Stephen Witt on Oink’s Pink Palace


From Stephen Witt‘s recent book titelled “How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy“, a few lines on Oink’s Pink Palace, revered by many, entered by few; bear in mind that there’s a lot more to read in the book, so go buy it! Here we go:

Over the next few years, several of these private trackers would flourish beyond their founders’ imaginings, snowballing into large-scale indices of pirated material whose archival breadth surpassed not just the Pirate Bay’s but also the Scene’s and, in some cases, even the Smithsonian’s. The best of these, which grew from the humblest of origins, was the legendary music tracker known as Oink’s Pink Palace.

Nor was he expecting any legal trouble. When he registered for the domain name “Oink,” Ellis paid with his own credit card and used his real name.

Oink became the premier destination for the tech-obsessed music nerd (and his close cousin, the music-obsessed tech nerd). Public trackers like the Pirate Bay were overrun by plebs, while Oink members were knowledgeable, cool, and occasionally even socially well adjusted. By the end of 2004, several thousand users had signed on, the kind of core base of dedicated file-sharing peers that could support exponential growth. Ellis’ ability to serve the site from his bedroom was quickly outstripped. He enlisted technical support from the site’s users and found like-minded administrators to help him meet demand. He migrated the site from Windows XP to Windows Server 2003, then to Linux. The physical location of the hosting computer moved to other users’ bedrooms, in search of high-bandwidth connections—first to a small town in Canada, then to an apartment in Norway, then finally to a professional server farm in Holland.

Hosting bills began to mount. By December, the tracker cost several hundred dollars a month to maintain. In early 2005, Ellis posted the address of a PayPal account for the site and made a polite request for donations. Cash began to trickle in, denominated in currencies from all over the globe. More than money, Oink’s army donated labor. They built out the archive, and their enthusiasm for this venture put even the Scene to shame. Oinkers uploaded their own CD collections, and the CD collections of their friends. Some of the site’s elite “torrent masters” uploaded a thousand albums or more. As Scene participants had done before them, Oinkers started to search eBay for rarities and import pressings. As record stores started closing, Oinkers showed up to buy their fire sale inventory in bulk, and these compulsive uploaders were the music retailers’ last, best customers. First, there were 1,000 albums. Then 10,000. Then 100,000. Ellis the elitist presided over it all. It was a beautiful thing: no low-quality encodes, no fakes, no dupes, no movies, no TV shows. Just music. All of it, in perfect digital clarity. All the music ever recorded.

Oink grew explosively. By the beginning of 2006 the site had 100,000 users and hosted torrents for nearly a million distinct albums, making it four times bigger than the iTunes Store. The site’s user base was uploading 1,500 new torrents each day. Every album was available in multiple formats, and soon Oink had complete, thoroughly documented discographies for any musician you could care to name. Think of the most obscure release from the most obscure artist you knew; it was there, on Oink, in every issue and reissue, including redacted promo copies and split seven-inch records and bonus tracks from Japanese pressings you’d never even heard of.

Take the artist Nick Drake. Obscure in his lifetime, Drake sold only 5,000 copies of his final album Pink Moon before overdosing on pills in 1974 at the age of 26. Over the next 25 years his reputation grew slowly. He became a “musician’s musician,” beloved by connoisseurs but unknown to the public. Then, in 1999, the title track for Pink Moon was featured in a commercial for the Volkswagen Cabrio: young trendsetters on a nighttime joyride, scored with the chronically depressed singer’s lyrics about the meaninglessness of life. It ended with a pan to the sky, where the Volkswagen logo stood in for the moon. The campaign was a bust from Volkswagen’s perspective. The Cabrio never sold well in the United States and was discontinued within three years. But the effect on Drake’s back catalog was dramatic—the advertisers had done a better job selling the music than the car.

Within a few months of the commercial’s first airing, Pink Moon had sold more copies than it had in the previous quarter century. And since Drake had released his music on the UK’s Island label, his back catalog was now part of the behemoth they called Universal Music Group. The music executives there moved quickly to take advantage of this serendipitous gift. You could learn all this on Oink, which acted almost as a museum exhibit of Drake’s critical afterlife, charting the repeated attempts to cash in on his growing critical and commercial stature.

The website’s incomparable archives had Pink Moon ripped from eight different sources: the exceptionally rare, extremely valuable first-edition 1972 vinyl from Island Records; the 1986 box set CD reissue from Hannibal Records; the 1990 CD release from Island; the 1992 CD re-reissue from Hannibal; the post-Cabrio 2000 CD re-re-reissue from Island; the accompanying Simply Vinyl 180-gram audiophile re-re-reissue, also from 2000; the 2003 Island Records digitally remastered re-re-re-reissue on compact disc; and the Universal Music Japanese vinyl re-re-re-reissue from 2007. Each of the reissues was then encoded into an alphabet soup of file types—FLAC, AAC, and mp3—so that ultimately there were more than thirty options for downloading this one album alone. You couldn’t find stuff like this on iTunes. The size and scope of Oink’s catalog outdid any online music purveyor, and given its distributed nature, the archive was essentially indestructible. But its growth made it difficult to maintain. Alan Ellis now spent almost all his free time keeping the site running, and as his grades suffered, he was forced to repeat a year at university. By the summer of 2006, Oink was getting 10,000 page views a day, and the hosting bills had grown to thousands of dollars a month. Several times, Ellis ran pledge drives on the site’s front page. The response from his community was overwhelming. In the span of a year Ellis’ army donated over 200,000 pounds—nearly half a million dollars. People liked Oink. They were even willing to pay for it.

By the time Ellis finally graduated from university in 2007, Oink’s army was 180,000 members strong. Among the foot soldiers were several famous musicians, including Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who admitted in an interview to being an avid user of the site and described it as “the world’s greatest record store.” Ellis himself could attest to this. While administering the site, he’d gone from being a casual music listener to a total fanatic. He used the music-tracking site Last .fm to publicize his listening habits, and during the three years he’d been running Oink, he had listened to over 91,000 songs—6,000 hours’ worth of music.

iTunes was just a store, basically a mall—Oink was a community.

The evidence trail amounted to the easiest bust in the history of online piracy. On Tuesday, October 23, 2007, Ellis woke before dawn to prepare for another day in the IT pit at the chemical company in downtown Middlesbrough. He took a shower in his apartment’s shared bathroom, then returned to his bedroom, where his girlfriend, having spent the night, was still asleep. As he did every morning, he logged into Oink as administrator, checked the server logs, and read the overnight messages from his deputized lieutenants. Then the door slammed open and a dozen police officers swarmed into his room. All ten of Ellis’ bank accounts were frozen simultaneously. Across the country in Manchester, his father was inexplicably arrested as well, and charged with money laundering. Alan Ellis’ home computer was seized as evidence. So were the Holland servers, which contained the IP and email addresses of all 180,000 Oink members. Unlike the Pirate Bay administrators, Ellis had not planned for this contingency, and the torrents Oink served went dark.

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Movies I've watched recently:

  • Johan Falk: Ur askan i elden (Video 2015) -... 1/10

    2015-06-27 07:42

    This was quite the clownboat. I've not seen any previous films from the Johan Falk franchise, but this kind of parted way from the other successful Swedish cop franchise, namely Beck. Here, you'll find more violence. And also a fairly more complex storyline. Having said that, that's all that differs them; the ultra-bad acting is in here, but I must say the characters themselves lack any kind of depth. The Token Female Police is just messy and angry. The Johan Falk character is not only one-dimensional beyond the pale, but extremely simplistic and non-human. The actor, Jakob Eklund, must be a better person than actor; he has to be. It's not the actors' faults, not just; the direction is skint, torpid and fetid; those are difficult words which I just threw out there to make your reading experience more worthwhile than this film, and I know I did it! Avoid. Still, it's fun to laugh _at_.

  • While We're Young (2014) - IMDb 3/10

    2015-06-20 20:55
    * * *

    This film irritated and invigorated me. Even though it seems to aspire to a kind of awakening of the mind, by realising that - gasp - what may rejuvenate you is _already_ in your own head, it's kind of an old man's old drag. Michel de Montaigne is the name of a 16th-century philosopher and nobleperson who tried to be a stoic, but who - partly thanks to his cat interrupting his "important work" and partly thanks to his thinking outside the box - realised that life is more than borders that merely serves as a jail. In this film, two aging New Yorkers meet two young New Yorkers; the youngsters make the oldsters feel young, and bang - there's a lot of talk of vinyl, VHS, cassette tapes, black-and-white film, 1970s music, et cetera. Yes, the old seem old, even though the young use old media and somewhat shun Facebook. The ploy that's mostly used, is where Ben Stiller's character attacks the younger guy, who just retorts to silence. And being a bit of an idiot. Still, the best parts of the film? There is but one: to see Ad-Rock live. MC AD-ROCK is alive. Still, that does not make for a film. All in all, go see Kurosawa's "Ikiru" instead.

  • Catching Milat (TV Mini-Series 2015) - IMDb 1/10

    2015-06-09 21:05

    This series started out promising, for the first seconds, at least, to then descend into a boring rage of a series. Bad acting, drab series altogether. Even though the film "Wolf Creek" has amped-up action beyond what actually happened, it's worth it, in comparison with this drabfest. Seriously, it's not fun, nor tragic or scary in any sense. There's so much hypertension in this series, consisting of two episodes, that I could cut it with a knife. Blaaargh. Avoid this.

  • We Are Still Here (2015) - IMDb 1/10

    2015-06-07 15:11

    This film is pretty straight forward. A family moves into a house and there's something ominous about it; sounds, movement, a cellar where something apparently has gone down some time ago. It started off well. American country roads. Silence. Winter, snow. Then, silence and few movements. Then, the main two characters, a couple who are seemingly deeply affected, start talking. Neither of the actors do a good job, I'm sad to say. The script is forced and the dialogue feels contrived. The plot moves along at a bore's pace, and the more everything goes on, I felt a complete blanket of amateurism crudely laid over the entire production. I could go on with how the twists and turns in this film don't feel relevant, or how I never felt any kind of care for anything in this production, but that would just be giving this machine more than it deserves. Stay away.

  • Down Down the Deep River (2014) - IMDb 7/10

    2015-05-09 21:24
    * * * * * * *

    This is a loveable short film courtesy of Will Sheff, the man behind Okkervil River, who spent his youth growing up in New Hampshire in the 1980s and wrote the band's latest album, "The Silver Gymnasium", about this experience; this short film is a kind of appendix to that album, where we get to follow a boy through friendship and beyond, to what communicating without words is about, while delving through a barrage or 1980s nick-nacks. All in all, I think the film suffers a little from all the 1980s regalia everywhere, as though they would make for a better film; that's just a mini gripe, as the film itself is really strong through the choice to not use much dialogue, and for bringing out what being a kid could be like, for good and bad.


Finally! The trailer for “The End Of The Tour”, the “David Foster Wallace roadtrip film”


I love hearing “Strange Currencies” by R.E.M., playing over the images of this trailer, which is for “The End Of The Tour”, a film created from David Lipsky’s book named “Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, a book written by Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone Magazine, who hung around David Foster Wallace during a leg of his reading tour of “Infinite Jest”, by many considered to be Wallace’s masterpiece1

I’m afraid for the film to be a hagiography, but it actually looks good. The quotes from Wallace are lovely, but he was that way, he was always relevant.

  1. Which isn’t true; “The Pale King” is, I not-so-humbly say.[back]
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Chuck Palahniuk – “Make Something Up”, the more disgusting, the funnier

Chuck Palahniuk

From his “Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread“:

The next part is pretty. A pretty glow. Like a flickering blue Bananas Foster or a Crepe Suzette served tableside. Like a Spanish coffee when the bartender showers it with cinnamons that light up like fireflies so pretty the daddy and the mommy can only gaze down at this blue nimbus like from a black-and-white television showing old movies, this spellbinding blue light that dances down there in her lap hair which must be drenched in secondhand hand sanitizer because that stuff never fully evaporates and because her bush explodes like napalm in the morning behind Charlie Sheen in a second feature, even then the mommy and daddy don’t think to stop-drop-and-roll, stop-drop-and-roll like Bill Cosby told them their whole growing up, instead they scream and even the mommy’s danger zone screams with all the air the daddy’s put inside her, until this blast of air blows fire like a fire-breathing dragon, like a Vietnam War flamethrower or Lieutenant Ellen Ripley chasing the Alien around in the dark, a total kick-ass feminist hero the likes of which nobody had ever seen before until she turned out to be just Sigourney Weaver, even then that fire shot across the backseat to set fire to the daddy’s hand-sanitized danger zone, not just the hair but the skin parts, too, which are still stuck straight out under internal pressure, until having extra foreskin is the least of his worries, even then he’s trying to do justice to how this looks, even if the expression on his kid’s face, Troy’s face, is abject horror, Troy’s dad says it’s like when they go camping and get their marshmallows too close to the flames and they’re left holding this spitting, dripping blob of melting, sizzling mess nobody can extinguish, tons worse than just browning his meat, even then the mommy’s monthly time decides to come, even when it’s not her time, that’s how the ladies do if something startles them, like a spider next to the kitchen sink or a scary Halloween mask, they contract all their muscles in a defensive maneuver, the way a squid will squirt ink to create a smokescreen so she can make her getaway, the mommy gushes out this volcano of blood encircled by a ring of fire.

Even that doesn’t help when the Dodge Dart’s interior ignites making this a fiery fire within a fire like a fireplace inside a burning-down house located in a subdivision of Hell, even then the daddy’s so close that when he’s pulled out he still spits his spermatozoa only on fire from hand sanitizer, shooting pow, pow, pow like tracer bullets, like July Fourth, even then the mommy’s not feeling this big rush of not-pregnant relief, even then the mommy and daddy just jump around the backseat of the Dodge Dart until every headlight behind them is flashing high-low, high-low, and everyone is making rodeo whoopees and shouting, “Let ’er buck!” not knowing it’s a danger zone conflagration, not until the mommy tumbles out one back door of the Dodge and the daddy tumbles out the other back door and even then the idea of stop-drop-and-roll is the last thing that comes to mind, even when they’re both running on fire, trailing burned bits of marshmallow, smoldering, dropping off Bananas Foster gobs that sputter in the drive-in movie gravel, setting fire to paper napkins dropped by litterbugs, even while they keep running to where the faces of Sally Struthers and Steve McQueen just keep kissing bigger and bigger, even then his kid’s face, Troy’s face is one big question mark, even then the kid asks, “Is that where I came from?”

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My saved links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Torres live at KEXP

For those of you who may have missed it, Torres may have released the album of the year, “Sprinter“, and the above is a live performance of some of her tracks, recorded May 16, 2015.

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