Kool DJ Herc and the future of hacked media

Celebrating the arrival of page proofs of the book, this snippet comes from a section that describes the future of ‘extruded media’…

A digital media boom is underway in which assertive audiences are beginning to use and extrude media rather than watch it. To understand the nature of the coming global media boom, reflect on the birth of break beat hip-hop music.  In the early 1970s a high-rise apartment building on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in New York’s Bronx became the birthplace of a new culture, and a new style of editing and adapting music. Clive Campbell, aka ‘Kool dj Herc’, a Jamaican-born resident, began playing records at events in and around the building.

dj Herc began to edit music on the go. He used a dual turntable system common to disco music, switching between two records of the same track to isolate and loop the instrumental percussive sections of funk music records to emphasize and repeat rhythmic beats. He and other Bronx djs further developed the Jamaican practice of toasting, or speaking over the record.

This new way of remixing records at all-night parties in the basketball and tennis courts of Bronx neighbourhoods in the early 1970s marked the birth of hip-hop. It was also an early example of popular user-driven innovation. The funk music that hip-hop re-edited was itself a fusion of rhythm and blues, soul and jazz. The hip-hop djs who adapted this into something new, though performers themselves, were at a remove from the original creation of the music. Rather than musicians in the traditional sense, they were a new type of empowered user. The turntables of the Bronx, like the hackers, the homebrew clubs and the perpetual beta of Web 2.0, are an instance of an enabling technology and the human impulse to adapt and hack.

The media that prospers in the digital age will be highly participatory. If, for example, the old quiz show format of the 1950s features in the coming years it will do so invigorated by the user-empowered culture born of the hip-hop scene that emerged in the Bronx in the early 1970s, and by the technology of Web 2.0 and the perpetual beta. In short, popular culture may become a game in which all listeners become participants and all viewers become designers.

Record labels worried about losing revenues through copyright infringement may soon find themselves selling an experience and relationships that are immune to piracy. The computer games, Guitar Hero and Rock Band, in which the users participate to a limited degree in the performance, generated $1.6 billion in 2008 alone. Already, conventional media facilitates wildly popular television programmes in which contestants audition and compete for the opportunity to win a record contract, such as You’re a Star, X Factor and the Got Talent series. In the coming years similar programmes will no doubt evolve into large and ongoing subscription-based competitions where players compete to join music groups, release records and perform live online for all subscribers.

Instead of selling records, the smart bet for record firms may be on subscriptions. A subscriber would subscribe to a service, finding their place within an online community, and enjoy an experience that could not be counterfeited. Participation rather than production might render piracy redundant.

… further in this section, the digital trend is toward ‘extruded media’…

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