BowieNet: how David Bowie’s ISP foresaw the future of the internet

Within the summer of 1998, a strange press release made its way out to generation and song guides worldwide. David Bowie, the legendary musician and cultural provocateur, would be launching his very own internet service provider, offering subscription-primarily based dial-up…

Within the summer of 1998, a strange press release made its way out to generation and song guides worldwide. David Bowie, the legendary musician and cultural provocateur, would be launching his very own internet service provider, offering subscription-primarily based dial-up to get admission to the emerging online global. When masses of most important businesses were still suffering to realize the significance and impact of the internet, Bowie was there staking his declare. “If I was 19 again, I’d pass song and go proper to the net,” he said on time. He understood that a revolution was coming.


Bowie had always liked the interplay between pop song and era, but web usage explosion within the mid-1990s presented entirely new communication possibilities. In 1996, Bowie became the first, foremost artist to distribute a brand new music – Telling Lies – as an online-best release, promoting over 300,000 downloads. Using then, like many other tune artists, he had his personal website and became exploring interactive CD-ROM era – considerably through the 1994 launch of soar, a pc CD that let users create their personal video for the long jump, they say in addition to watching interviews with Bowie and tune videos from the Black Tie White Noise album. In 1997, he arranged a bold live ‘cybercast’ of his Earthling concert in Boston – even though the boundaries of net get right of entry to on-time meant that capability turned into fast reached, and most visitors obtained most effective stuttering pics and error messages My Latest News.

However, his actual pursuits were extra profound. Throughout 1997 and 1998, he labored with the internet and interactive entertainment pioneers Robert Goodale and Ron Roy to explore the deeper opportunities of the internet to attain enthusiasts and distribute track. On 1 September 1998, the result becomes the release of BowieNet, to begin within North the usa, however, later global – an ISP offering “uncensored” get admission to the internet attached to a devoted David Bowie website. Subscribers should browse an enormous archive of Bowie’s photographs, movies, and interviews, as well as a blog, career chronology, an information feed. The artist also promised further special tracks and webcasts, which include footage from the Earthling tour. Most enticingly for plenty fanatics, users additionally were given their own BowieNet e-mail deal with – a strange, exciting new manner to claim their affinity with the artist.
Greater importantly, though, Bowie conceived this service as a visible, interactive network for track fanatics. Through his Ultrastar company, he negotiated offers to provide customers get the right of entry to the tune offerings like the Rolling Stone community, which live-streamed concerts, and song street, one of the first organizations to provide paid-for downloadable music tracks. The ISP furnished every consumer with 5MB of web space, encouraging them to create and percentage their own web sites; there were also forums and stay chat sections wherein Bowie himself conducted live web chats. This changed into an impact a tune-centric social community several years earlier than the emergence of sector leaders like Friendster and Myspace. The website was also technologically bold. While most homepages were simple constructs of textual content and, nonetheless, images on a default grey historical past, BowieNet used emerging plug-ins like Flash and RealAudio to offer animating pix and downloadable song clips. Learners were told they’d want as a minimum a 28k, however ideally 56k modem connection – this was annoying at a time while the commercial WWW infrastructure was still in its infancy. Components of the front page of BowieNet remain available on the Internet Archive.
For Bowie, this ISP wasn’t only a new way of advertising his material to the hundreds. It changed into the realization of something he’d always understood about music: that the fan reaction completes the art. Throughout a Newsnight interview in December 1999, Bowie found himself evangelizing the internet’s impact to an ordinarily disbelieving Jeremy Paxman. “We’re at the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” he said. “The real context and the country of content are going to be so different to something we will envisage in the meanwhile – the interplay between the person and the company will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.


“Artists like Duchamp were so prescient here – the idea that the piece of labor is not finished until the audience comes to it and adds their personal interpretation, and what the piece of art is set is the gray area inside the middle. That gray area within the center is what the 21st century is going to be all approximately.”

He became envisioning something all of us take as a right now – that hyperlink between popstar, Twitter, Instagram, fanbase, and way of life; that frisson between the artist as an aloof author and the artist an energetic participant of their own community. He also understood the internet as an arts’ venue – if now not the humanities’ venue – of the coming era. In October 1999, BowieNet hosted a virtual top-rated of the Saatchi series’s groundbreaking exhibition, Sensation: younger British Artists, earlier than its arrival on the Brooklyn Museum. Inside the same 12 months, he experimented with pass-platform advertising, including a CD-ROM thing to a re-problem of them lets Dance album, promoting the BowieNet service – not unusual practice now, however rare again then.

The experimentation persisted through the past due Nineteen Nineties and 2000s. In 1999, he labored with French recreation developer Quantic Dream at the formidable adventure Omikron: The Nomad Soul, contributing a song to the soundtrack and making a look in the sport itself. In January 2000, he co-released his very own branded online bank, BowieBanc, which positioned his image on a credit score card and, naturally, presented clients a loose subscription to BowieNet. It changed into an arguable circulate on time, and shortlived. However, it was a touch at how to tune artists would quickly be controlling and marketing their pics in various apparently unrelated sectors – it talked about the entrepreneurial spirit that might come to outline pop stardom inside the digital technology.

BowieNet changed over as an ISP through 2006; the era had moved on – as had Bowie himself. However, he retained a knowledge of the web as a platform of subversion. On 8 January 2013, Bowie positioned a video for his new unmarried in which Are They Now on his website, with none fanfare. The tune, heralding his first new album in a decade, become at once available on iTunes in 119 countries. It turned into a stealthy act of digital anti-promotion that could hugely show success, relying on information sites and social media to spread the word. The phrase duly spread.

Bowie turned into a professional manipulator of media – be it track, art or video. It turned inevitable that he could spot the internet’s ability, not simply as a mass marketing era but as a new manner to make, proportion, and increase upon his work. Later, the digital generation could make heroes of businessmen like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs. However, Bowie turned into early know-how that this courageous new international might distort the traditional boundaries between artwork, movie stars, and trade. He knew that the agenda-setters of the 21st century would be a different breed. BowieNet will not be considered among his greatest achievements in the coming weeks. Still, it became symptomatic of his stressed, inquisitive genius and his intuition for the image as a shape of communique. He always noticed the revolution coming.

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