BowieNet: how David Bowie’s ISP foresaw the future of the internet

In the summer of 1998, a strange press release made its way out to technology and music publications throughout the world. David Bowie, the legendary musician and cultural provocateur, would be launching his own internet service provider, offering subscription-based dial up access to the emerging online world. At a time when plenty of major corporations were still struggling to even comprehend the significance and impact of the web, Bowie was there staking his claim. “If I was 19 again, I’d bypass music and go right to the internet,” he said at the time. He understood that a revolution was coming.Bowie had always appreciated the interplay between pop music and technology, but the explosion of web usage in the mid-1990s offered something entirely new in terms of communicative possibilities. In 1996, Bowie became the first major artist to distribute a new song – Telling Lies – as an online-only release, selling over 300,000 downloads. By then, like many other music artists, he had his own website and was exploring interactive CD-ROM technology – notably through the 1994 release of Jump, a PC CD that let users create their own video for the track Jump, They Say as well as watch interviews with Bowie and music videos from the Black Tie White Noise album. In 1997 he arranged an ambitious live ‘cybercast’ of his Earthling concert in Boston – although the limits of internet access at the time meant that capacity was quickly reached, and most viewers received only stuttering images and error messages.

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