Alas, I Cannot Remember (but Last.fm can)

On 12 February 2008, I was listening to Laura Marling’s debut album Alas, I Cannot Swim. That was actually about the time that album came out, so I must’ve been listening for the first time. I was also listening, apparently, at just past midnight.

Alas,_I_Cannot_Swim_by_Laura_Marling

Obviously I can’t remember all this, but my Last.fm can, because I must have scrobbled these plays.

LM

What I can also remember (or rather, look up), is that I was in New Zealand at the time. Somewhere between Auckland and Taupo. With my buddy James Bachellier, as it goes. We spent a week or two hanging out, attending Camp A Low Hum, and then driving round the East Cape, to Mount Maunganui, then across to Auckland for a gig.

Anyway. The act of listening (or rather, the act of scrobbling those listens) means I can try and remember what listening to music (and scrobbling it) meant in February 2008. And when I spent more than ten seconds or so thinking about that, I was kind of surprised.

I had forgotten that Spotify didn’t exist yet. I had forgotten that to start listening to new music in February 2008, I most likely had to have bought it. And then I remembered that on that trip, I was rocking an iPod Touch. The iPhone itself only launched less than a year beforehand, and the iPod Touch was the cellular-free version of the iPhone. I’d obviously convinced myself that it was a useful tool to take on a six week trip to New Zealand, and so it proved.

The iPod Touch naturally allowed one to listen to music – music imported from a computer via iTunes, as well as music downloaded via the iTunes Store on the device itself. This in itself was huge.

The app store wouldn’t launch until a few months later that year, and so the iPod Touch in 2008 was a device limited to Apple’s pre-installed apps, as well as a couple of other third party apps like YouTube and Google Maps (I think…).

So in the context of a pre-Spotify, pre-app store world, I can dimly remember the huge novelty of being able to buy new music on a handheld device, get it over WiFi, and then listen. It’s tricky to remember quite what a paradigm shift that was, but I can just about do it. I had been buying digital music for a while, but it usually meant doing so on a computer then syncing it to a device via iTunes. Doing it directly on the device was a paradigm shift. To browse a huge catalogue of music, then be able to press a button, watch a few progress bars for a few minutes, and then play some new music… All on the one device. Wow.

(Even downloading an MP3 via a browser – which I’m 99% just wouldn’t have been possible in 2008 – wouldn’t have subsequently allowed you add it to the music repository on the device. I think you could stream an MP3 in Safari but that was it.)

And so the very fact of me scrobbling a listen in February 2008 raises questions about how those plays were scrobbled. There was no app store, so no official apps… Perhaps there was a third party scrobbling app which could be sideloaded? Maybe my desktop scrobbling software could read previous plays once I got home and synced my iPod Touch? I cannot recall. What is clear from my Last.fm history is that I don’t appear to have scrobbled any other tracks while I was out of the country.

Anyway, I can see from some other iTunes receipts from that period that I bought some other music while travelling then, too. A Joy Division album – which I think was prompted by seeing the film Control in a lovely little cinema in Wanaka with my new pal Jamie, and which obviously made a big impact on me.


Listening to that Laura Marling record again now, and considering all of the above, it strikes me that there are a handful of records that I can quite easily remember where I was when I first listened to them, and a lot of that is tied up in the ceremony or ritual of buying something, and particularly in buying something physical.

Now, I’m more likely to hear some on BBC 6 Music, add a track to a playlist, and maybe then save an album to listen to later. Release dates don’t matter. It’s unlikely I’ll see the album sleeve any larger than a thumbnail on a Spotify screen. Songs and artists come and go, in and out of my consciousness.

I love albums – they have edges. Now, music just sort of happens via Spotify or a playlist or the radio, and it feels like less of an event. I realise this is more about my music buying and listening choices than anything else, but this is also my blog so I think it’s okay.

…This blog post just took a meander into “old man yells at cloud” country, so it’s about time I wrapped things up.

I should add as a postscript, though, the original reason I was browsing my February 2008 scrobbles in the first place. I was trying to discover what artists and albums soundtracked my 2008 trip to New Zealand. I assumed there’d be six weeks of data of all the stuff I listened to, but of course I was on the road, and scrobbling seems not to have happened for that trip. What I can see, however, is what I listened to in the weeks leading up to the trip, and what was on high repeat upon my return home. And that’s almost as good.

The very fact I can just pull up this listening data is still a tiny miracle to me. I love you, Last.fm.