Sunday 16 December 2018

The landscape before Spotify

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Fans at Feile 1991 Picture: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection
Fans at Feile 1991 Picture: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection
John Meagher

John Meagher

There's a world of difference in the musical landscape between that first Féile in 1990 and today's reincarnation. Everything from the genres that are most popular, to the way we consume music, and what we're willing to spend on it has altered in enormous ways.

We take streaming for granted today - and have done since the creation of Spotify 10 years ago - but in 1990 it would have been very difficult to understand the concept. Show somebody from that time an iPhone and unlimited music being streamed from it to wireless speakers and it would have seemed like something from Tomorrow's World.

Back then, CD was king although many forget just how big cassettes were too - its popularity had been driven by the proliferation of the Sony Walkman and its various imitators. There were still stacks of vinyl in the aisles but their days were numbered. Few, though, could have seen how that format would become a thing again so many years later.

The year 1990 was an time of seemingly unlimited riches for record companies - and punters paid through the nose for it. Today's €10 monthly subscription for the likes of Spotify and Apple Music wouldn't have gone very far in the early 1990s. It wouldn't have been enough to by a single new album and you would have been lucky to get a tape of, say, Depeche Mode's Violator - one of the defining albums of the year.

With album sales buoyant, a host of Irish acts could make a decent living - even if they never enjoyed overseas success. And those early Féiles were characterised by the large number of homegrown bands, such as The Stunning, which sold massive quantities in this country. As frontman Steve Wall (inset) told this newspaper earlier this year, "every second home" seemed to have a copy of their breakthrough album, Once Around the World.

Féile may have ushered in the notion of the music festival weekend into this country, but it also arrived at a time when the live offering wasn't a patch on what it was today. The opening of the Point Depot a few years earlier had ensured that some of the bigger names who used to bypass Ireland would drop by on their globetrotting tours but there was nothing like the choice we have today.

Still, some things stay the same. Dustin the Turkey, who arrived on the airwaves in 1988, will be hosting Féile TV in Semple Stadium next weekend.

"Féile Classical is going to be epic," the avian creature said in a statement. "It's basically BoggerPalooza!"

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