Guest post by Eliot Van Buskirk of Evolver.fm.
Remember the ’90s, when the British press had a field day pitting Blur and Oasis against each other in some sort of weird Britpop battle? It wasn’t clear who won that round, and we Americans were a little confused about what it all meant.
But in the intervening years, it’s clear that Blur frontman Damon Albarn has come out on top, in the sense that he appears to be one of the busiest people in the world, with bands like Gorillaz; The Good, The Bad, and the Queen; Rocket Juice and the Moon; his own solo project; an opera about a monkey king; a collaboration with Malinese musicians; and more. Meanwhile, Oasis’s Liam Gallagher mainly sits around making fun of soccer players.
As busy as Albarn has been musically, he has also found the time to become the most app-happy musician on the planet. Here’s a tour of one man’s groundbreaking journey through the music app world, through which Albarn makes all other musicians look lazy by comparison, again.
The Fall: First iPad Album Made By Someone You’ve Heard Of
Here’s the part where I mention, yet again, that I think I am the person who introduced Damon Albarn to the idea that you can use an iPad to create music — something I mentioned to him after this in-person interview for Wired, unfortunately, after I turned off my recorder. (Not only that, but in the same interview, we discussed Mark E. Smith of The Fall, which only messes with my head further, given that that’s what he named the album.) Created on tour buses and green rooms using 20 iPad apps by the self-described computer-phobe, The Fall is remarkably listenable — definitely moreso than whatever you or I would make with an iPad. You can listen to the whole thing for free.
Not only was Albarn the first major artist to craft an album entirely on an iPad, but Gorillaz are the only band we can think of that has its own musical instrument app. Based on Korg’s iElectribe, the Gorillaz version marries the amusing aesthetic created by Gorillaz cartoonist Jaime Hewlett with sounds from the actual album. It costs $20, which could be why it’s still for sale (apparently, the plan was to sell only 10,000 copies of the app). Regardless, you can’t fault the man for trying.
Last month, a reunited Blur somehow managed to play a show on Twitter — or come as close as you can to doing so, considering Twitter’s absurd 140-character restriction (which the company is now scrambling to fix in an effort to compete with Facebook, but that’s another story). This was a bit of a publicity stunt, because really, the band was playing on a rooftop at a formerly-secret location in London, which they announced on Twitter, and then it disseminated videos of the performance on Twitter. But again, considering that Twitter is still trapped in the dumbphone era when SMS was the only way to send messages from a phone, it was as Twitter-y as a show can get.
On Wednesday, Blur released an artist app for the iPhone and iPad that walks fans through the band’s 21-year history, replete with music, new interviews conducted specifically for the app, photo galleries, setlist information from setlist.fm, and a whole slew of other stuff that makes it “the most comprehensive artist app of its kind” according to EMI, which published the app. The juiciest bits include rare, previously unreleased audio tracks (such as demos and remixes) and video clips of interviews and live shows not available anywhere else. The app also keeps you up to date on all things Blur. We think this sort of thing is a rather good idea.
Blur’s Spotify app is the first in Spotify’s history to be centered around a specific band’s music. Yes, we’ve seen Rancid, Quincy Jones, Disturbed, and Tiësto curate music in various ways on Spotify, so Blur’s isn’t the first artist app, per se, but it does represent a new approach within Spotify. In it, you’ll find much of the stuff also available in the iOS version, as well as the playlist mentioned below.
There’s a lot to like, including the ability to create your own Blur playlist to share with other fans and listen to theirs and a comprehensive list of every gig in the band’s history, with each member’s favorites called out. However, there’s one massive, glaring problem with this app, which we sort of can’t believe happened. In order to create the Top Tracks section that greets users when they launch the app, the app appears to search all of Spotify for the word “blur” and then sort that list by popularity. As a result, the list includes songs that don’t belong there: Make Do And Mend’s “Blur,” Say Anything’s “Baby Girl, I’m a Blur – Main,” and Nine Inch Nails’ “The Line Begins to Blur.” Come on, whoever built this: Does Damon have to do everything himself?
Some bands have a website. Blur has a beautiful, full-screen video player that lets you watch the band’s live “Twitter” show, as well as live performances from throughout the years. If you click the “Nav” button, you can see all the usual stuff, like news, galleries, tour dates, and the like, but the emphasis is on the website as an interactive experience in and of itself. Fun!
To celebrate its “Blur 21″ initiative (which includes a massive boxset), the group not only issued remastered and reissued every single Blur album, but produced a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs interspersed with commentary about the band, and introducing each song. It sort of feels like you’re listening to a live radio broadcast dedicated only toBlur. If you’re already a fan, you’ll pick up some interesting background information, or if you’re new to them, it provides a nice, handholding-style introduction.
And there you have it, the apps of Damon Albarn, the appiest man in show business. Did we miss any? Let us know.
(Top image courtesy of blur.co.uk)