The existence of net labels is a wonderful example of globalisation being put to good use. Tens of thousands of people running their own labels for zero profit would have seemed like a ridiculous prospect for the hundreds of label owners before the turn of the millennium. Now that the netaudio scene is in full flow, it is exciting to imagine how advances in web design will change the way we browse netlabel websites in the coming years.
I recently stumbled across Bypass net label, which has thrown a vicious curve-ball when considering the ways in which netlabel content is presented to the viewer. The site does not present you with a big list of mp3s, social music widgets, and a sensible menu bar. Instead, it is an emulation of a Unix-like application which runs in your browser. To display a list of releases, you type ‘list’ at the command line. To get more information about a release, you enter its catalogue number. From here, you can use the ‘play’ and ‘get’ commands with appropriate arguments to stream or download tracks from the chosen release.
This is, of course, completely bonkers. The primary goal for web developers is to present information in the most readable, functional, and stylish way possible. A large percentage of casual internet users would not have a clue what was going on after reaching the homepage. Although its lack of readability and usability is quite severe, I personally think it is a fantastic idea. The brittle interaction required by the user is forcing them to engage with the site in a more intense way. They must read instructions carefully. They must play a major part in their own experience. They must make a decision to play just one track, or bundle tracks into a playlist, but using a very basic interface. I think this heavily user-dependant quality gives the music on the label a bit of extra value. What do you think, is this netlabelism gone too far? Or is this an inspiring example of diversifying the netlabel experience?
The favourite release I played (whilst thoroughly enjoying the audio player!) was Syndrôm’s. Melodic, glitchy, beat-driven, sample-laiden electronica, which is always a winner in my book. It is 20 tracks long and took the artist around a year to complete. There is a lot of Luke Vibert shining through here; quirky use of sampling, dusty beats, uplifting melodics, and witty genre-hopping. If you are not surprised by the mashed jungle explosion in ‘La Vallée Noire’, then you either have no soul, or you need to turn it up. Likewise, the hiphop MCing at the end of the track is delightfully unexpected.
Like a lot of longer albums, the overall consistency of quality is low. The energy is constant, and each track seems to bounce off each subsequent track, but some tracks are significantly stronger than others (for example, ‘Oppression’ just doesn’t quite exhibit the same delicacy and care as found with other tracks). The production is good, but some sounds can be a little bland and raw (like the main hook on “Dala Dala”). However these ‘stick-out’ sounds are so few in number, and bound by such short passages of ever-changing content, this does not become too much of an issue. This music is certainly not ‘current’ by any means, and many of the techniques heard are borrowed from the last 20 years of sample-based triphop (on labels like Ninja Tune). However, although it has all been done before, there is a certain individuality to this music which left me strangely satisfied.
So, all in all, a great release, on an innovative netlabel. It is sad for me to inform you that this label has bitten the dust, and will not be releasing any more material. But with the website only taking up a minuscule amount of server space, and all the content streaming from archive.org, this delightful website is bound to linger in cyberspace for a fair ‘ol while.
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