In the early 1980s Moby was in a hardcore punk band called the Vatican Commandos, which released an EP called Hit Squad for God. He became a house disc jockey at The Beat and Media Bender’s Instant Gallery in Port Chester, New York from 1985. He graduated from SUNY Purchase with a degree in sociology, and in 1989 signed a recording contract with Instinct Records. During this time, Moby lived in an established artist loft community in Stamford, Connecticut.
He first avoided electronic music as a form of rebellion, believing that to punk rockers, trappings like drum machines, synthesizers, and dance beats, were still tainted by the “disco sucks” stigma of the 1970s. “Ninety percent of me just loved the music,” he later said. “But then the fact that I could also piss people off with it, that was satisfying, too.”
His first success was “Go”, a progressive track using the string line from “Laura Palmer’s Theme” from the TV drama Twin Peaks and the shout of “Go!” from the Tones on Tail single of the same name. It reached the UK top ten in October 1991, earned him an appearance on Top of the Pops, and features on his first album, The Story So Far (aka Moby).
In 1991, he also remixed the song “Chorus” from the band Erasure. His remix (named “Vegan Mix”) is featured on the limited 12″ and limited CD maxi-single of Erasure’s Am I Right? single” In 1993 he toured with The Prodigy, Orbital, and Aphex Twin.
He released his first album, Everything Is Wrong, on Mute Records in 1995. Early copies (in the UK at least) came with a Special Bonus CD called Underwater. This was a 43 minute 5-track instrumental ambient CD of “underwater” music. Everything Is Wrong earned early critical praise and minor commercial success. (It was distributed in the USA by Elektra Records.) He followed this up in early 1996 with the double album Everything Is Wrong – Mixed and Remixed.
Soon after, his original record company, Instinct, released the B-sides album Rare: The Collected B-Sides 1989-1993. One song on this album, “Thousand,” earned him a world record for fastest song, so named as it purported to increase in speed up to 1,000 beats per minute. Later in 1996 he released a hard rock/electronic album called Animal Rights and toured Europe with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Moby usually writes all his own music, occasionally with collaborators, but Animal Rights included a cover version of Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver.”
In 1997, he released I Like to Score, a collection of his music that had been used in movies. Among those tracks was an updated version of the “James Bond Theme” used for the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.
Animal Rights and I Like to Score were commercially unsuccessful, and Elektra declined distribution of future Moby releases.
Moby’s breakthrough album was 1999’s Play. It was the first album in history to have all of its tracks commercially licensed (see ‘Moby’s songs used in other media’ below). The album’s tracks were eventually accepted in various radio formats, but because of Play’s extensive licensing, the album could have been financially successful even without radio play. In a 2005 posting on his website, Moby theorized that his eagerness to license his music is a result of “growing up in poverty”.
He followed this in 2002 with 18, an album that had 18 tracks. The most popular song on the album was “We Are All Made of Stars”.
Both Play and 18 included many samples from a Library of Congress record folio of Alan Lomax recordings from 1943 that Moby borrowed from a friend, Marc Latzky of The Harry Jingles Band. On CNN, Moby said “I wish I had stories about me getting them myself, hanging out in prisons and farms in Georgia, Atlanta or Alabama, or whatever. But no, I just went around the corner to my old record store and bought the reissues.” He actually digitally sampled the original pressings, however.
He founded the Area:One Festival in 2001, a popular touring rock festival that featured an eclectic range of musical genres. A second tour was organized for the following year, during which he also had a brief television show on MTV, Señor Moby’s House of Music, which focused mostly on more obscure electronic music.
In 2001, Moby also earned the ire of rapper Eminem after calling his music misogynist and homophobic; Eminem later satirized Moby (among others) in “Without Me”, calling him a “36-year-old baldheaded fag” and questioning his relevance, and declaring “Nobody listens to techno!” The two got into a confrontation at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.
In the next few years, Moby co-wrote “Is It Any Wonder” with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, produced “Early Mornin’” for Britney Spears, and collaborated with Public Enemy on “Make Love, Fuck War”, which was released prior to the 2004 presidential election.
In 2005 Moby released Hotel. Instead of his usual usage of samples, all of the vocals and instruments were performed live in the studio, by Moby and vocalist Laura Dawn, the Cultural Director of MoveOn.org.
Moby continued to work on other projects apart from his albums. He scored the 2005 documentary Earthlings, and made the remix compilation The BioShock EP with Oscar The Punk for the video game BioShock. He also appeared alongside Richard Barone at the T.Rex tribute concert in Central Park on September 29, 2006.
He accepted an offer to score the soundtrack for Richard Kelly’s 2007 movie Southland Tales because he was a fan of Kelly’s previous film, Donnie Darko. He produced and played on a new version of The Bongos’ “The Bulrushes” for a 2007 re-release of their Drums Along The Hudson album. In May 2007, Moby created a website called mobygratis.com, a site from which independent and non-profit filmmakers can download his music for free to use in their productions. There are about 70 Moby tracks available for use (many previously unreleased).
A compilation album of his greatest hits, entitled Go: The Very Best of Moby was released on November 6, 2006, which included a new track, “New York, New York” for which Debbie Harry provided vocals. Different versions of this album have his single “Slipping Away” in different languages and with different co-singers, including Mylène Farmer.
On October 4, 2007, moby.com announced the name of his seventh album. Last Night was released on April 1, 2008 in the USA and is due for release on May 12, 2008 in the UK. The lead single from the album is the song “Alice”.
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