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When PlayLouder and Idolator ruled the world

October 1, 2010

As a historian, I have a deep appreciation for the acts of greatness and noble failures that preceded my existence. Yet, I have an intense dislike of nostalgia, if that makes any sense. Allow me to illustrate the differences: when I returned to Kentucky for the nuptials of a fellow Tweed-bearer, and exchanged witty repartee with other TBTSers you’ve grown to loathe love, our recollections of past glories are merely a small part of the conversational universe. The dominant paradigm involves our thoughts on events of modern vintage, and – dare I say it – the future. Even when epochal moments from our Transylvania/Wintergarden/Limestone/Buzzard-Roost years become the topic du jour, there’s always a contextual connection with the goings-on of modernity, and how our past informs our current ideas and collective vision. Whereas, if I was thrust into a social situation consisting solely of folks from my high-school era (or earlier), it would consist of nothing but empty nostalgia, which would be as compelling as a four-hour podcast featuring the cast of “Rock/Shot/ASBO of Love” attempting to discuss how Keynesian economics informs single-payer health care. Often, I’ll encounter someone who relives their past by engaging within the era’s pop culture, although they’ll throw around disclaimers like “Yeah, I liked NKOTB then, but I was so young, you know?”, as “Didn’t I Blow your Mind (This Time)”, or some other exercise in unnecessary parentheticals blasts from their sedan. Sure, I remember that time we listened to Kenny G’s Duotones tape while playing Kid Icarus for hours on end, but I have no desire to relive it. Now when we blasted Hall & Oates’ Voices while stealing Dole/Kemp signs for transformation into hallucinogenic promotion devices – that ain’t nostalgia – that’s history. Great moments from the past that connect to the modern-day? Ohh yeah…

Which leads me to past websites that left us with little warning, and are still missed, at least by me. Here’s a few that deserve their place in the brief history of the internet…

Idolator

Remember Idolator.com, Gawker’s entry into the music world? No? Well, you should, because they had a sweet two-year run of excellence, featuring many great writers, including Michelangelo Matos and Maura Johnston.  For reasons that begin with “We want a bigger” and end with “audience”, Idolator ditched their clever angle (industry coverage, evaluation of music criticism, reviews of secretly awesome bands like The Joy Formidable) for wall-to-wall coverage of “performers” with less authenticity than if Greg Brady’s “Johnny Bravo” opened for Milli Vanilli. Unfortunately, the change-over caught them smack in the middle of their Worst Songs feature (entitled, naturally, F2K).

In one of their best series, “Rock-critically Correct”, Adam Kemp examined an issue of an established music magazine, cutting through the cologne inserts and vodka ads to have a laugh at (among other things) what band was trumpeted as the next big thing. I’d link, but after finding a job (ooooohhh yeah!!!!), all past links still feature heavily-retouched photos of scantily-clad “musicians” on the top of the page, which are not exactly welcome at an academic institution.

Playlouder.com

As 2002 came to a close, I dove into the indie music scene, aided by the “unreliable train” era of Pitchfork. Record reviews often had expletives and the occasional insult of the artist’s fans, political views were openly discussed, and Interpol was still receiving 10.0 ratings. Andrew W.K., now an acknowledged favorite of many staff writers, was unfavorably compared to the Baha Men. David Cross wrote a guest piece. Brent DiCrescenzo had yet to push the concept-review to the point of its elimination. Yet, despite what sounds like a “fun bunch of fun”, I found it somewhat sterile. I needed my music news with more bite, more attitude…more Brittania. Enter PlayLouder, which featured headlines like

OI! STOP MAKING CRAP TECHNO

Don’t make us beat yer arse

JAMES BLUNT STILL ON TOP

Still a wanker, tho

BILLY JOEL ADMITS DRINKING FURNITURE POLISH

C’mon Billy, glug glug!

WACKO JACKO NOT BACKO

Bad Taco? Fell in cacko? Can’t give a facko?

While they sounded like a bunch of meanies, there was always a deep well o’ love in the PlayLouder camp. No apologies were made in championing unknown (to us) bands, as they exposed the world wide webiverse-nets to Asian Dub Foundation, The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster, Atom and his Package, Half Man Half-Biscuit, and an unknown Scottish 4-piece named after some archduke. In a review of Blink 182’s 2003 release (I can’t recall the name), more awesomeness: “When child actors stop being cute we stick them in rehab. When puppies turn into mangy old hounds we leave them in the middle of the motorway in a sack. But sportz-punk bandz who’ve stopped being funny just go on and on and on…Someone should put Blink 182 out of their misery.” Everytime I looked at the page, I noticed something clever – while Pitchfork was definitely aware of their wittiness, PlayLouder reveled in satirizing the idea of being cool. The two chief advertisement spots were labeled “big ass advert” and “tiny wee advert”. Articles about bands often featured their lyrics subliminally referenced within – a story about McLusky concluded with “SING IT!”, etc. “The Weak”, authored by Adam Alphabet, read like a far-more-stable Super Hans, and would’ve made a smashing TV show.

And then – nothing. In late 2006, it all went tits up, and that was that. Now PlayLouder has re-branded itself as a Music Internet Service Provider, a la Rhapsody. But no more content, and that is a sad thing. TALK!

Note – I incorrectly listed Michelangelo Matos as the author of “Rock-critically Correct”, when it was actually Adam Kemp. Matos was author of “Project X”, which examined rankings from every genre imaginable.”

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3 Comments
  1. Paul permalink*
    October 1, 2010 3:17 pm

    I have a playlist of over 100 great songs I got from Idolator. They had an awesome MP3-of-the-day feature that got me into some really great music. Most notably an utterly fantastic song by Semisonic (yeah, those guys) called “She’s Got My Number,” the great melodic garage-rock of The Caesars, and the quirky bounce-pop of The Format.

    After the first year or so, the MP3s dried up (probably due to some party-poopin’ lawyers), but I for one bought a lot of music because of them. I really miss that site.

  2. October 13, 2010 1:05 am

    I didn’t write Rock Critically Correct. The author was anonymous for a year and then outed himself in a column as Rob Kemp. Thanks for your kind words, though.

    • T. Stump permalink
      January 13, 2011 12:09 am

      Mr. Matos –

      Had no idea that wasn’t you. That’s the last time I finish a story within the limited-web-use of school computers. I’ll make the correction.

      Your “Sign ‘O’ the Times” entry in the 33 1/3 series was a great read, especially the chapter describing the significance of the cover.

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