In 1982 a band from London called Haircut 100 began to change the musical landscape, by entering the Roundhouse Studios in Camden to record their debut album ‘Pelican West’. And how did the knitwear-tucked-in-jeans quiff-merchants change anything other than the cover of Smash Hits and the bed sheets of teenage girls across the land? It was one of the first albums in the UK to be recorded digitally. As a funk-inspired band of multiple members of percussion and brass, the digital recording process allowed them to layer more and more layers of sound without losing the clarity and urgency of their sound, and mitigated the frustration of analogue fuzz.
Christmas Day 2010, nearly thirty years later, and as previously mentioned on these pages, not only heralded the birth of a new breathing accessory for Elton, but also the dawning of a new musical production processing era: Gorlliaz, the musical and visual brainchild of Blur’s Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett – a shoe-in for the part of Albert Steptoe in the inevitable big screen remake of the despicable rag and bone men – delivered their latest album, ‘The Fall’.
OK, so it was a free download via their website, nothing that hasn’t been done before, most notably by Radiohead’s stellar, server-crashing ‘In Rainbows’. No, the difference was that this album was written, recorded and produced entirely on the iPad (using a few additional instruments), whilst on tour in North America. The issue of the actual quality of the music is almost secondary – as a director for MTV Europe once described the channel he worked for: “It’s like a three legged dancing dog…it isn’t that the dance it does is any good, it’s that the fucker dances at all.”
That a device as aesthetically appealing (and man-bag sized) can produce an album, of any standard, simply adds to the growing brand strength of Steve Jobs’ global vision. Say what you like about the quality of digital music against the sound of traditional vinyl – which, if audio tested in a straight-up Pepsi-challenge way would be as one sided as Hitler’s parting – but the vision to harness this new format and make it the epicenter of a globally branded media-platform is to be admired and applauded.
And, as importantly, to show the suspicious World that the iPad isn’t just a big no-phone for watching unfunny Family Guy downloads on the commute home. Or the unofficial calling card of the too-oft-spotted ‘media-wanker’: there are enough ways to know they’re an obnoxious twat to be avoided without having to have a screen flashed around the nearest wifi-enabled coffee emporium.
Yes, by all means please complain that iTunes has systematically killed the traditional ‘long-player’ by enabling consumers to purchase individual tracks, but was the music-buying pattern of the mainstream listener not changing anyway? The record labels signaled their own demise by extending the marketing windows for their records to such an extent, that after 6 or 8 weeks of constant airplay on radio, it was no surprise that single sales plummeted. And, unfortunately for everyone else, such as Amzon, HMV, etc., Apple moved faster than anyone to package the unpackageable and sell the fresh air that is the MP3.
But where Apple have established and maximized their customer base is at brick and mortar retail, a subject that is close to this writer’s heart. They are now, in my humble opinion, the single best retail experience on the high street. Their stores are busy at all times of day, filled with purchasers and inquisitive browsers alike. The only store busier during a pre-Xmas shopping trip to Manchester’s city centre was Greggs! Yes, there may be boutiques that can lay claim to more personal service, better individual products, etc. but none so consistently on an international level from range and service.
As a card-carrying technophobe, they have managed to turn the fear of entering the coven of the uber-geek, and turn it into an engaging lesson in technical and retailing brilliance. I now have no qualms of entering an Apple store and saying to the blue-shirted battalion of idiot-assisters “Hello, I am an absolute retard when it comes to making this work, please help me before I weep” – there is no rolling of the eyes, tutting and sniggering at the obvious cretinism of the consumer, but more the sympathetic challenge of wanting to let me in on a badly-kept secret. To ‘cure’ me.
That the staff should feel such an affinity and pride to represent the brand, take such pleasure in the products that they sell is to be absolutely championed, at a time when the retail world is on its knees, with stores closing every day. Can you imagine that happening at PC World, where most retail experiences should be accompanied by an anti-bacterial hand-wipe for the consumer, and an anti-bacterial course of facial cleansing for the sales representative? No.
Perhaps the next inevitable step for the consumer is to marry the two clear winners of the retail marketplace, with Greggs developing the end of mastication with the invention of the digital and downloadable ‘iPasty’, followed by a Gorilla biscuit….?