Digital Flashback: N.Y. Club Owners Bring Live Music Online

New York Music Festival was early exponent of cybercast technology.

New York club owners banded together five years ago to organize a multinight, multiclub music festival, portions of which were cybercast on the Internet.

Apple Computer Inc. became the event's official sponsor. The inaugural Macintosh New York Music Festival took place from July 17–22, 1995, and it featured 350 bands in 15 venues.

Artists ranging from Todd Rundgren to the Residents performed over the six nights of the festival.

Michael Dorf, owner of the multilevel downtown venue the Knitting Factory (which has since moved to a new location), and Andrew Rasiej, former owner of the Irving Plaza concert hall, functioned as co-executive directors of the event.

"The idea is to start getting musicians to think about how their music can be digital and how they can transmit and distribute it without any cost," Rasiej told the New York Times.

"This festival will be looked at in 25 years as the moment when ancient forms of musical communication and the future of media collided," Dorf added.

The cybercast, however, was a disaster, with most of the equipment failing to work. Some of the venues had no extra phone lines or poor electrical wiring that blew a fuse when the Macintoshes powered up. Equipment fell victim to spilled drinks, thefts and vandalism.

Dorf's club, which was pre-wired to handle its own extensive bill of cybercasts and cable TV tapings, ended up being the most dependable of the 15 venues.

In July 1996, Apple returned as sponsor for the second year of the festival. Market research company Jupiter Communications Inc. joined in with a two-day conference called Plug.in, held in the historic Great Hall of Cooper Union.

Drummer Mick Fleetwood was at the Plug.in conference touting a new synthesizer, while synth-pop pioneer Thomas Dolby Robertson hyped his new digital online venture, Beatnik Inc.

Organizers still had trouble getting the bulk of the 1996 event onto the Internet.

In 1997, Apple, which had its own financial problems at the time, backed out as sponsor for the event and Intel Corp. took its place. Apple's Macintoshes and QuickTime technology were replaced with Intel servers and RealAudio cybercast technology.

Finally, in July 1997 most of the webcast concerts made it successfully onto the Internet.

The now-annual festival has undergone several name changes and has grown by adding venues in additional cities. Now dubbed the Digital Club Festival, this year's event takes place July 22–25 in 35 venues around the world. Scheduled performers include veterans from the first festival, such as Ben Folds Five and Yo La Tengo, as well as newer acts, such as Blink-182 and Kittie.