Long Live the File-Sharers

As the recent loss of OiNK sits heavy in our hearts, I’d like to take some time out to think about the other file-sharing applications that have come before us and made the world a better place. Not the cold and utilitarian Napsters or the sleazy-yet-reliable LimeWires that spit out giant lists of porn and pop songs, but the warm and friendly community-based ones that are filling in the gaps for what the record companies refuse or fail to do. They’re not there to pirate Britney Spears albums, they’re there to enlighten others about obscure musical oddities that you never even knew existed. I dare say they are largely responsible for the current renaissance in music historicism that has spread to mp3 blogs.

First and foremost, OiNK was a music-nerd haven. Esoteric sounds, most of them in high-bitrate FLAC files for the best in music snobbery. Too bad I can’t figure out how to play a FLAC file. Still, you could read the comments and realize they were on to something when they said T. Rex was better before he went glam. For them it was the logical conclusion, that to get the pre-glam, out-of-print stuff in a respectable quality, this is what you resort to. Like Crime and Punishment, but with the intent of realizing the Devendra Banhart-like medieval folk lyricism of Marc Bolan as the equivalent of murdering the pawnbroker. Except that they just copied some files. Big whoop.

» Listen to “Conesuela” by T. Rex

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It was Audiogalaxy that first introduced me to huge swaths of groups that I had no idea existed. If you weren’t feverishly collecting seven-inches in the ’80s, how would you ever find out about bands like the Desperate Bicycles? How long do you think it will take before they even appear on iTunes? Audiogalaxy must have been built by music nerds, because they had it fine-tuned to a better algorithm than any computer could provide. You’d look up a band you knew, and next to it they would serve up five others that were unheard of—and better. It was there that I found out about Simply Saucer: a gritty psychedelic band on speed singing about a future led by Nazi cyborgs. Not exactly a "Canadian Velvet Underground" as they’re usually called, but more like a filthy Devo mixed with Gang Green.

» Listen to “Electro Rock” by Simply Saucer

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Direct Connect wasn’t so much a large community, but a local chapter of the file-sharing fan club. You had to know the people sharing your hub—and trust them—or they’d drain your bandwidth. Once you got past the Cold War paranoia, you could establish a good family hub and realize that people you already knew actually had interesting things to listen to. And you could realize there was a side of them that appreciated some solemn Jack Rose guitar fingerpicking in between the unlistenable avant-garde drone compositions. They may talk about it in terms of Eastern spirituality by way of Appalachia, but it’s possible to drink a beer to it at the same time.

» Listen to “Kensington Blues” by Jack Rose

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There was also the golden era of Soulseek, where you could find good pockets of eclecticism here and there. Kazaa had a good, short run before it became smothered with advertising. And there are a few other BitTorrent sites that have managed to keep a low profile. I’m sure there are miscellaneous tape-traders, mp3 trees, and Usenet groups devoted to some unknown corner of sound whose members haven’t changed in 10 years (alt.sounds.electric-piccolo). Knowing there’s so much devotion to “illegal” music, it makes me wonder why music journalists devote think-pieces to the overproduced, compressed dreck that has caused the slow death of radio. They can’t very well plead ignorance to what else is out there. Bands like No Age are well-known and singing fucked up and photocopied Built to Spill post-protopunk to the widespread knowledge of many. Why not give them some more ink?

» Listen to “Get Hurt” by No Age

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