Excess For All
by Micz Flor | UNESCO Courier magazine | July 2000
Download PDF of UNESCO Courier magazine, July 2000, p.55
Today, youth culture and technology appear inseparable. Since the 80s have successfully managed to digitise almost any content format, operating those formats was understood to be the key in producing content. And since Youth has always been perceived as prone to dealing with new technologies, it has transformed itself into a global network of small initiatives, producers and micro-businesses. Throughout the 90s, the rapid spread of the Internet has fuelled this development and delivered a tool to connect those initiatives globally. Illuminating the twilight myth of the young Internet culture, three strands stand out dealing with music, power, and collaborative structures.
Killing the Music Industry
Living without law and order. The Internet has provided a playground for young rebels to hit the music industry where it hurts: stealing their intellectual property. Breaching copyright laws has long been seen as good conduct. Back in the 70s, Punk labels used slogans on their products such as “Home taping is killing the music industry, keep up the good work”1. However, the threat to established publishing houses has always been limited, as pirating on ordinary tapes made distribution extremely complicated. Throughout the 70s and 80s some independent mail ordering systems established themselves, creating a network amongst pirate radio stations. But on the bigger scale, this level of Home Taping did not hurt anyone. But following this tradition, fighting for the rights of tapers in the digital age, the Home Recording Rights Coalition (HRRC) still pulls out the ancient ace in the hole - the Greatful Dead - quoting on their website: “A friend of a taper is a friend of mine.”2
Today, young, subversive elements have the Internet at their fingertips, and the cultural industries on their knees. The heavily debated audio format MP3 allows to compress audio CDs in small files which can be made accessible on the Internet. Simply: click, download and listen. All they need is a modem, a phone line and a mediocre machine. Surely, having access to exactly the same distribution channels that the multi-nationals have, dissolves established power structures. And without any financial pressure, no additional costs other than the phone bill (mostly paid for by their parents), young enthusiasm combined with a complete lack of respect for legislative regulations opens the flood gates for piracy.
Of course, ‘young people on the Internet’ is not all about stealing intellectual property. In fact, the real opportunity lies in becoming part of a global cultural exchange - without depending on anything the old-fashioned music industry has to offer. Cultural producers on-line have learned from the way the Internet was built, and today offer their products in the same fashion. Instead of producing and selling products, alternative models of work are being established. An originally anarcho-communist concept - the gift economy - works sufficiently amongst those who produce free content on the web. The philosophy is simple: trade what you have, and who needs money anyway? Pilot FM, a Vienna based MP3 label, which has grown out of the vivid crossover between independent Internet Service Providers and electronic sound artists states on its website: “Though we won’t charge you for the downloads we are thankful for donations of any kind such as hardware, software, traveller cheques, canned tomato soup, instant coffee our any other device, which you think makes live more pleasurable.”3
Another lesson learned from the Internet is Open Source development, which has lead to many reliable and essential applications used on the Internet. In a nutshell: any product developed can only benefit from as many beta-testers and developers it can get. This is definately true for software, as the complexity becomes easily unmanageable for any individual.
In the cultural field, this translates to: give away the building blocks and ideas you have. See what others make of it and eventually it will help your development. Sample banks and MIDI archives are available all over the Internet. Generating work from it, sharing it, giving it away for free and benefiting from other peoples ideas is common practice. Copyright move over. One of many examples of such practice is the Budapest based DJ net.radio station Pararadio4, running a tight schedule of DJs and sound artists. Daniel Molnar, one of the spirits behind the project, explains: “By now we don’t even need to rely on produced sample discs, we have on-line sample stores and free archives. (…) If you feel real, join the new folkateers. Grow your own!”5
Instruments of Psychic Terrorism
Progress, economy and terror, you can’t keep them apart. Any invention not only seems to be probed of its economic but also destructive potential. The subversive powers of electronics have been laid out in plain text by William S Burroughs already in the late 60s and early 70s. Shortly after Burrouhgs’ death, Biba Kopf recalls in The Wire: “The Electronic Revolution, published in 1970, is a virtual samizdat text, but for musicians (…) it pointed the way to a new methodology.”6 And he continues to elaborate on the impact it had on early experimental electronica such as Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV. In all cases, the possibility of recording sound, re-mixing and playing it back in other contexts was seen as a powerful mean of disturbing the otherwise lubricated and friction-free procedures of consumerism and the de-politicised public sphere. In Berlin-Kreuzberg in the 80s, experiments would go as far as playing riot noises from amplifiers through apartment windows to get crowd and police going.
With the emergence of a digital equivalent to the public sphere, issues of civil disobedience and revolutionary spirit have shifted into the electronic networks. Hackers throughout the 80s took the symbolic role of the militant opposition. “Information wants to be free”, they claimed and managed to pull confidential files out in the open.7 Backed up with the theoretical work of think tanks, such as the Critical Art Ensemble, resistance increasingly became inseparable from digital technologies and the Internet8.
A contemporary example of subsuming resistance, youth culture and the Internet can be seen in the streets of Vienna since the new right-wing government has been put into power. The new government is trying hard to come to terms with the unexpected and well organised resistance in the streets. As the Internet with its decentralised and lateral potential plays a crucial role in the mobilisation9, Wolfgang Schüssel - current chancelor - went as far as to label the resistance the “Internet generation”. One of the many initiatives - Volkstanz - who are organising weekly street parades with live DJs through the capital, are toying with the helpless attempts of the government when stating on their website: “All insults are welcome: we are the hedonistic Internet-generation, the dance floor wing of the resistance movement. We claim back the streets, we want to fight through the medium of political street parties the territorialisation of youth culture.”10
Another example of utilising the Internet to transport subversive youth culture has always been Belgrade based radio B 2-92 (former B92), who state on their JukeBox: “By playing music with a subtle but unmistakable political and social message, Radio B92 confronted the aesthetic that had been imposed on the ‘silent majority’ that was unable to carry out the development of liberal attitudes in the country during the disintegration of former Yugoslavia.”11 With their on-air frequency under continuous threat, Free B92 - the website - has become the meeting place and melting pot, reaching far beyond the national boundaries of the FRY.
In all cases, linking the virtual space with the streets seems essential. Radio initiatives have begun early on to link on-line and on-air broadcasting. London based irational.org is no exception. Besides the pirate radio handbook and support page12 they also feature the net.radio guide13 which has been developed by various net.radio producers across Europe. Here the clever youth can find technical details on how to connect on-line broadcasting with low power FM transmitters.
Marginally Successful and Successfully Marginal
Acting with and inside a network, leads to the development of new forms of collective work. Media collectives across Europe have spent the last years of the 20th century on establishing new modes of shared broadcasting and artistic work. The Berlin based - and recently deceased - collective convex tv. came to the conclusion: “There are a few simple reasons for doing things collectively: technologically and economically speaking the collective is the only space where you can be marginally successful and successfully marginal.”14 By stating so, the underlying parameters of cultural production on-line have been summarised; the net.radio avant-garde might have been the first to utilise new formats for audio broadcasting, however, such experiments went towards establishing new modes of collaboration, rather than reaching a bigger audience.
Such networked initiatives, as small and segregated as they seem, nevertheless have successfully travelled the electronic art scene over the past years and through collaborative structures and support managed to leap into contemporary art history already. Riga’s net.radio station Ozone15 founded an influential mailinglist - Xchange16 - in 1997, dealing with the development of an ‘acoustic space’, a concept which they later developed into a printed magazine. Technological possibilities and artistic expression are indistinguishable. As part of a workshop, Raitis Smits who is part of Radio Ozone explains the technique of co-streaming: “[An] interesting experience of co-streaming is creating the loop. Each broadcaster takes another’s live stream, re-encodes it and sends it further for next participant.”17
Such shared experiences would always include a number of people, sharing one acoustic space on-line. Nevertheless, individuals would be spread across Europe. It could be said that this would lead to a trans-local collaboration, which includes both: being far nearer than using a telephone and being much further apart than a phone call away. In 1998, convex tv. and mikro e.V.18 organised the net.radio days, a gathering of many European media collectives in Berlin. In their introduction they stated: “Even though some of these net.radio-projects have collaborated over the internet for quite some time, for many of them it is the first meeting in ‘real space’.”19
Such trans-national projects cast a new light on digital technologies, as they seem to generate a new mode of communication amongst young practitioners. Not only is there a need to work collectively within their own group, also the lateral exchange of knowledge, content and theory with similar initiatives is crucial to their work, Having left the old artistic concepts of community based work behind, entering a new digital environment: the collective is dead, long live the collective.
The Other Side of Open Access
Dealing with new technologies, the ‘access for all’ paradigm seems to be crucial in establishing the digital network as a source for democratic participation and free speech. Surely, the examples mentioned above also rely on the very basic assumption to have access to the Internet through a phone line and the technical know-how. Especially dealing with issues of culture and the Internet, this issue of access generates two problem zones. Firstly, assuming that the Internet allows marginal groups and peripheral interests to represent themselves, to make their voice heard, rarely the question is raised, about who is speaking on behalf of such groups.
Secondly, and in this context more interestingly, the idea of access for all is normally only been understood as a one way process, meaning everyone should have access to all information. Nevertheless, reading this paradigm in reverse, it constitutes that all information should be accessible to all. In the case of youth culture the danger at hand goes towards a more and more unified MTV youth style available in standardised formats on-line. So despite the little peculiar islands available in the global network, we might face yet another problem, not unknown in the Western world. The time following the French Revolution, the egalitarian approach towards citizens has lead to an absurd legislation, rendering almost all individuals technically illegal, as ‘being equal’ is something worthwhile aiming for in theory, however, practice is a different issue altogether. Not in terms of legislation, but simply through cultural assimilation, we might see a similar development happening to independent cultural producers on the Internet. Is this the price to pay? Substitute access with excess and play again!
- Ulrich Gutmair: “The Killer App” (2000); http://mi.cz/obl/
- Home Recording Rights Coalition (2000); http://www.hrrc.org/ : “This year, with the transition to DTV, digital recorders, and competitively provided equipment for receiving Cable and Satellite signals, the home recording issues are both more urgent and more complex than ever. (…) Consumers should be able to continue reasonable and customary home recording practices of programs received over digital cable and satellite systems.”
- Pilot FM (2000); http://pilot.fm
- Pararadio (1997-2000); http://www.pararadio.hu/
- Daniel Molnar: “Join The New Folkateers” in Crash Media Issue 1 (1998); http://www.yourserver.co.uk/crashmedia/utn/2.htm
- Biba Kopf: “Ghost of Chance” (1997) in The Wire Issue 164; see also: http://www.yourserver.co.uk/crashmedia/utn/10.htm
- For a detailed description of the myth surrounding Hackers, see: Bruce Sterling: “The Hacker Crackdown” (1993), Mass Market Paperback.
- For a in debth analysis of CAE’s concept of the civil disobedience in information networks, see: Critial Art Ensemble: “Electronic Civil Disbedience and other unpopular ideas” (1996), Autonomedia.
- For a extensive link list and theoretical content see: http://www.gettoattack.net
- Volkstanz.Net (2000); http://www.volkstanz.net
- FreeB92 JukeBox (2000); http://www.freeb92.net/music/english/index.html
- Irational Radio: “How to be a Radio Pirate” (2000); http://www.irational.org/sic/radio/ . Their mission statement reads: “To promote neighbourhood, political and open-access radio stations, to demystify the art of broadcast electronics”.
- Net.Radio Guide (1999); http://www.irational.org/radio/radio_guide/
- convex tv.: “Making Alias” (1999); http://www.art-bag.net/convextv/pro/alias.htm
- Radio Ozone, Riga; http://ozone.re-lab.net
- Xchange mailinglist; http://xchange.re-lab.net
- Raitis Smits: “X-Open Channel” (1999); http://xchange.re-lab.net/i/
- mikro e.V.; http://www.mikro.org
- net.radio days (1998); http://www.art-bag.net/trimmdich/