indication that, officially, U2 will guard their material as zealously as usual. But the band has been the victim of a series of mishaps since 1991, when three hours of rehearsals for Achtung Baby were leaked, apparently after being dumped in a hotel bin.
Cynics pointed out that the effect was to reignite interest in U2 at a time when they were thought to be breaking up. Two years later, just before the release of Zooropa, a newspaper in Los Angeles reported that a courier carrying a tape of the album had been attacked. "He wasn't hurt, according to U2 publicists, but the mugger did get away with the tape," the newspaper said.
In 1996, songs from Pop were apparently "siphoned off" along cables feeding the band's video camera, which had been recording rehearsals at its Dublin studio. "Discothèque" and "Wake Up Dead Man" were later posted on the Internet.
Other thefts include that of a suitcase full of lyrics in Oregon in 1981 and a laptop containing lyrics in 1999. Both were returned.
Times Newspapers Ltd., 2008.