“There’s a great selection out there if you know how to find them,” explained Todd Acktons, 29, a hipster who spends his time searching defunct and abandoned website message boards for mp3 files. “A lot of the time the links are broken. But if you stick with it, you can find some real gems.”
Acktons said he started working on his mp3 collection when he became disillusioned by vinyl.
“[Vinyl] just got way too cool and mainstream. Right now the real action is finding a classic mp3 file that maybe hasn’t ever been played on an iPod.”
Members of his clique said they use a variety of methods to seek out mp3s, including long trips to attend niche conventions for antique computers.
“We’ll also hit up a lot of used computer shops and ask if we can look through the hard-drives,” said Matt Elswer, who boasts a collection of over 2000 mp3s from the late ‘90s.
“Part of the appeal is finding mp3s with weird file names. We’ll never change the file name no matter how wrong it may be because it’s more authentic to keep the original.”
“Those long blank files that were pretty common for a while in the late 90s are the gems that we all hope for,” added Elswer. “You don’t get much out of the song but nothing beats knowing that very few people probably listened to the file all the way to the end.”
The hipsters also stress the importance of how a vintage mp3 should be played.
“It’s all about the experience, too, man,” said Ron Ollister, 28, a friend of Elswer and Acktons. “We play these files on the oldest computer we can find to recreate the way it was back in the day. Sometimes these files were improperly converted, which can make it painful to listen to, but it’s really cool.”
“We once found a WAV file that was obviously made using a computer mic pushed up against stereo speakers,” Ollister continued. “It was a whole album from Zappa in one file. The file was huge and the quality terrible, and we had a heck of a time trying to play it on a Pentium II with an older version of Winamp which kept crashing on us. It was awesome.”
The most revered Gen-Y hipsters belonging to the mp3 movement are known to use dial-up connections to share their music files because transferring files at too great a speed “ruins the mood.” Aaron Fieldman, a hipster who lives in the Montreal area, made a name for himself in the community when he successfully transferred “Stairway to Heaven” on five different floppy discs.
While the Gen-Y hipsters commit to staying clear of anything “too kitschy” so as not to ruin the vintage files, friends and family members have complained that they sometimes take their music appreciation rituals too far.
Elswer’s mother, Lynda, said her son once broke up with his girlfriend of two years because she made copies of his mp3 files and played them on her iPod, thus “ruining the rarity of the file,” according to Elswer.
But Elswer maintained it was a “lame move” on the part of his then girlfriend.
“It’s people like that who just don’t get it,” Elswer said. “We’re trying to recapture the days when toasters would fly across your computer screen. Good music wasn’t meant to be packaged into some neat little corporate scheme where you pay a buck to have a song play on your phone. That’s way too easy and convenient, and I don’t want any part of that.”