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Grey Market MP3s

Perhaps there is no such thing as a free MP3. Thorsten Sideboard, who founded the 8bitrecs.com netlabel, got back to London after a recent trip to the U.S., only to find he’d lost his job. Why? Because 8bitrecs.com had participated in Grey Tuesday, the web activist event late last month, in which almost 200 websites around the world made DJ Danger Mouse’s Grey Album available for free download. The Grey Album had become a flashpoint for various copyright issues, including sampling clearances and peer-to-peer filesharing. It melded Jay-Z’s 2003 Black Album and the Beatles’ self-titled 1968 record, ubiquitously known as the White Album, and was made available for free download. EMI, the Beatles’ publisher, sent threatening cease and desist letters to everyone involved, including the numerous Grey Tuesday activists.

Now, 8bitrecs was no generic blog. It was a leader in the netlabel community, offering legal free downloads of MP3 files of electronic music submitted by a wide range of established and up’n’coming musicians, notably Greg Davis, Janek Schaefer and Rothko. It was also, however, hosted on the server of Sideboard’s employer. Make that ex-employer.

“My ex-employer didn’t kill 8bitrecs straight away,” he says. “I can still upload HTML pages, but basically they took down the software running the streams, and I no longer had access to the database, so I couldn’t upload new artists and tracks. I’m also pretty sure they were going to start charging me bandwidth.” (Thanks to the exigencies of Google’s cache function, some of that 8bitrecs material is still available, however temporarily.)

Sideboard’s loss is ours as well, though he’s looking on the bright side: “It feels more like an opportunity to focus more on Highpoint Lowlife, which I’ve always felt I have lacked the time to fully devote to, so hopefully something good will come of it.”

Highpoint Lowlife is Sideboard’s proper record label (website at highpointlowlife.com), which just released its seventh album, titled, with unintentional irony, White Label (by Recon, aka Chris Coode, better known for his work as Motion). He’s also on track for the next three Highpoint releases: Rashamon’s Tomorrow, People; Marshall Watson’s The Time Was Later Than He Expected and, for its 10th album, Some Paths Lead Back Again, a compilation of Scottish electronica, featuring tracks by Daigoro, Izu, Rose and Sandy, Accrual, Bovine Life, the Village Orchestra and others, organized by the Marcia Blaine School for Girls.

Although 8bitrecs.com has hung the “closed” sign, Highpoint is hosting a select number of free MP3 song files (no streams). Among the most recent is a highly recommended pair by Fisk Industries (you were probably wondering how, exactly, this little news report worked as an entry in Disquiet’s Downstream series — now you know). “Earth Algorithm” samples a line from the sci-fi sequel 2010 (“I’m completely operational and all my circuits are functioning perfectly”) and then, for almost six and a half minutes, artfully takes the phrase apart, layering its syllables and sibilants through a steady haze of downtempo techno. You’ll be amazed how solid a rhythm can be constructed from Hal 9000’s stutter. (Speaking of 2001/2010 samples, there’s a page full of ’em here.) Fisk’s “The Way We Found Each Other” is decidedly more upbeat, the sort of bouncy yet bittersweet, keyboard-driven piece that the Cure used to traffic in, before it became a guitar band.

Sideboard meanwhile has announced a legit new MP3 venture, making Highpoint’s albums available for sale as downloads at the invisible-sound.com webstore.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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