Music is all about that fabled "next big thing"—can you get the contracts signed, the album recorded, the video shot and the product on the shelves just in time for people to realize they want it? Because timing is everything: The earliest bird doesn't get the worm—he toils in semi-obscurity until the mix of pressure from within and apathy from without squash him (if he doesn't simply get dropped by the label first).

Sure, there are compensations for being ahead of your time. There's the old line about how only 200 people bought the Velvet Underground's first album, but every one of them started a band. There's the satisfaction of resting on the laurels of one's influence, being lauded as a grand old musical statesman, counting the royalties rolling in from the reissues and hearing all the new kids telling Rolling Stone how your records are what made them start that platinum-selling band in the first place....

Yeah, right. For whatever reasons, most bands that are the first to create a new sound or style don't get any credit at all. People may not remember just who gave them the idea to pick up that guitar or keyborad; maybe they don't know exactly where the idea for that effect on the chorus came from. Maybe Kurt Cobain didn't want to admit he dug Killing Joke because then everyone would realize that the bassline from "Come As You Are" is a unquestionable rip-off from the one in "Eighties." Artists don't like to admit to what they didn't come up with themselves—or maybe it was all so long ago that they don't realize they cribbed it at all.

Still, I'd like to do my little part to rectify these injustices by telling you the tales of five bands—Big Black, Curve, Husker Du, Cabaret Voltaire and Urban Dance Squad—who made it to the future a little too quickly. What Nine Inch Nails, Garbage, Foo Fighters, DJ Spooky and Rage Against the Machine—to name a few—are doing now, they were doing a decade or so ago, and better.

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