Friday, April 17, 2015

i-what? Which Apple founder had more influence on music?

In 2001, the first portable mp3 player was released to market by the tech giant Apple. The celebration and praise for this product/technology has been continous and undending ever since. The technology is as obvious and ubiquitous as anything ever invented. It seems like no one in the world doesn't have a portable mp3 player. It's built into our phones and cameras and DVD and Blu-ray players and all sorts of other devices. Even CD-players are expected to be able to play mp3s now. All music is mobile now, and both the technology and format has spread throughout the world.
   For all this, much praise and credit has been heaped on Apple founder Steve Jobs, who both built and rebuilt his company and created this wonderful new device that allowed people to become their own walking juke box. This contribution to music history is indelible. 1000s of songs at your immediate use. Hundreds of albums available at anytime anywhere. Steve Jobs passed away untimely in 2011, and since his death numerous media, news articles, books and even movies have chronicled his life and accomplishments, and none of them has overlooked this amazing, incredible contribution to the music world and music fans.
   Nothing can take away from this, it is Jobs' legacy for sure. However, if one were to take a critical eye, the idea isn't entirely a new one. The idea of a portable music player is nothing new, and the idea of having your music with you on long drives, commutes to and from work, and even while walking to the store is something that several people and companies have been working on for decades. And, for the most part, this portability was largely accomplished by portable tape-cassette players like the Sony Walkman in the 1980s. Given a real comparison, those old 80s and 90s Walkmans probably sounded better, provided the cassette was a good one. Many of the early ipods sounded 'tinny', had weak bass or even seemed to leave out some background sound or backing vocals because the sound was squelched by so-called 'noise filters'. Compressed audio, specifically mp3s have their own inherent problems. This is why, in 2015, many people buying new equipment are purchasing portable music players that are capable of playing the FLAC format instead of mp3s. And, due to some 'standards' imposed by itunes over the content for sale, some have complained that Apple has too much control over what music sounds like. But the ipod was massively popular, and the reason was because it solved several of the problems of the Walkman, not the least of which was having to carry around tapes in your pockets and rewinding them (often with a pencil). For convenience, you gave up some sound quality, but so what? Thousands of songs were at your fingertips, ready to listen to at any time. It's an amazing contribution to music, and not to be dismissed.

   However there was another significant contribution made to music by an Apple founder, and it wasn't Steve Jobs and it didn't happen in 2001.

The US festival
   The US festival was not the U-S festival or a short form for the United States festival. It was pronounced exactly as it was spelled, US. And the reason it was called 'US' was because Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak decided that since the 1970s was referred to as the "Me Generation" he thought the 1980s should be more oriented towards togetherness and community; a kind of "Us generation".
   The 'US festival' was not a yearly event like Lollapalooza or Coachella, but only happened for two years, each over a few days; Labour Day Weekend (Sep 2-5) in 1982 and Memorial Day Weekend (May28-30 & June 4) in 1983. Steve Wozniak was supposedly attempting to have a giant party in the middle of nowhere and celebrate technology, togetherness and music. The event was supposed to combine technology and music and computers and art, but was instead referred to by David Lee Roth as a big celebration of sex, drugs and rock n' roll. There were several tents which were dedicated to technology booths and displays but were often taken advantage for the air-conditioning. The vast majority of any music-related technology at the time had to do with Apple computers and electronic keyboards, lighting and timing effects and laser displays of green bands of light across misty stages. In the long run, such technology would be taken for granted in modern concerts, while the talent onstage, by comparison, would prove as unique and timeless as Woodstock or Live Aid.

Upcoming Bands
    In 1983, U2 had only released their third album. It would be four more years before they really hit it big in the United States with the Joshua Tree. And yet, looking at the line-up of the US festival, it reads like a Who's who list of the biggest bands of the eighties. INXS, Flock of Seagulls, The English Beat, Talking Heads, The Police... all these and more played the US festival even though their biggest successes would probably come later in the decade.
   Years later, U2 would lend one of their songs to promote the mp3 player produced by that other Apple founder, but in 1983, the band was more concerned that there was 'too much talk' about their song 'Sunday Bloody Sunday'

Heavy Metal Day
  Heavy Metal was a genre of music had been shunned by most commercial radio and television for years, but in 1983, the US festival was responsible for putting heavy metal music at top billing for a music event. A whole day to itself.
   The second US festival had four different types of music on four different days, New Wave, Heavy Metal, Rock and Country. The biggest draw was by far the Heavy Metal Day, one of the first of its kind, and it was no coincidence. The best Heavy Metal of the early eighties was on display for an audience of over a quarter million people. The night ended with a performance by Van Halen when they were at their wildest and best, members of the band were drinking straight whisky in front of a live audience.
   Performances by Triumph, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue and the Scorpions were excellent but Judas Priest probably locked themselves into the minds of American Metal fans when Rob Halford drove onto the stage riding a Harley Davidson at the US festival on Heavy Metal Day.

A Money Loser
It is rumoured that Steve Wozniak lost a whole lot of money on the two US festivals, approximately $20 million over the two events. And, according to critics, it is supposedly because 'the Woz' paid the talent too much money. Van Halen was reportedly paid $1.5 million for the gig. Of course, the festival's focus on high-tech companies and trades probably prevented big-shot advertising revenue by the soda and beer peddlers that usually sponsor most American arts and entertainment, so, to some extent Wozniak probably took it on the chin, financially, as a matter of choice, not because he absolutely had to.
   Of course, it isn't as if Wozniack is hurting for cash. The man still holds shares in Apple and supposedly has a net worth of millions. But he no longer has the sort of dough to do it all again all by himself, so anybody hoping for future US Festivals is going to have to either bring some cash or beg some benefactor to make this unique festival return. Also, Wozniak had the help of an experienced promoter named Bill Graham, without whom many of these acts would likely have turned down a show that was 'out in the middle of nowhere'.
   The US festival also had several problems of the usual kind: several arrests, line-ups for the bathroom, unbearably hot weather and reportedly a couple of deaths. The deaths, of course, could not be specifically attributed to the concert itself, and considering that the crowds were near or even over a quarter-million people, a few hundred arrests doesn't seem like much. On the whole, if the US festival made some mistakes, they were far fewer mistakes than were made at previous outdoor festivals like Woodstock, where the performers were actually getting electrocuted to poor wiring and too much rain.
    But the video and performances from the both of the US festivals is both excellent and abundant. Take a look through YouTube and wherever you can view some US festival video. There is a wealth of great performances and many of them are not likely to ever happen in such a way again. In only two festivals over two years, there is more than enough excellent recordings to fill this and four more blogs with top notch music and shows, and we haven't even touched material by Pat Benatar yet. It is a credit to both the artists themselves and to Steve Wozniak, who brought this festival to fruition.

BTW: The answer to the question: 'Which Apple founder had more influence on music?' is either Paul McArtney or John Lennon who co-founded Apple record company in 1968 with fellow Beatles George Harrison and Ringo Star.