On June 1, 2008, a raging fire billowed through multiple streets of Universal Studios Hollywood’s backlot. This was the eighth fire since the lot was built in 1912.
The damages? A handful of buildings, the famous King Kong Encounter attraction and a video vault containing more than 40,000 copies of various digital and physical TV shows and films, according to the Toronto Star.
That’s not all, however. According to an investigation published by the New York Times on Tuesday, the blaze also destroyed more than 500,000 original master tapes containing classic and unreleased songs dating back to the 1920s.
NYT journalist Niraj Chokshi reported that among the losses were tracks by Elton John, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, Hole, Beck, Snoop Dog, 2Pac, Aretha Franklin and Joni Mitchell among many, many others.
The article, Recordings by Elton John, Nirvana and thousands more lost in fire, quickly gained traction and became a trending topic on Twitter.
In response, a number of artists spoke out regarding the incident, including R.E.M. and Nirvana’s bassist and co-founding member, Krist Novoselic.
A representative for R.E.M. also took to Twitter, writing: “REMHQ is receiving inquiries from many people concerned about the New York Times article on the Universal Music fire 11 years ago.”
“We are trying to get good information to find out what happened and the effect on the band’s music, if any,” they added. “We will detail further as and when.”
“I think they are gone forever,” wrote Novoselic, 54, in response to a fan asking if “the Nevermind masters gone” as well as the “In Utero” tapes.
Others claimed that they were previously unaware of the losses and that Universal Music Group (UMG) had not notified them.
In a statement provided to Pitchfork, a representative for Hole claimed the band was never made aware of their tapes being destroyed. The band was “not aware until this morning,” they stated.
“This might explain why nobody can find the original Asia album masters,” wrote keyboardist Geoff Downes. “Very sad, and UMG have kept it quiet for more than 10 years.”
According to Variety, Irving Azoff, the manager of Steely Dan, also issued a statement.
“We have been aware of ‘missing’ original Steely Dan tapes for a long time now,” he wrote.
“We’ve never been given a plausible explanation,” he added. “Maybe they burned up in the big fire. In any case, it’s certainly a lost treasure.”
“Pretty crazy,” added Tom Dumont, guitarist and keyboardist of No Doubt.
Questlove, of the Roots, shared a link to the NYT article on Twitter and wrote: “For everyone asking why Do You Want More and Illdelph Halflife won’t get reissue treatment…”
The 48-year-old revealed that before finding out about the additional damages caused by the fire, he had planned to release some of the songs that never made it to the Roots’ second studio album, Do You Want More?!!!??!
“ been dying to find all the old reels and mix the 8 or 9 songs that never made DYWM,” he wrote. “My plan for both DYWM and IH was to release all the songs and instrumental/acapella mixes on 45.”
“It’s sad to lose a piece of my life,” he added, “but we still have the final masters — as in how it was released in 95/96 are still there. This also explains why we can’t find the original #WhatTheyDo subtitle video for YouTube,” he concluded.
UMG provided a statement to Global News, writing: “The incident — while deeply unfortunate — never affected the availability of the commercially released music nor impacted artists’ compensation.”
Furthermore, they claimed that the NYT investigation “contains numerous inaccuracies, misleading statements, contradictions and fundamental misunderstandings of the scope of the incident and affected assets.”
Their representative added that the article “conveniently ignores the tens of thousands of back catalog recordings that already issued in recent years.”
“UMG invests more in music preservation and development of hi-resolution audio products than anyone else in music,” they concluded.
You can read the full New York Times piece here.
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