David Bowie was one of the most influential recording artists Britain has ever produced. He will be best remembered for his many hits, which include “Rebel, Rebel”, “Space Oddity” and “Life on Mars”, but the great man will also go down as a pioneer of web technology thanks to an innovative use of the internet throughout his career.
In the days before YouTube, MySpace and social media, bands had no vehicle to provide online content to their fan base. But when Bowie launched his own ISP, BowieNet, back in 1998, subscribers could enjoy a range of exclusive material as well as interaction with the singer himself. For a monthly fee, they also received an email address, which ended @davidbowie.com!
Bowie developed blog-like features within this platform where he would upload personal photographs and share his paintings, as well as providing access to some of his journals. BowieNet also shared music videos with its audience and provided chat rooms, where the singer would sometimes appear to interact directly with fans.
Turn and face the strange changes
Even as the internet was still in its infancy, Bowie saw more clearly than most the huge part this new medium was destined to play in the future of music and, throughout the years, he became involved in many other ground-breaking technology projects, always characteristically ahead of the curve.
In 1995, he wrote his concept album “Outside” with the help of a custom-written piece of software that selected words at random to create basic lyrical outlines he could refine. Later, Bowie was one of the first major artists to release an “internet-only” track. “Telling Lies” received more than 300,000 downloads before eventually being released as a physical single.
BowieWorld was a further example of the artist’s fascination with new forms of communications and the 3D chat environment created by this site became a forerunner to Second Life. Then, in 2004, Bowie helped finance an online contest for fans to record new “mashes” of his music. But as time progressed, the dominance of the big players such as YouTube and Facebook, ensured that the singer’s web ventures would pale into relative and inevitable obscurity.
It is sometimes hard to remember a time before the web came to dominate so many areas of our everyday lives. But this was the backdrop to the predictions David Bowie made about the internet in 2000, during an interview with the BBC.
Bowie told Jeremy Paxman: “I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. The context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment, where the interplay between the user and provider will be so in simpatico it’s going to crush ideas of what mediums are all about.”
Of course, he was right. RIP David Bowie.