It’s one of the grand old clichés of the ageing process, and one that usually kicks in during the late twenties or thereabouts: the shocking realisation that ‘kids today’ just don’t have a clue about how things used to be. All the things one took for granted as cultural touchstones – devices, social conventions, specific Saturday morning cartoons and their wallet-crippling range of toys – are as alien to a new generation as civil war artefacts, black and white cinema, and a functioning economy (how many generations before we see one of those again?).
What can we call this term? ‘Nostalgia’ doesn’t seem right. ‘Generation Gap’ is hopelessly overused. For the purpose of this feature – and, hey, because it never hurts to try and force a new word into the lexicon – let’s call it ‘Wipeout’. Just as its likely that no-one will know you existed in 200 years (depressing thought of the day right there), no-one but the hardiest of future historians will know what a CD player is. It’s gone. Snatched from the public consciousness. Wiped out.
Like all reputable first-world neuroses, Wipeout has spread several memes over the internet. Facebook feeds are all too often cluttered with ‘you know you’re an 80s baby when …’ cut-and-paste updates. Imageboards thrive on clever depictions of Wipeout – such as the challenge to explain the link between a pencil and a cassette tape, something which would only be screamingly obvious to those who grew up having to spool faulty tapes back by hand. Some websites even use Wipeout as a novel approach to an age barrier – asking prospective readers if they know what a VHS tape is. If they do, then they’re old enough to gain entry.
There’s possibly an entire book to be written on the everyday items and routines from the last fifty years – both important and trivial – that have blinked out of existence in 2012. But we’re only going to look at one. It’s less of an item than a concept – but one which has shaped the taste of almost any music fan who came of age in the era of vinyl, cassette or CD.
Whatever happened to curation?
Curation (noun): the act of organising or maintaining a collection of artworks or artefacts. (transitive) To act as a curator for; to apply selectivity and taste to.
That’s the dictionary definition. But let’s put the notion in more romantic terms. Curation by way of music … it used to be lot of things. It was a recommendation from a friend, a mixtape from a wannabe lover, a song half-heard on late night radio or glimpsed on small hours MTV (y’know, back when MTV actually showed music videos), an inky recommendation from the NME (y’know, back when the NME actually cared about music rather than fashion) and so on and so on.
Until roughly the turn of the millennium, all of this was dictated by music being a physical format – and the rules were simple. You heard something you liked, you went down to your local Tower Records or Virgin Megastore and handed over 15 dollars for a CD. Getting hold of new music used to feel like an event – and, like all events, it required a fair degree of planning. Choices had to be made. Acres of music were simply not available at the touch of a button – the customer paid over the odds for their twelve song collection, and if they didn’t like it, tough.
This goes some way to explaining why curation used to feel necessary. A review from a trusted journalist or hot tip from a muso friend could mean the difference between a wasted purchase or not. And once that CD was taken home and slotted onto the shelves? There followed one of the other joys of old-school curation: taking a step back and breathing in that collection, that assimilated lifetime of musical taste stacked side by side in jewel cases and box sets.
It all used to be about three main factors:
a) the influence of a cultural elite and their recommendations,
b) the trip to the store and purchase of a tangible object, and
c) the fact that there was no other alternative. Both the record companies and the tastemakers had everything locked down. The curators and the providers had their little system, and it suited them just fine, thank you very much.
Then: something happened.
Its kind of entry level to pinpoint the genesis of the present digital landscape on Napster – but that doesn’t stop the claim from being correct. Talk of a brave new world of MP3 dominance had been floating around for a good few years, but it was only with the emergence of Shaun Fanning’s pioneering P2P firebrand in 1999 that things really kicked into gear.
Suddenly – even taking into account the bandwidth limitations of the time – a whole new world had opened up. Whatever your musical taste, literally anything was available at any time, and now the risk-taking approach of yesteryear (you took the curator’s advice on what was good, and hoped you’d agree with them), these shifting MP3 data packets came with the best try-before-you-buy offer in history: you didn’t have to buy in the first place. Wanted to check out this new rapper called Eminem; see if he was your kind of thing? You could. And you didn’t have to drop a penny.
We all know the rest of the Napster story: the lawsuits, the infamy, the not-so-successful later attempt at legitimacy. The material is so well-trodden that its easy to forget Napster’s legacy – the blossoming of modern musical access, the huge hard-drive collections that began over this period, the legions of MP3 blogs headed up by wannabe tastemakers around the globe. That last point in particular is a notable one …
… because something else had happened.
Not only were infinite gigabytes of music now a click and a heartbeat away, but the number of people writing, talking and blogging about music began to escalate too. In fact, scratch escalation: it exploded, the white noise of a million new voices. Curation and criticism was no longer the province of a select few – anyone could have a go. Exciting at first, and certainly more democratic – but time is precious, after all. No-one can take on board every recommendation, read every review, check out every new artist whose buzz is filling up the self-published inches.
In short: where do we get our advice from now? Who do we listen to in 2012?
Music fans are by and large an opened-minded bunch, and (try-hard hipsters notwithstanding) as such are prone to rallying against elitism. While admirable, this does sadly deny a basic truth: that some people know what the hell they are talking about, and some don’t. Everyone has the right to share their musical opinion … but to pretend that they are all of equal importance is delusional.
Think of it this way. Who would you rather listen to: your friend with the endless collection of rare Dragons cuts and Afghan Whigs b-sides, or your friend’s mom who buys two CDs from Wal-Mart each year? A top-notch critic like Robert Christgau or Anthony Decurtis, or a fifteen-year-old in Milwaukee cut-and-pasting their school paper album review to their Tumblr? Both have a fair degree of validity … but let’s be honest here. You want to speak to the experts.
Finding those experts – now that’s the difficult part. In the space of two decades, a handful of music curators has become a hiveful, all buzzing loudly for your attention. Great for egalitarianism, not so great when you don’t know who to trust.
What if you could marry the best of both worlds? What if you could take the exciting tech opportunities of the digital age and merge it with an old-school sense of curation … letting a reliable voice sort the musical wheat from the chaff and merrily beam the results your way?
This is where BAMM.tv comes in.
We’re not going to blow our own trumpet (well, not too much). To be honest, we don’t have to – click around some of the great artists featured in our library and it’s fairly obvious that we’ve got the whole ‘taste in music’ thing locked down. In the bluntest possible sense, we love music … and we also love sharing that music. Think of us as the older brother who introduced you to his record collection, or the cool guy/girl you hooked up with at college who opened your eyes to a whole new artist or genre … only filtered through a modern prism of digital opportunity, tech-savvy excitement and innovative development.
”There are a lot of tastemakers out there for various genres and sub-cultures, and that’s great,” explains BAMM.tv CEO Chris Hansen. “But if you walk into a store and see shelf after shelf of plain brown packaging where everything looks the same, it’s hard to know what you’re looking for, much less what you might like. Curation is what you say “yes” to, and I really do think of that in the sense of an art gallery or museum. If you’re going to hang a bunch of paintings on your wall, you have to really be committed to that artist and believe in the work so much that you will invite people to come take a look.”
Committed to artists? That’s us. And we’re also committed to sharing our knowledge and tastes with you. We hold no qualms in saying: here at BAMM.tv, we know what the hell we’re talking about when it comes to music. We’re throwing on our curator’s outfits and we’re opening the doors.
The line starts here.