Wow, Summertime is all about striped sweatbands and goggles (never underestimate the versatility of goggles). Grab your dirtbike, strap on chunky kneepads, and outfit your head with a reflective helmet. Rubber tires melt on asphalt as bananna [sic] seats bounce to the ghetto blasted beat. Through backstreet paths we wind while sipping Slurpees. The path is clear and the Rec Center is hoppin.‘ We’ll all breakdance on linoleum mats, sip chlorinated swimming pool cocktails, and rewire Frogger machines for high scores . . . . . . . .
At Berlin‘s Siegessaule on a jet-lagged summer day. Hot asses in red satin running shorts cut off at the cheek. Sixteen-wheel sound trucks loaded with drag dancers, DJs, models and nobodies. Some girl kisses me, some boys piss on trees. There’s one million of each of them. Berlin eases and pulses into a jet-lagged summer night that doesn‘t end until 6 a.m. . . .
Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Rainwater floods a subway stop two feet deep. Nightclubs are located on fifth floors — in malls, above food courts. Intersections then citizens then billboards then jumbotrons. Two kids in stretched-out T-shirts sit cross-legged on a street corner, busking for change and thumping out melodies on a portable turntable, a 12“ synth, and a sampler of infinitesimal size and inordinate complexity, their patch cords adrift on asphalt, tin and red brick.
In a small club on Elba, land of Napoleon‘s exile, Etruscan noses nod to the strains of a song regaling Coca-Cola.
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We live in a world where Berlin’s annual Love Parade grabs control of the streets with cheesy techno, filling the city‘s central park and closing off major transit arteries in the name of good vibes. Japanese techno-buskers compete with 10-story neon amusement parlors. On a small Italian island, a bar band sings soft-drink advertisements and cover tunes in an English no one there seems to understand.
Where all has Mark ”Frosty“ McNeill been in his 23 years?
”Frosty is the love child of Aquaman and She-Ra,“ reads McNeill’s bio at Dublab.com, the Los Angeles–based Internet radio station he founded with 28-year-old Jon Buck. ”He has lived all over the United States, Europe and throughout several underwater forests. Frosty enjoys trying to warm up cans of split-pea soup in his underarms. For years he smoked an elegant pipe, wore a face-concealing ski mask . . . Frosty spent the last 84 years in a paper-clip hut tied to Rubic‘s Cubes and string beans until he was rescued in a joint mission by dublab and the A-Team.“
An Air Force kid who estimates that he made at least nine different moves around the U.S. and the globe before landing in Orange County, McNeill and his language inform much of Dublab.com, a site dedicated to POSITIVE MUSIC DRIVEN LIFESTYLE. McNeill’s rap is a patois of vintage consumer brands revived as hipster totems and personal passions, stream-of-consciousness dreamy talk and light, feel-good chattiness. And despite the mellow tone, the untrammeled joy, the embrace of the market‘s detritus, none of it seems like faux optimistic bullshit.
The oft-stated claim (among music critics, at least) that rock & roll is dead may just be true: Its sangfroid, its bathos, its rotted drama, realism, hippie dip and pathetic chic are no longer at the vanguard of culture. What remains on the fringe is what Dublab.com stands for: a beat-based music culture that dips equally into all genres while residing in none, a polyglot pop mixing world music, rhythm & blues, dub reggae, hip-hop, jazz, experimental electronics and, yes, even a little bit country, a little bit rock & roll. Its list of guest performers and DJs already includes an impressive number of the latest in 20th century music’s miscegenated offspring: L.A.‘s Cut Chemist, Brazil’s Amon Tobin, the Netherlands‘ Solex, Germany’s Mouse on Mars, Detroit‘s Juan Atkins, Japan’s Nobukazu Takemura, England‘s Smith and Mighty.
”The most important thing for me is, we’re L.A.-based,“ says McNeill. ”What we really know is L.A., and what we‘ve tried to do is say, okay, when you tune into Dublab you’re getting a snapshot of L.A.“ His is a deceptive localism, though. ”But our reach is beyond L.A., it‘s the world. Dublab started out as one station, but hopefully it’ll grow into satellite stations. If we can do a radio station in Tokyo, and we can find some kids who really know about music in Tokyo, then they‘re going to represent Tokyo. If we can find some kids in Sao Paulo who know the music down there, then we’ll start a studio there. We‘ll start a studio in New York. We’ll start a studio in Berlin.“
Buck, the businessman in this partnership, is more succinct: ”I want to create the first global name in radio.“
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As crappy as people claim Internet-distributed sound is, the implications of music distributed via the Web or heavily compressed MP3 files are fascinating and endless. (Complainers, keep in mind that in the 1910s and ‘20s, 78-rpm phonograph records didn’t sound so hot either.) Questions: What will the effect of frictionless distribution be for a music industry that has marketed and distributed its product more like dish soap or breakfast cereal than cultural artifacts? Will file-sharing applications like Napster force a massive rewrite of copyright law by rendering current concepts of intellectual property moot? How cool would it be if, by stealing their music, we could make overly packaged and mass-marketed pop stars a less viable economic proposition than smaller-scale, more organically developed musicians?
But lost in the controversy and the publicity over Napster, MyMP3.com and various other Internet music ventures attempting to cash in on the vogue for MP3s are the tens of thousands of music sites on the Web most computer-equipped Americans can actually use without interminable download headaches. Foremost is streaming audio, be it through RealPlayer or the competing Windows Media format. Adopted by over 40 percent of Web users, streaming allows those with even the diciest of Net connections to hear music in real time. It has been widely adopted by commercial sites such as Amazon.com as well as by Web broadcasters (Internet radio, for lack of a newer, better term).
Started in September 1999, Dublab is among the most conceptually interesting Web stations, not least because of its paradoxically eclectic narrowcasting. Where much larger entities like AOL‘s Spinner.com or Viacom’s Radio.Son icnet.com offer near infinite choice, their most appealing features are also their most unfortunate — with endless a choice and customization of what you‘re listening to (dozens of channels including Top Country vs. Alt. Country vs. Classic Country; Quality Rock vs. Classic Rock vs. Modern Rock), you too will select your way into a cul-de-sac.
”We’ll be going from very, very few choices to almost infinite choices,“ explains Buck. ”And that‘s going to raise a lot of issues as far as how people choose what they want to listen to or how they can digest all this information. Dividing it up into these micro-categories like Smooth Easy Country Jazz is one of the first steps toward getting there. But I know I’ll go to see the Sugarhill Gang on the Santa Monica Pier, and then I‘ll go to a Phish concert the next night. I believe that true music lovers listen to all types of different music or can at least appreciate them.“
”Dublab is positive music that spans all times and genres,“ says McNeill. ”On my show you’re going to hear Belle & Sebastian followed by Miles Davis followed by 4Hero followed by Gang Starr followed by Burning Spear. What I‘ve related it all to is new roots music — it might be from totally different eras, but it still has connections. Our goal is to educate listeners while pushing them forward into new music that’s just bubbling up.“
With 40 DJs in the lineup, five of whom are residents with daily shows, Dublab offers as much as 100 hours per week of seamless, beat-matched mixes that, while on the surface are aggressively heterodox, in execution often make perfect sense, sonically and historically, pointing out the way genre has blurred to the extreme. Dublab has a robust lineup for what is essentially a radio station being bankrolled, so far, by Buck‘s parents. Right now the station is looking for sponsors, but only ones that might appeal to its listeners’ tastes: MacIntosh, Adidas, Sony Playstation. McNeill explains, ”We‘re not going to say, ’Okay, let‘s have Chevron sponsor us, they’ve got millions of dollars,‘ because, you know, fuck Chevron.“
Buck complains that they’ve had a hard time with venture capitalists in part because Dublab isn‘t looking for enough money; its operating budget is more along the lines of $200,000 a year, rather than the millions of up-in-smoke capital that has, oddly, been taken as a forecast for success among new economy pundits. Yet Dublab’s audience, built up entirely by word of mouth, could place it in the thick of Arbitron‘s new Internet-radio ratings.
”Honestly, it’s easier than people think,“ says McNeill. ”I think too many Web sites have fallen into this idea that you need to have a ton of money, you need to spend a lot of money, and you need to have a lot of employees to be worthwhile, and that‘s bullshit. These companies have no proven product yet are spending millions of dollars each month and have 70 people working for them. We might be only six people, but this is what we want to do.
“We put in a lot of time. We’re here all the time, and we know what we‘re doing.”