Earlier this week, we posted a brand new video from Abel Tesfaye, bka the Weeknd, for a cut from his upcoming debut full-length Kiss Land called “Belong To The World.” Tom noted in his post that it samples the drums from Portishead’s “Machine Gun” but that band member Geoff Barrow immediately acknowledged that they had denied Tesfaye permission to use them. Barrow kicked off a mini rant by saying, “When someone asks to sample you and you refuse they should have the respect as a fellow artist to not use it.”

That same day, we also posted excerpts from an upcoming Complex cover story: Tesfaye’s first-ever interview. The reporter on duty, Damien Scott, mentioned he “heard Portishead drums” on the track and Tesfaye responded, “Yeah, that was the inspiration behind that. I wrote a letter to the producers of Portishead and let them know this album is inspired by them.” The quote tows the line between innocent fawning and an exercise in covering your own ass. He doesn’t mention “Machine Gun” by name, nor the nature of the letter, so it can go either way. Barrows complaints continued:

And after the Weeknd Task Force mobilized, slinging insults and conjecture that Barrow and Portishead should feel honored (many of which he retweeted):

While we have no evidence of it as this time, it seems that Barrow, et al. have been told that this is not a case of uncleared samples but just influence that not enough to warrant royalties:

The other single we’ve heard from the LP is its eponymous first single. Its original version, before it was tweaked for the video, sounds identical to Bay Area cloud rap duo Main Attrakionz’s “Nothin’ Gonna Change” because, well, it is. This circumstance is far less dubious, as the song’s producer Silky Johnson was complicit in its usage and no other parties involved seem to be upset about the matter.

We’ll have to stay tuned for more developments. What this immediately recalls to me is Kanye West’s monologue at the end of The College Dropout closer “Last Call” where he tells the story of what led to him getting his own album, including his first beats for Jay-Z, where he admits that the genesis of his style was stealing from Dr. Dre for Jay’s “This Can’t Be Life”:

“I made this one beat where I sped up this Harold Melvin sample. I played it for [Roc-A-Fella A&R Kyambo "]Hip [Hop" Joshua] over the phone, he’s like, ’Oh, yo that shit is crazy. Jay might want it for this compilation album he doin, called The Dynasty.’ And at that time, like the drums really weren’t soundin right to me. So I went and um, I was listening to Dre Chronic 2001 at that time. And really I just, like bit the drums off “Xxplosive” and put it like, with it sped up, sampled, and now it’s kind of like my whole style.”

Kiss Land is slated for release this year via Republic.

Comments (81)
  1. The Weeknd’s mass horde of stupid fans mobbed Portishead Youtube comments section and Twitter. Hilarity ensues :).

    • I winced reading some of those twitter replies.

      And The Weeknd must think we are all stupid if this isn’t the exact same drums/beat just sped up.

    • Has anyone heard him sing…live? Its awful. Not being cynical or snarky but its just plain awful.

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    • I completely agree, not to mention the same fucking sample was used last month on Kanye’s Yeezus.
      Barrow was fine with it there, its not like the Weeknd is Justin Bieber or something, clearly its going to be used in the interest of creating something with some artistic value.

      I support Abel’s openness to what he was about and what hes trying to do, and I understand how he might find this annoying. Each of his three mixtapes samples liberally from a variety of artists, but each time the song he created from these samples completely justified its own existence, and was more of a fun head-nod to the source than a rip-off or exploitation of an already created sound.

      We need to save the fight against copyright infringement and sample stealing for more commercialized problems (a.k.a. shitty pseudo-indie bands explointing an already developed sound and advertisements where clearly somebody was paid to mimic a popular song.)

    • I don’t think Barrow has a problem with sampling. If you would have bothered reading the story above you would seen that he said they “usually give sample clearance to tunes we like.”

      And as someone close to Barrow’s age, I can tell you that sampling isn’t a big deal to us from the “older generation.” I think it the issue here is respecting an artists wishes regarding their work.

      And you can keep Girl Talk.

    • It’s not about exposure, it’s about somebody’s work being used in a way it was never intended to be used.

      I take it you are in support of all the advertising companies “slightly altering” songs by Sigur Ros, Black Keys and many other artists that Stereogum has consistently reported on over the past few years. Hey! Those artists should stop bitching because that taco company is bringing your Youtube page more hits! Artists can be such pricks, amirite?

      Without spiraling out of context, this is just a case of it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission. Seeing as how Abel asked permission and was denied (rightfully so) yet went ahead with the song anyway shows a lot of Abel’s character. Do you think Abel was the first person to try and use the “Machine Gun” beat? I bet Geoff has been inundated with requests to use that beat since 2009. Why would he deny all of these requests? Probably out of integrity to the song Portishead crafted. Lord knows how long it took… that album was their first album in 12 years.

      Also, Girl Talk is a weak example. His defense has always been that no one sample makes one of his tracks or albums. It’s a collage. In the case that somebody’s new song is derived directly from one other song, then it becomes more blatant. Without the original song, there wouldn’t be a new song. Without one song off a Girl Talk album… would you notice?

      Now when I hear “Machine Gun” I have to be reminded of this Weeknd song. By going ahead and using this sample, Abel is cheapening the beauty of the original. Just like when a song is overplayed on the radio, or “1901″ is used in a Cadillac commercial, it cheapens the original. Artists know this, and sometime feel like the payoff is worth while. (In this case, Phoenix getting oodles of cash for a commercial) In Portishead’s case, they’re getting jack crap from Abel who is basically standing on their shoulders with this new song.

      tl;dr I should only hear Beth’s voice over that beat.

      • I don’t see what listening to Abel’s sample cheapens the song for you. Did he cheapen all the other songs he sampled on the mixtapes?

        Barrow has the right to sue or whatever he wants to do, but I don’t think this makes Abel Tesfaye a big douche, I think hes one of the most talented and well rounded artists to show up in the past few years. He said he was a big Portishead fan, and hes not just rehashing the same shit.

        Ya’ll n-words actin like he’s getting wrongly sampled by Miley Cyrus or some shit.

        • The “Machine Gun” beat is still young (as michael_ pointed out), and although it contains similarities to other beats (as Steven Gilpin pointed out), the fact I have to now hear it re-purposed into a Weeknd song that contains the following (as D-titties pointed out):


          Is why it cheapens it. These things should always be considered on a case by case basis.

          In this case, I feel, it damages the integrity of the original. Geoff seems to think so too.

        • Created an account just to vote your comment down.

        • anyone could have told he was a portishead fan by listening to his old music. doesn’t mean he gets to sample it without asking. that shit died out with paul’s boutique as far as i’m concerned.

    • “Machine Gun” came out all but five years ago, right? It’s not like the song in question samples came out two decades ago and is considered some fossil in the realm of “classic” rock these days before Tesfaye’s time or something.

      You also can’t speak of behalf of our generation and say things like “we don’t care” about samples. As someone in your age bracket, I respect an artist’s right to have complete control over their creations and this ordeal with the Weeknd coupled with a few other choice questionable revelations about his career has in turn made me appreciate honest and earnest musicians such as Portishead rather than a lazy hack that could make some of Coldplay’s biggest hits blush (that is assuming you’re old enough to know who they are?)

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        • holy fuck

        • Maybe song samples should be like patents, each artist gets like a 7 year window where they have the rights to that intellectual property. After those 7 years other artists can strip elements of it and use it for their own work, assuming it justifies its own existence, and is not a complete copycat.

          Its interesting to note that music is really the only art medium where people really get their jimmies rustled over these things.

          As a film writer or director: stories, shots, character types are recycled all the time from other movies.

          How can you fight for intellectual property over anything in the visual arts? If an artist paints a landscape, Am I not allowed to paint that same landscape anymore?

          More importantly, members of society that know better – know music in this case – know where the original sample was from and know how to appreciate originality. That doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate it being used a different way. Although I still haven’t gotten over the travesty of Jason Derulo’s “Whatcha Say” and how much rage is instilled in me everytime I hear that song.

          With that being said “Hide & Seek” is by no means ruined. And anyone who thinks The Weeknd is similiar to Jason Derulo is a moron.

          • excellent point about Hide and Seek. Its a beautiful song. Im not a fan of the Derulo version, but I dont listen to Imogen and go, “damn…Derulo ruined this for me”. The song is as incredible as its always been.

            The real issue I think is whats property, whats artistic property. When you make art and release it, do you, and should you have complete control over what someone else may do with it?

          • shots and characters are called tropes.

            taking an exact musical piece is sampling.

            there’s a difference.

        • I know you can’t.

          And there is no divide, you are delusional.

        • “It’s a new thing…I see it as a distinctly Generation Y, or Millenials doing this”…

          no. people started experimenting with tape loops in the late 1950s… this Terry Riley piece from 1963 is entirely “sample-based”.

        • yeah it’s so gen y in film. godard and tarantino are totes gen y.

          and chemical brothers for that matter. and beastie boys and puff daddy. they’re all gen y right?

          sampling isn’t new, ri-ri, it’s just an unasked for, and lied about sample.

    • hit the nail on the head again musicismylife89

      I would agree that sampling has been most strongly impacted by napster and in rainbows.

      I also agree that people in their 20′s don’t care about clearing samples and they shouldn’t because the courts will take one look at a young sample stealing defendant and say “oh, you are a young person in your 20′s. Copyright laws should not and do not apply to you due to, of course, girl talk and mash-ups. Take sounds made by others and sell them to make a profit for yourself. Case closed.”

      In fact, Geoff Barrow and portishead should have paid the weeknd to use their sample because weeknd obviously will expose portishead to a group of forward thinking youths who will not only bestow great reverence upon them, but will surely buy many portishead records, seeing as how young people believe strongly in paying for things they would like to acquire and have for personal use OH, WAIT, NONE OF THIS MAKES ANY SENSE.

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    • Some people of a certain age understand far more than your generalizations assume.

    • Business savvy?! Dude, you’re stupid.

    • The young people that don’t seem to care about sample stealing are the same ones holding up their damn Samsung in my face at a Portishead show for 2 hours straight.

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  3. Abel just looks like a massive tool right now.

  4. Machine Gun isn’t the first song to have that drum pattern, but it is certainly a distinctive sound, with the use of actual gun sounds. There are only so many rhythm patterns or chord patterns that exist. Sometimes stuff sounds similar, and it’s unintentional, or it’s just influence, but it’s not conscious. There’s a Light Asylum song called Skull Fuct that has a very similar drum pattern to Portishead’s Machine Gun, but I don’t really care. They’re both great songs. That’s all that really matters. Didn’t someone say that theft in writing/composition was the ultimate form of flattery?

  5. In 2013, I think plagiarism and copyright laws need to be changed so that sound-a-likes, look-a-likes and read-a-likes and other art-related knock-offs cannot be used as loop holes for not getting clearance to reappropriate someone else’s work as your own. I can speak from recent personal experience in my work *cough* that when someone takes your work, switches up a few details and puts their name behind it, it’s a cruddy feeling that you can’t do much about it because it’s not technically plagiarism, but the person who stole your ideas is probably aware of that.

    • And to add to that, it’s always the larger, more widely known individuals who are taking advantage of lesser known / more obscure individuals. I’d file Portishead under the more “obscure” territory despite being a festival headliner, as the Weeknd has a large pop following that the general public is more apt to side with based on popularity. Other recent examples: Justin Timberlake claiming not to know about the existence of the organization Take Back the Night, Ke$ha ripping off the Residents, writers of major music web sites phishing DIY blogs for content, etc.

    • Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

      • Whatevs, dude, agree to disagree — No sense in debating this with a rabid Weeknd sympathist. In 10 years when / if you grow up and enter the real world, you will likely discover that it isn’t this idealist scenario you have imagined for yourself where the “rebels” and “younger generation” makes the rules based on entitlement and instant gratification, and in fact, there is an endless line of “old” people more than happy to remind you that as long as their bodies are above the grave, its their old wrinkly asses to kiss.

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    • But where do you draw the line? There’s plenty of artists who have arrived rhythms, chord progressions and whatnot independently of each other. Should Dave Grohl and Courtney Love have filed a lawsuit against Jack White for “I Can’t Wait?” And should Tom Petty have sued the Red Hot Chili Peppers over “Danny California?” Should they both have sued The Black Keys over “Little Black Submarines” a couple years back? I’m not saying there’s an element of dishonesty at play here, but allowing every artist more freedom to sue every sound-a-like is only asking for a mess.

  6. Weeknd has a knack for ripping off other artists (JJ, How To Dress Well) and not giving credit to his producers (Jeremy Rose)…plus the dude cannot sing to save his own life. Stream any of his live performances and you will cringe. So uncomfortable to watch someone that delusional and….off-key.

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    • Well, well, well. Here we are again! Another burned artist, credit not given. You know what? Fuck the Weeknd. Guy is a shady shade thrower. Same old story. First he jacked his house of balloon beats from Jeremy Rose and “changed them” (in that he made new beats that were EXACTLY THE SAME) now this. “WHHHOOOOOO OOOOOOOWWWW. YEEEAAAAAHHHHHHH EEEEE AAAAAA.” – weeknd, EVERY SONG.


  8. Deconstructing: The Weeknd, Portishead, and plagiarism in 2013

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    • Comparing this to mashups is absolutely ludicrous.

      The Grey Album was done as an art piece. Nobody made any money off of it. Same for 99% of the mashups in existence. (Note that all of Girl Talk’s albums are free downloads.) Mashups that have been sold (legally) for profit had the permission of the sampled artists.

      If Abel put this music out as “art” as a free download, you might have a reasonable argument. But Abel’s putting this out FOR PROFIT. Artists have a right to say how their work is used if it’s being used for commercial purposes. When Geoff said NO, that should have been the end of it – Abel should either have ditched the track or reworked it completely. (I doubt Geoff would have given two shits if this song had shown up in its current form on a random mixtape.)

  11. Shades of the Vanilla Ice/Queen debacle of ’91, where big dog Ice claimed the modified “Under Pressure” bassline in his jam “Ice Ice Baby” was totally fair game because they added an extra “ding.” Here, The Weeknd is claiming it’s different because he sped it up the ‘shead’s beat and added a few extra snare hits.

    Ice/Queen settled out of court for a healthy chunk of change –– and I fail to see how that wouldn’t be the same result here if Barrow was interested in threatening some legal action (which he doesn’t seem to be, for now). So yeah, I kind of fail to see how The Weeknd has a leg to stand on here. A dick move on his part –– gotta clear that shit.

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  13. No matter your thoughts on filesharing, copyright, sampling, etc., I think Barrow’s point about “respect as a fellow artist” is a very valid one. The Kanye reference in the article was pretty apt, in that it reminded me that, when Kanye sampled Aretha Franklin on “School Spirit” he was told he couldn’t use the sample if he swore on the song, so the swear words were censored. In other words, he respected her wishes… which is what should have been done in this case. So if Barrow sues him, which he has every right to do, then it’s totally justified.

  14. So respecting another artist work is no longer valid in the view of the (oh fuck that term) “millennials” ??
    if every so called gen y thinks like musicismylife78, then im sorry that is so fucked up.

  15. You know, if I was an author, and I read a novel and found the exact words I had written in a book without my name on the cover, I would be pretty pissed. Actually university students and journalists have been exiled for doing much less.

    And if I was an architect, and I saw a building in some other city that looked exactly like one I had designed five years ago…and my name wasn’t on the placard out front, I would probably take somebody to court. And he would pay me.

    Why is the weight of the age-old argument “DONT STEAL OTHER PEOPLES SHIT MAN” lost when it comes to music?

    I don’t know, maybe and The Weeknd and Mark Zuckerberg can get together and chat about this.

  16. musicismylife78:
    You, along with this thread, have inspired a longtime Stereogum reader to sign up and comment for the first time.

    DUDE. Sorry. You’re super passionate and eloquent, but this is a pure, simple, BUSINESS issue and you are flat out wrong. Some have touched on this a bit, but here’s the crux:

    Grey Album, Girl Talk, Mixtape culture, DJs, mashups, etc — These are all great examples of FREE work created and distributed OUTSIDE of the legalities of major record label for-profit business practices. Inside those channels though, no matter your age or generation or beliefs, all samples must be cleared, permission must be granted, and plagiarism is a serious issue. Leaf through the liner notes of any album and you will find sample credits, sometimes many paragraphs worth of them. In many cases, the sampled artist is even credited among songwriters. In hip-hop especially, major album releases are routinely delayed to ensure sample clearance.

    Just this year, even the ‘free mixtape’ line was crossed when Lord Finesse sued Mac Miller for an uncleared sample. He had been cool with it as a track on a free mixtape, but when Miller made a video for the song and it became a profit-generating hit single, things changed. (Now, the song was still not being SOLD, so Finesse’s claim was probably less founded and upset a lot of people — but Miller still had to settle with him! And hey, even Danger Mouse did face legal challenges for Grey Album).

    This case is far more cut & dry. It’s a big-budget release from Universal Music to be sold for profit. He brazenly copied another artist’s work after being denied sample clearance, and will now profit from sales of that work. When The Weeknd’s “Trilogy” was re-released to be sold for profit on Universal, he had to clear all the samples he had previously used for free. Beach House, Siouxsie & others granted clearance, but Aaliyah’s people did not, and her work was removed from the retail versions of those songs. Had he used them, you can bet the farm that her estate would have sued and won.
    If this was a free release it would be different, but as it is, there is no contest here at all.

    Geoff Barrow, meanwhile, is a producer, musician, arranger, and yes, a DJ, steeped in the culture of musical collage, sampling, etc. The man helped to pioneer trip-hop and the use of turntables in live band setting, and has worked with hip-hop artists of all stripes. He has happily licensed samples of his music to over 50 artists, and just last year he was sampling Radiohead & others himself for tracks on his Quakers project for Stones Throw, (a pioneering entity in sample-based music itself).
    He is more well-versed in matters of sampling than the majority of artists on earth.
    As for “exposure” — less than a month ago Portishead played a headlining set at Glastonbury, arguably the largest (cross-generational) music festival on earth.

    It’s Abel who is severely out of his depth here, and he comes off as a shameless, smug, self-entitled, child. If I were his Universal A&R on this project, i’d be shitting myself and thanking god that Barrow doesn’t seem to be the lawsuit-type. Simple copyright law, nothing more or less.

    • Copyright law (as crappy as it may be in some aspects) does not make free releases exempt, and rightly so.

      A free release – even though it’s not be sold – can still be considered a commercial release in that it is a promotional device. A song that uses someone else’s intellectual property without permission, even if it’s given away for free, can generate a lot of interest, exposure, press, etc. for the person that releases it…so for good reason, the person that owns the intellectual property used has the right to sue because that release owes at least part of its success to the material it used.

      • This is absolutely right, though the proliferation of free mixtapes in particular have allowed this side of things to slide significantly over the last few years. Datpiff alone would be a nightmare to pick apart. It’s a good reminder though of why Finesse was well within his rights to go after Miller, even if the rap-blog community cried foul.

        What’s yours is not mine just because I express admiration, or in Abel’s case, write a fan letter.

        He really needs to stop….. collaborate and listen. :)

    • jlc,

      Feel free to stick around and continue commenting. You eloquently stated a lot of things that needed to be said. Well done.


  17. I think this dude is about to have a bad case of the Mndays…

  18. les be honest – weeknd riffed off barrow, barrow riffed off aphex twin, and on and on and on to infinity and beyond. erbody should be glad people are influenced by people – isn’t that what makes music so magical, and humanity to boot? we grow together and create from what we’ve seen and heard and add on – it’s the nature of play. clearly, despite this obvious fact, some artists are arrogant enough to think they were born in a bubble without senses, and nevertheless were able to create art that moves and connects (in this case, by sound) billions of folks across the globe. this concept of “mine,” seems easily broken down, and utterly reminiscent of a child’s tantrum. but alas, we are all narcissistic. Even to the point of freaking out and taking on the offense of the artist we align ourselves with most instead of just being glad people keep making music, despite it’s obvious communal nature.

    • There is a huuuge difference between influence and actually repurposing a piece of audio or a composition’s specific motive. The Monkeys may have been influenced by the Beatles but you didn’t hear parts of “She Loves You” in their songs.

      • “repurposing” would still fall under the blanket term of influence – without “machine gun” there would be no “belong to the world,” thus it is cear as day that portishead influenced the weeknd. I don’t recall saying anything more specific, I merely stated that people “should be glad people are influenced by people,” because i like the arts, and it seems an undeniable, and (as we’re seeing) sometimes intricate part of the arts to play with and off what others have done before you. I don’t even have a side, i was just making fun of how hissy and tantrum like both sides (fans included) are being (thank you for justifying my point). My main problem with both artists responses stems from a personal opinion that the concept of “mine,” “i deserve all the credit” is arrogant and narcissistic in terms of artistic creation. To be honest I love portishead, and am slightly embarrassed by how barrow responded to the situation. I don’t think anyone is trying to claim that it is the weeknd’s beat, but you keep on fighting the good fight, bud (tho i do think you should be equally upset by the multiplicity of songs that use a very similar beat structure – i.e. light asylum, new order, etc. – it seems like it is about something more to you, your apparent anger that is). And just to ruffle your feathers, I think one could easily take moments from aphex twin prior to the release of “machine gun,” and the rest and find themselves a similar, yet less blatant example of some “repurposing” and “motive.”

  19. What the cock was that?

    Honestly, like no lie guys, I felt like I was watching a McDonalds commercial for some crazy ass liberal McRib campaign and all the sudden I hear that perfectly industrial churning beat of “MACHINE GUN”…

    But wait… There’s like a random little beat in that main line that makes me discredit the brilliance of “MACHINE GUUN”. Did Geoff Barrow cave and say “Okay, The Weaknd. You win. Please take this beat that I perfected and rape it to your brains hearts demise. Please.”

    Bro. Weaknd. Just because your hair is super tight and you look like you might listen to more than what Spotify tells you doesn’t give you the right to rip off one of the greatest musical minds of our generation if Geoff Barrow. You’re basically drinking the trash can punch at this baller-ass party and consenting to megasex with Geoff Barrow. The catch being that you get to make the song “MACHINE GUUUN” shitty by adding one little half beat and making it emotional and moving TO YOU.


    Beth Gibbons gave this song all the emotion it ever needed. Thanks for ruining it for your Big Mac eating mistakes.


  21. Ya know, all this is really too bad. Because that song really is pretty tight.

  22. Woah, just caught up on the Main Attrakionz part of the story too.
    Curious what might have gone down — there may not have been public beef over it, but the beat was ultimately changed after being released, so something’s off.
    Is our man 2 for 2 on singles with shady jacked beats?

  23. Can they just ask him what he used to make the song…..Korg, Electrivibe, Sample from a drum, videogame????? You can sample from anything.. but if he can’t SHOW you where he got the sample from. THen i think he should be sued for denying the orginal artist freedom to protect their original work. I;d like to say that I’ve heard Portishead sampled by a hiphop band before. WELL DONE but also credited. Just a heads up. If they didn’t ask.. at least they have credited and would prob just take the song off the album if asked. Thanks to the WEEKND for admiting to sampling Siouxe and the Banshees tho…..wait… She knows this right???

  24. You bake a pie and put it on your window sill.
    I steal your pie, drizzle some carmel on it, and call it my own.
    You’re going to want you’re pie back, right?

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