Geoff Barrow isn’t workin’ for the Weeknd

geoff barrow at mixing desk

Portishead’s Geoff Barrow at the mixing desk. Photo by John Minton.

It’s weird when friends fight.

Yesterday, the Weeknd launched a new video for the song “Belong to the World.” Mere moments after the song hit the interwebs, Portishead mastermind Geoff Barrow logged in to his Twitter account and said, “This is bollox” or something like that. He’s referring to the fact that the Weeknd song samples the kick-ass drum part from Portishead’s “Machine Gun,” and apparently was used:

a.) without permission

b.) more specifically, despite Barrow turning down a request to use said sample

For context, here’s “Machine Gun”:

And the Weeknd video can be found at

I like the Weeknd; maybe more specifically, I love House of Balloons. The other two mixtapes were OK (Thursday) and good (Echoes of Silence). I love Portishead. I have two of their albums inside my top 20 of all time.

I generally have no qualms with sampling as a form of expression. Seems like most of what I like about House of Balloons has its roots in sampled material. “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” is pretty much Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Happy House” with some falsetto (the first half of the song, anyway); two other songs benefit from the foundation of samples from Beach House (“The Party and the After Party”; “Loft Music”). I also really like the songs “What You Need,” “The Morning,” and “Coming Down,” which might very well use sampled material as well, just not instantly recognizable to my ears like the Siouxsie and Beach House material.

Music I like and admire certainly used uncleared samples. Of course, a lot of that music was created before De La Soul got smacked down by a lawsuit from the Turtles (for sampling a Turtles song featuring music the Turtles didn’t write…). And for whatever reason I have no qualms with what Girl Talk does, probably because it’s more often than not really well done.

And Portishead samples. I know. And as Barrow has pointed out on Twitter, the lion’s share of songwriting credit went to the original artists, or the samples were crafted in collaboration (“Glory Box” and “Western Eyes,” respectively).

In this instance, the reason I tend to side with Barrow, aside from the fact that he as the originator has the right to say no, boils down to this:

Did Tesfaye really need to use the “Machine Gun” drums to prop up this tune? Couldn’t he have programmed a militant beat of his own? To go around Geoff Barrow’s denial and use the sample anyway kinda tells me he couldn’t…which seems pathetic.

The Weeknd has some classy backers on Twitter, people who are getting the retweet treatment from Mr. Barrow. Example A:

Laughable, regarding the sentiment that this new song is “way better than ‘Machine Gun.'” Weaksauce, in terms of nigga and fagg.

And this guy, who seems to be pretty tight with Abel:

First of all, *SHOULD HAVE.

Second of all, *YOU’RE STUPID. (Yes, you are.)

Third, I’m sorry, this song isn’t that great. Too glossy, too “lite.” The synths sound more Carly Rae Jepsen than mysterious R&B. The Weeknd excels when the mood is gritty, dark, sensual. This sounds pretty thin, aside from, well, the Portishead drums.

I guess that’s why he used them after all.