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Severe Tire Damage in Internet Guiden

Severe Tire Damage - the first live band on the Internet

This is a rough translation of an article that appeared in InterNet Guiden, Nummer 1, 1997
[The cover also said "endast 29 kronor (inkl moms)" which we figure means, "Only 29 Kronor (still cheap)."]

When the Rolling Stones announced their performance on November 18, 1994 as the first Internet broadcast concert, they were way off base. Soon thereafter they had to change the announcement to "the first Internet concert with a 'major' band". Already, a year earlier, on June 24, 1993, the entire world could see and hear Severe Tire Damage perform live via the Net. In order to really add insult to injury for the Rolling Stones, Severe Tire Damage gave a surprise performance as a warm-up band on the Net half an hour before the Stones' concert.

Severe Tire Damage, describing their music as "loud", hail from Palo Alto, California, and is made up of four not entirely young garage rockers. Professionally they all work in the computer industry. The lead singer, Steve Rubin, works at Apple Research Laboratories. Mark Manasse, bass player and singer, works for Digital Systems Research Center (the outfit that created Alta Vista), where the guitar player Russ Haines used to be employed. He "doesn't work" nowadays, but he occasionally fills in as sound technician and record producer, and toys with 3D graphics. You can read everything about the hardware and software Russ Haines uses on his home Web page. The drummer, Mark Weiser, is cheif technologist at Xerox PARC, where the technology resulting in today's GUIs (Mac and Windows, etc.) was born.

With these high tech employers in the background it is not surprising that this California band that noone has heard of was the first live performer on the Net. The concert was sent over the Internet Multicast Backbone (MBone). Russ Haines, the guitar player, tells us how it came about:

Our drummer, Mark Weiser, got us a gig on the roof of Xerox PARC. Coincidentally, on the same day, PARC was visited by Van Jacobsen, the inventor of the MBone. Jacobsen was there to demonstrate multicasting technology. As another aspect of Severe Tire Damage's technological exaggerations, we figured it might be fun to broadcast the concert across the Internet. We had a small audience in Australia, but more importantly, our local audience went indoors to avoid the scorching sun, and viewed us on their computer screens. High-tech engineers don't like too much time in the sun.

We posted some questions to Russ Haines and the lead singer, Steve Rubin:

Q: Is it true that the members of the Rolling Stones hate you?

Steve: No, they don't hate us. Apparently Mick Jagger stated that "Severe Tire Damage highlighted the democracy of the Internet when they injected themselves as a warm-up band to our performance". Those who hate us (or maybe not) are the technicians who handled the Internet broadcast of the Rolling Stones. Since our Internet staff is much more knowledgeable and experienced than theirs, the quality of our MBone broadcast was far superior. (Editor's note: Severe Tire Damage was back by Digital Systems Research Center, while Thinking Pictures and Sun Microsystems handled the Stones concert).

What do you think about the future of live music on the Net?

Steve: Live music on the net has a future only if people are willing to pay for it. After all, we're living in a capitalist society. As things are now, there's no way of making money by playing on the MBone. But music is not unique in that the Internet is a cash challenge. Until commercial entities find a way of making money on the Internet, it'll stay a toy.

Russ: [A sentence in Swedish with three dependant clauses that can't be found in the English interview.] It can't help but be a big thing. Certainly bandwidth is one of the most important issues that is slowing it down. And there's also the question of who will pay for all the bandwidth. Anyone with access to the Net now can't imagine living without email and the web for immediate information. In the next few years, live video and audio will certainly become just as familiar -and invaluable. From live theatre as entertainment, came "moving pictures" which quickly became "talkies" which became television as technology progressed. Pony Express became telegraph which became telephone. The Internet is still just beginning to be explored by those who are just discovering it. Some of the goodies that will be developed in the next few years haven't even been thought of yet.

What brought you together - your interest in computers, in music or your dream of becoming rock'n'roll stars?

Steve: Our interest in music. It is only a side-effect that we all work with computers...that is how we knew each other in the first place. We did not dream of being rock&roll stars, but how can we deny that it crossed our minds. After all, in this world, the heroes are the rock&roll stars and the astronauts.

Russ: Soon after I started work at Digital Equipment Corporation's Systems Research Center, I discovered there was a really bad rock and roll band that rehearsed in the basement at night. I found myself playing guitar and we began practicing regularly, rather than just frantically getting ready for the next concert the day beforehand. While the musicianship of the band progressed, we began playing songs with more musical qualities. Rather than playing just "John Wayne was a Nazi" and "Corporate Deathburger" we tried to find songs that were both danceable and easy enough to play. During all this, most of the band members were single and had nothing better to do than spend money on useless things. Musical toys are certainly some of the best useless things to buy. We love toys. Huge speaker stacks, wireless transmitters, audio effects --nothing was too absurd. As we began to acquire toys, other friends found STD a good place to spend time and money. Brad, our lighting and network effects wizard, built a wireless remote-controlled stage lighting system. We had flashing lights, sirens, colored spotlights. Then we added a theatrical fog machine. Our MBone wizard, Lance, couldn't stop playing with it. Meanwhile, Steve the vocalist, not wanting to be outdone by the guitarist and bass player, bought an Apple Powerbook to be used solely as a lyrics storage device. Steve searched the Internet and found over thirty megabytes of lyrics. He can find the words to any song we've ever tried to play.

What do you take the most serious, your work or your music?

Russ: You'd be hard-pressed to find anything that a member of STD takes seriously. When Mark, the drummer, was recently promoted to Chief Technologist and had to fly to the corporate headquarters of Xerox every week, he would schedule an overnight flight and sleep under an unoccupied desk until the board meeting, then fly back that afternoon to make it to band rehearsal that night. Mark, the bass player, occasionally has made it to band rehearsal straight from the airport after presenting a mathematics paper in in Europe. Steve, the vocalist, perhaps said it best, "Now I know why I got my PhD, to play in Severe Tire Damage." Everyone in the band is a leader in their field (except me: I haven't worked in years) and works hard to stay there. We know that STD sucks, but it sucks in such new and interesting ways...

Steve: Although we all take our work seriously, we know that it is important to take your fun seriously, too, in order to retain sanity. The band is very important. Some of us may indeed take it more seriously than our work. I, for example, would sooner quit my job than the band.

How large was the audience on the Internet concerts?

Steve: Our largest internet audience was the Rolling Stones warmup gig. We estimate that a few thousand people were watching (because there were a few hundred sites connected). Our first MBone performance garnered only a few listeners, but some as far away as Australia. Although we are certainly not an international success, it is true that we are very well known in computer circles. In fact, nearly every computer programmer/engineer that I meet these days has heard of our band.

Russ: [A sentence that seems to say:] We were just interviewed by a Korean TV crew! [Sentence created and emphasized in Sweden.]

Do you think this is a realistic alternative for "unknown" bands to get a larger audience?

Russ: It may be easiest to think of it as a college radio station: a place where you hear a lot of weird stuff, some of which may have redeeming value. There are already sites on the Net that are virtual radio stations, playing some of the better independant music available worldwide. Just as word processors didn't make everyone a great writer and desk-top publishing didn't make graphic artists and editors out of people, the ability to distribute music and performance via the internet won't make everyone a virtual Paganini or Marcel Marceau.It does however, give almost everyone who thinks they have something to say an outlet. There's plenty of room for everyone, however, and we look forward to watching everyone else soon.

What are your plans for the future?

Steve: Our next live concert will be on January 8, broadcast from Anaheim, California (home of DisneyLand). We will be playing a live concert for the Usenix conference, and broadcasting it onto the MBone. Beyond that, we haven't made many plans, but we will surely play many more MBone shows (we have done nearly two dozen so far).

Facts on MBone

The Multicast Backbone, MBone, is a virtual network on the Internet. It allows audio and video to be sent in realtime over the Net. It currently takes a large computer and knowledge to make it work. The first test [or discussion?] was done at Stanford University with BBN in 1988. The next Internet Protocol (IPv6) comes with built in multicasting.

More information on the MBone is on the MBone Information Web: http://www.mbone.com

There is more on the IP Multicasting Initiative, IPMI, at: http://www.stardust.com/multi

"We'll never be sharing a stage with the Rolling Stones --except on the Internet."

Russ Haines, guitarist of Severe Tire Damage

On Severe Tire Damage's website there is on the Internet Concerts and their CD. There is lots of stuff there to play with [or something].


email: band@std.org

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