Dope Stars Inc: Ultrawired
Last week word about the album Ultrawired from a band called Dope Stars Inc. exploded onto Twitter. DSI, as they are called (because 140 characters enforces a certain amount of textual economy) are based in Italy and have a decidedly retro sound and image as bands go these days. They are heavily inspired by the sound and appearance of some of the synthpop, industrial, and techno acts of the early to mid 1990's as well as some influential metal bands of the 1980's (they specifically cite Guns 'n' Roses and Motley Crue as some sources of their inspiration). If you think of them sounding a little like Information Society circa Peace And Love Incorporated in terms of their lyrics, Psykosonik's first album in revolutionary sensibility, and guitar riffs reminiscent of Machinae Supremacy's earlier work, you'll be close to but not quite on the mark. While DSI is reminiscent of their influences they have a sound which is unique so comparing them to anyone actually does them a disservice.
They seem to specialize in shorter songs that are almost punk-like in structure. They're also trying to move back to accoustic drums and away from drum machines, or so they say. Minituae aside, I recommend reading their lyrics sheet while listening to this album to really get a feel for where they're coming from. You'll catch references to many things going on around the world today, from the delegitimization of political structures in the eyes of many (as evidenced by this year's uprisings in the Middle East) to direct action taken by the hive-mind of the Internet, to outright calls to action of their listeners. We very well might have at last a soundtrack for the world in which we live, the sound of a revolution taking place as people recognize, claim, and apply their power. Most interestingly the band has decided to go with a pirate model of distribution by putting up a torrent on The Pirate Bay (which seems to be stalled, incidentally - I've not gotten it running but downloading it directly from the band's website worked). The idea is that you can download and share it with everyone, and if you like it they ask you to go to their website, kick some scratch their way, and then get someone else to download and listen to the album. They accept donations of money through Paypal, bitcoins, and tips through Flattr. You can also pay for the download with a tweet (see the link on their website).
You can purchase songs individually or en masse from a large number of online music stores if you're not up for pulling down a torrent or a .zip archive.
With this realease, the band has gone entirely independent. That's right, they're running without a record label these days. DSI expressed interest in releasing their work under a Creative Commons license but a note on their website suggests that there are prior agreements in place that prevent them from doing so at this time. A shame, but a deal's a deal.
As is often the case with releases taking this approach the extras in the zipfile are as interesting as the music. The official download includes promo pictures of the band, a small library of text files including John Perry Barlow's Declaration of Independence of Cyberspace, lyrics to all of the songs, a cyberpunk manifesto for the 21st century, a link to a music video (Operation of the Machine), and of course high quality MP3s (320kbps) of each song for your listening pleasure. Interestingly, they wrote one of their songs (Lies Irae) in a collaborative fashion with their fans online using a page on piratepad.de. You can watch the lyrics evolve as you scroll down as people added to, removed from, and reworked the text.
I've listened to this album a track at a time and I'm very impressed with it. In some ways it's been a walk down memory lane because it's done using a few styles that I greatly enjoy (and have almost listened to unto illness). The synths aren't overdone but are a nice counterpoint to wailing guitars and a hard, danceable beat. Some of their songs have EBM-like bridges partway through and just about every instrument has an opportunity to really shine. This is what I always imagined the music in the fiction of my long-gone and wasted youth would have sounded like. They strike a good balance between lyrics (a little awkward in places, but singing about an Anonymous raid as it really goes down wouldn't be interesting without a little poetic license), screaming guitars, and synths raining down like sheets of liquid mercury (they won't make you want to throw a lightswitch rave, don't worry). If you like rock, metal, or synthpop I can't recommend this album highly enough. Download it, give it a listen, and see for yourself. I guarantee that at least one track will grab you and refuse to let go. I've put this album into rotation on my iPod for the daily commute, and I think that you might, too.