Monday, April 20, 2015

The Last Pirate

There are three kinds of pirates.  You have your maritime piracy i.e. your standard issue swashbucklers, there are pirate DJs and pirate radio stations, then there is the third kind of pirate... ye olde pirates o' the copyright infringement. Bootlegs go way back before CDs. But by comparison to digital media, bootleg acetates were very rare and bootleg vinyl was never common. But before the rise of digital downloads, and after the fall of vinyl there was a short period of time when media could be downloaded and burned to CD-R and sold as a bootleg copy. The digital files made for perfect copies (assuming adequate bit-rate.) Few consumers had the knowledge and access to do it themselves. This "bumpy plateau" existed from about 1995 to 2005. It started about when Radiohead released "The Bends", peaked at the debut of Apple advertising tagline "Rip Mix Burn" and died abruptly  in 2005 with the launch of Megaupload. More here.

Once knowledge, tools and bandwidth became ubiquitous, the need for the physical media just evaporated. The transition period was prolonged partly due to that "access" scarcity and partly because record labels, publishers and studios didn't innovate in that arena. They resisted streaming, downloading, mixing, remixing, sharing.. change of every kind. They pretended that change wouldn't come and they were wrong. Enter Simon Tai.

There were IRC (Internet Relay Chat) groups online that specialized in ripping and distributing music. Some specialized in pre-release music. These were fewer in number because they had to rely on a relatively small pool of people who would provide that content. One of them famously is Dell Glover, a middle manager at a Polygram pressing plant who leaked innumerable pre-release albums to a group called CDA (Compress 'da Audio.)  They (RNS) Rabid Neurosis and DMA (Digital Music Audio) were among the earliest online music piracy groups. More here. Most members still remain anonymous. Most of the names we know today we only know because they were eventually arrested.

One of the most famous was Simon Tai. He was a member of RNS, and his online handle was RST and he was very involved with RNS. Tai was from Southern California, and attended the University of Pennsylvania, in 1997. With his campus T1 connection he discovered RNS and was invited to join. He was no lurking member. Tai had assess to a river of pre-release albums because he was a college radio DJ at WQHS.

Tai had a strong interest in rap music. On air he used the name DJ Taiga, and when he was a Senior at Penn he became music director. In that role he made connections with record promoters and label reps. He checked the mail daily and when something good came in, he ripped that album and uploaded it to RNS. But Tai got out at the right time. When he graduated he stopped uploading to RNS. While other members had their homes raided, their possessions seized and went to prison Tai was spinning records. By 2005 DJ Taiga was already a successful club DJ in Philadelphia. The skills he honed at school parties had become the core of his day job. He'd gone legit. In 2006, Taiga relocated to New York City where he continues to perform as a popular club DJ today. More here.