After being rudely jolted by my latest credit card bill, I decided last week to put a stop to random purchases of music on the Internet. Buying on the web – especially when you’re buying downloads in mp3 or other digital formats – can become an addiction and god help you if you succumb to that. I looked at the entries on my credit card statement and wondered whether I was hurtling towards that kind of hell. So, I took the extreme step of cold turkey-ing my way out of any possibility of getting into such a trap. I would stop buying music off the Net, at least for a week, I told myself, and try to get my fix without spending a paisa. Of course, there was a caveat: I’d have to scrupulously ensure that every free download that found a place on my hard drive was kosher, i.e. 100 per cent legal.
Was that a tall order? As the week proceeded, I tried to see what I could get off the Net. Besides the twin criteria of being free and legal, there was, of course, a third condition: the music had to be something I considered to be good. There’s enough legal, free crap floating around on the web but I was looking for stuff that I’d really be interested in downloading and listening to.
The week began with promise, with Phish, no less. The American rock band and giants of the jamband scene decided to give away for free a 10-track, one-hour and twenty-minute long set from the first leg of their recently concluded summer tour. Though Phish, led by their super lead guitarist, Trey Anastasio, in true jamband tradition, allow fans to record their shows and distribute recordings freely, it’s rare for the band to offer pristine quality, straight-from-the-soundboard music for free on the Internet. You can buy official recordings of most of their gigs from their websites but to get one free was a bonanza.
The Phish giveaway of ten tracks wasn’t from a single show but a compilation edited from several on their itinerant tour. There were old favourites (such as Gumbo and Tweezer) as well as some new songs that I hadn’t heard before. I’d kind of cried off Phish when they took a hiatus in 2004 for nearly five years, leaving fans crushed and hoping that the band would reunite some day. They did in 2009 and are back to incessant touring. Phish’s sound hasn’t suffered as a result of the hiatus (during which all the band members remained quite active) and if anything, they seem even better. If you haven’t tried Phish, you could check them out by downloading this set without spending a paisa. My small effort at persuading you: there’s a nearly 14-minute version of Backwards Down the Number Line on the set, which alone can make it worth your while to download Phish Live Bait Vol. 01 (that’s what the band calls it and it is quite clearly a teaser for a series of CDs we’ll likely see being released from last summer’s tour).
The next free booty came by way of an unexpected source. Addicted to frivolity as I am, I subscribe to feeds from a website called Highsnobiety, a sneaker-focused street fashion web-zine that captures new trends and edgy new fashion creations. Although music features occasionally on Highsnobiety, I didn’t expect a mixtape from DJ Mehdi to drop into my lap last week. Downloadable for free, the 33-minute production has Jay-Z doing a quick intro as well as a sampling of Nina Simone’s Summertime besides a cocktail of other house and dance musicians. DJ Mehdi (aka Mehdi Favéris-Essadi) is a French DJ of Tunisian descent and the new late summer free mix he’s released is called Dear Summer: 33 minutes of Sunshine from DJ Mehdi. I’m not big on dance and house so although I downloaded it, I didn’t really listen to it for a while. Then towards the end of a low sort of a week I clicked on it and jammed the headphones on. Instant karma happened. Suddenly the sunny, up-tempo beat of the mix lifted my mood and like I’d dropped a miracle upper, I was happy.
Here’s a confession. I’m a sucker for interesting band names. So when Obscure Sound, an mp3 blog that I get feeds from, suggested Woozy Viper, a New York city duo that makes Sixties kind of mod music but with a contemporary twist I was definitely up for it. Woozy Viper can remind you of Black Lips or MC5 or even the Pixies but their music is far from derivative. I sampled three songs, King Kong, Look Out! and The Switchblade Swing before discovering that the band’s debut album is downloadable for free. They have a style that is as classic as it is modern. And their songs don’t take time to grow on you.
What a haul in just a week, I said to myself, all self-congratulatory and pleased as punch, when right at the fag end of the week (and just as I was writing this) another gig landed right in my lap. From Bands That Jam (a website that covers live bands) I got pointed to an Ithaca (New York) band called Jimkata and a great quality gig that they recorded in July. Jimkata – I’m still discovering them – are a four-member electro-rock band and their sound marries powerful blasts of guitars and rock’s other conventional tools of the trade with synthesisers and high-tech equipment like drum machines. Even as I write this, I’m getting totally converted into a fan of this upcoming band. As I was saying, what a haul it’s been. And my credit card? It sleeps in my wallet blissfully.