David Bowie – artist, musician, poet, visionary, innovator – the man who fell to Earth has been called many things (none of which is, of course, boring). Constantly reinventing himself in well-defined stages – Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke – Bowie was a trailblazer in so many areas that transcended music. He also spearheaded the tech world to ensure the longevity of his music – and to experiment with the latest advances. Here are three ways Bowie embraced technology during his career.
The first to have his own ISP – BowieNet
In 1998, Bowie launched BowieNet – an internet service provider with a monthly subscription of $19.95 per month to the US and the UK. He ensured it was packed with attractive features, including the standard 20mb free to build a website, a very cool email address with the coveted davidbowie.co.uk address (for UK subscribers) and access to live chat sessions with Bowie himself.
At the helm was Bowie’s tech company UltraStar, which had a plan to bring other celebrities online to share in the dotcom boom of the late ‘90s. After a few technological dabbles, such as an internet radio station with Bowie as DJ, and some encrypted musical goodies, UltraStar called it a day in 2012.
The first to release a download-only album
In 1999, just as Napster grew to prominence, Bowie became the first major-label artist to sell a complete album online in download form two weeks prior to its official physical release date.
Back then with dial-up, a download of his album, appropriately titled Hours… would take hours, so releasing an album via websites, including Virgin Music and his own BowieNet, as well as other music retailers, was virtually unheard of. He also left retailers to price the album themselves (probably a gateway to the ‘pay what you feel’ release of Radiohead’s In Rainbows.)
Slow internet speeds were no barrier for Bowie’s album – nothing would halt Bowie’s desire to embrace new technology when it comes to his music.
The first to adopt new technology
In the David Bowie Is exhibition, amongst the stage costumes, album artwork and personal items (including a cocaine spoon and a lipstick-smeared tissue), there is a clear outline of Bowie’s adoption of the latest technology.
In the exhibition, there is the SYNTHI synthesizer he used for the Low, Heroes and Lodger sessions (a gift from producer and long-time friend Brian Eno) and the Verbasizer computer application he helped develop – like a cut-and-paste machine that would mix and match lyrical sentences, replacing Bowie’s traditional paper-and-scissors approach. Bowie was no stranger to trying new things – and making them his own.
With the passing of David Bowie just two days after his 69th birthday, which was also the release of his latest album, Blackstar – a beautiful albeit final gift to the world – we say farewell to the innovator, but with his pioneering flair and unwavering creativity that he shared with the world, he is always remembered.