'Too debilitating': King Crimson's Robert Fripp on the music industry, and his lengthy silence

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A new interview with the Financial Times of London — his first sitdown with a print journalist in seven years — finds Robert Fripp railing against the music industry.

On-going disputes over royalties seem to be at the root of the latest hiatus for his long-running prog-rock band King Crimson, now dormant since 2009. Fripp also delves more deeply into his unwillingness to repeat previous successes, a frequent demand from music industry types that he has always furious fought back against.

Throughout, in the just-posted talk with Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Fripp makes it abundantly clear that he has no intention of returning to music making any time soon — citing an atmosphere of market-based disappointments that have transformed his musical life into “a joyless exercise in futility.”

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Asked about the future of the long-dormant King Crimson, Adrian Belew answers bluntly: “Robert Fripp may never want to do it again.”]

King Crimson recorded much of its celebrated catalog for labels now associated with the behemoth Universal Music Group, and over the last five years Fripp has been unable to reach an agreement on sales of his back catalog, nor the dissemination of music downloads and digital streams.

His on-going refusal to follow fan-favorite recordings with similar-sounding sequels not only has led to a series of stunning lineup changes — Fripp is the only member of have appeared in each of the Crimson amalgams since its founding in 1969 — but also to the formation of the Discipline Global Mobile independent label some 20 years ago. (The Financial Times reports that a DGM will issue a remastered edition of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic later in the fall.)

“It’s an interesting strategy for keeping the music moving in the direction it goes — that whenever you get close to success, the band splits up,” Fripp tells Hunter-Tilney. “But it’s a strategy that does work — though it’s one that you won’t find in ‘How to Succeed in the Music Industry.’ And I can guarantee it will piss off people who are looking forward to having a good career.”

As the years have passed since his last King Crimson studio project, speculation grows that Fripp might be retired for good. His comments in the new piece certainly bolster the theory.

“I couldn’t concentrate on music, so I made the choice to give up my career as a musician in the frontline to deal with the business,” Fripp says. “It’s too debilitating.” And here’s why: Even as Fripp has fought tooth and nail to keep his muse from going retrograde (“the greater the success, the greater the pressure to keep repeating yourself,” he says), the business itself has “moved from a symbiotic relationship to a parasitic relationship. … What has changed in 40 years? It’s very simple. Forty years ago there was a market economy. Today there is a market society. Today, everything, including ethics, has a price.”

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on King Crimson. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

JOHN WETTON TALKS KING CRIMSON, THEN AND NOW: Prior to joining tue supergroup Asia, Wetton had been part of a quartet of seminal Crimson albums, 1973’s Lark’s Tongue in Aspic; 1974’s Starless and Bible Black and Red; and 1975’s live document USA. The period saw Robert Fripp’s long-standing prog-rock amalgam make some of its most experimental and influential early recordings, but also begin to lose sales momentum. By the time Red was issued, in fact, Fripp had already disbanded the group in favor of a short-lived retirement. “King Crimson,” Wetton allows, “was nothing if not a paradox.” And that starts with its founder, a childhood friend with whom Wetton remains close – though he’s quick to add that the pair rarely discuss Crimson.

KING CRIMSON – LIVE IN ARGENTINA: 1994 (2012): From a small series of shows to work out the kinks just before Crimson’s short-lived double-trio amalgam released the VROOOM EP. This set captures two shows from the middle of that tour, the earliest video evidence of this band working live, and it’s a thrilling thing to witness these two shows, afternoon and evening, on DVD, having never been available before. Most enjoyable is simply the pure joy present on the stage. There’s a playful nature bouncing around up there. It should come as no surprise to see Adrian Belew’s ever-present grin as he goads the others on, and Bill Bruford is frequently seen with a smile and gesturing loosely while the others react in kind. It’s serious music made through serious fun.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: BASSIST TONY LEVIN The latest incarnation for the ever-transforming bassist Tony Levin is as part of a fearless new trio album with guitarist David Torn and Yes drummer Alan White: Part prog, part free-form improvisational music, part noise rock, Levin Torn White brings in each of their familiar textures and sounds, yet sounds somehow completely new. In another entertaining SER Sitdown, the busy bassist talks about the new Levin Torn White album, as well as a few landmark moments from his fascinating career with the likes of King Crimson, Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, John Lennon and others.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: KING CRIMSON – THRAK (1995): Of all the King Crimson incarnations (the historic first LP with Greg Lake, the Jamie Muir/Bill Bruford percussion battles on Larks Tongues in Aspic, the Bible Black/Red period, the Discipline years), I found this era enthralling — because of the dual-drummer (well, dual-everything) format used on Thrak. The double-trio — so named because of its unusual lineup of two guitars, two basses (well, things along those lines — bass and Stick-like touchstyle instruments), and two drummers — was meant to create an ungodly amount of noise in the most spectacular way possible. It was one of those concepts that belonged more to jazz than to rock and which, at the time — the mid-1990s, right in the middle of the minimalistic grunge and alternative movements — garnered a lot of snickering from the press for being excessive and indulgent.

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