Newsflash. Bob Dylan, Smokey Robinson and Paul McCartney were attacked last night when an armed robber broke into their private cottage on the remote Scottish island of Beverly Hills. Local onlookers described the attack as a brutal crime against pop. A Casio SK 1 is helping the police with their inquiries.

In an era of new technology, light fingers and steal guitars, the old categories have virtually collapsed. No more talk of rock or soul, the best songs are stolen moments and the best groups are a bunch of thieves

Hip-hop is the cutting edge of pop theft. Having emerged in the 70s as a rap excursion played out against a series of stolen Ďbreaksí from old funk records, it has splintered over the last few years into a riotous assembly of wit, imagination and wholesale robbery. Metal guitars, disco machinery, synthetic sounds and disco breaks have clashed together in a new disruptive order that has finally displaced the shattered faith of punk. No more new waves: the boat is rocking and the crews canít stop.

As musical technology becomes increasingly more sophisticated and sampling becomes the normal process of making pop, theft is not only illegal, itís compulsory. We have entered the era of Fairlight robbery and the old image of the songwriter as a unique creative figure has fallen into romantic disrepute. Everyone steals, to do otherwise would be medieval. Why spend a lifetime learning how to scream like James Brown when you can rip him off?

In the 60s ripping off the riffs of R&B was an amoral crime. Pop tolerated full-scale exploitation as black American music systematically pillaged by white performers. Modern theft is democratic, a two-way process in a desegregated dance-hall: hip-hop steals from heavy metal, house music steals from Europop and British indie bands steal from their own latter day heroes. Trouble Funk steal from Kraftwerk, JM Silk steal from Depeche Mode, and the Age of Chance steal from everyone. Unlike punk, which kicked against the statues of decadent rock, hip-hop, house and sonic theft have waged war on the laws of property.

Over the next five pages, The Housemartins, Mantronix and the Three Wise Men will be charged with conspiracy to rob, copyright will be thrown into crisis, synthesisers will turn super-grass and the best tunes will fall from the back of a lorry.

Steal it.

Stuart Cosgrove