In the early days of the internet–say, 1995-2000–before everyone and his dog had a website or a Facebook page, the best place to learn about what was happening in music was in the online forums. My 1995 book, The Alternative Music Almanac, had a chapter devoted to all the alt.music.[whatever] world, sites where you could gossip, trade information, flame people and later, even trade these new things called MP3s. Later, these forums blossomed into something quite grand, creating an online culture of their own.
The Guardian looks back on those message board days with this article.
Back in the 00s, I ran an online music forum, most of whose regulars were bored office workers. Once, we made a sketchy calculation, based on rates of posting and average wages, of how much the site had cost the UK economy in terms of time wasted arguing about Daft Punk, Outkast, Britney and more. We estimated that around £1.7m of productivity had been gloriously frittered.
Music attracts conversation like a magnet pulls iron filings, and the form that talk takes changes according to where music lovers hang out with one another. Milk bars in the 50s; “head shops”, fuggy student digs and record stores in the 60s and 70s; fanzines in the 80s and 90s. These days, the word gets spread via memes, like those earnest pleas for 10 Facebook friends to share their favourite teenage albums. And in the early 00s, there were music forums: Drowned in Sound, my own I Love Music, Barbelith, Dissensus, Hipinion and dozens of others, fierce little enclaves of snark, in-jokes and bubbling enthusiasm.
Starting a music forum in 2018 feels like a quixotic endeavour. But the London-based electronic duo patten have done just that. Their 555-5555 messageboard shares its name with the alias they use for other creative side projects – zines, club nights and the like. They saw a niche for serious music chat that the current social landscape, for all its advantages, wasn’t truly filling. According to patten, there has been a surge of interest in their new board, and an impressive level of quality to the discussion: “Feels like it was something a lot of people were waiting for, maybe without realising it.”