New York's Digital Club Festival clicks right along
July 23, 1999
By Donna Freydkin
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In 1994, when producers Andrew Rasiej, founder of the New York concert venue Irving Plaza, and Michael Dorf, creator and owner of The Knitting Factory, dreamed up an interactive music festival that somehow blended live concerts with the interactivity of the Web, the most that available technology allowed them to do was post digital photos and text descriptions of the shows on a Web site. Five years ago, no one took them or what was then known as the Macintosh New York Music Festival too seriously.
But they kept it going, convinced that live music could be effectively combined with interactive technology to let a kid in Tokyo or New York check out a performance at a Washington club. Last year, with what morphed into the Intel Music Festival, technology finally caught up with their ideas, and Rasiej and Dorf had the last laugh. In 1998, say organizers, more than 250,000 listeners tuned in to watch more than 400 hours of live and archived performances.
And this year, with the newly named Digital Club Festival, Rasiej and Dorf are hoping to outdo themselves. Even the event badges, which you need to get in to any of the performances, are flashy CDs.
"Today's cutting-edge technology has broadened the horizon of possibilities for music audiences," says Dorf.
The Digital Club Festival is made up of three parts: it's one-third concerts at 20 Manhattan venues, another third lectures and panel discussions at a technology and music conference called Plug-In, with the final component being the launch of Rasiej and Dorf's new venture, the Digital Club Network. Essentially on online venue and library of concerts, the Network is a live music channel that cybercasts concerts from a variety of clubs and archives them forever.
Today, the Digital Club Festival makes over 300 performances available via the Internet in real time. That means, of course, that either you can check out one of the 300 club shows taking place in New York City, of just go online and pretty much do the same, minus the crowds and bathroom lines. Sure, it's not as dramatic as actually seeing a live show, but it beats not seeing it at all.
British alternative rocker Bush, who was announced as one of the festival headliners along with Public Enemy and Everlast, cancelled due to throat problems. Onetime Pixie member Frank Black bailed as well.
But noted Internet music proponents Public Enemy did perform at Tramps, and Everlast put on a whopper of a show at the Bowery Ballroom. Of course, not too many of the performers have the slightest clue that their shows will be aired on the 'Net. Everlast, for one, says he doesn't care -- he just plays where he's booked: "It's nice to play small venues and reconnect with audiences instead of always doing the big shows."
And amidst all the hype about the Internet opening new musical frontiers, the Digital Club Festival is hardly aimed at Joe Musicfan. For one thing, the concerts and Webcasts are geared for the hard-core music enthusiasts, since none of the bands -- with the exception of Public Enemy and Everlast -- are familiar to mainstream audiences. Ever heard of Clem Snide? Imperial Teen? Saturnine?
Organizers say that the Digital Club Festival is a harbinger of what wired music will become. This year, for example, participating nightclubs are using streaming media technology to Webcast live concerts from their stages, with many of the performances archived on the Festival Web site. But hype and hope aside, for many music fans, the Festival is irrelevant -- and not just because it happened to take place the same week the city mourns the death of its favorite son, John F. Kennedy, Jr.
"The lineup this year sucks. There's no one exciting, or anyone I'd spend $50 for a badge to go see. If they want me to go, they've got to do a little better," says one recent New York University graduate, who identified himself only as Martin.
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