Thursday, April 29, 2010

Recommended Reading: Strange Reaction

When Strange Reaction first appeared on the scene in early 2005, it was just another in what was quickly becoming the overcrowded field of mp3 blogs. Those were heady days when blogging in general was becoming more common, the debate over file sharing was in full swing, and anyone with a music collection and a connection to the Internet began living his or her daydreams of writing for Rolling Stone while showing off a cooler-than-you taste in tunes.

Over the years, the myriad blogs who popped up back then began to steadily thin out. A combination of an over-saturated market, a growing abundance of DMCA Takedown notices, and the rise of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter as the new trend in online communication contributed to the steady disappearance of many mp3 blogs. Those that remain today are those who are in it because of a real love of the music, and those who have the knowledge, the personality, and the writing ability to be entertaining beyond the music they offer. A few abandoned the mp3-blog format in favor of finding their own style - some way that they could share their love of the records they blog about while setting themselves apart from the crowd.

Scott over at Strange Reaction is one of those who found a different approach, along with co-blogger Mike E. who joined along the way to create a double-barreled blast of good old Punk Rock fun. Scott shared a bit of Strange Reaction's history:
"According to I started on February 14th, 2005. Sharing out of print punk and hardcore records was the only goal, and I did that for a couple of years. Lots of other websites that did this much better started springing up more and more, and it just started seeming redundant, so I changed the format. I lost most of my visitors too, but since I don't make money from the site it didn't seem to matter much at the time. Some of the other sites are since long gone, but a few are still posting some great things on a regular basis.

I changed the site into one where I'd review music, along with a couple of irregulars that seem to have disappeared off the planet since. That was fun for a little bit. I also started putting together a 20-30 song mash mp3 for folks to download, a precursor to the current show. I had no microphone, so I just used a digital voice to announce the show and then played the songs straight through.

Picking music was the most fun I'd had with the site in years, so I started focusing on that and changed the format once again, removing the reviews that were pretty blah to begin (mine at least) and simply posting a show once a week. Mike E. contacted me and was interested in posting a weekly column. He seemed like a guy with an interesting history and I liked his writing style. Plus he works for free, can't beat that!"

The "show" that Scott refers to is the Strange Reaction podcast, a weekly supplement to the blog in which Scott presents 30 (give or take) songs, ranging from classic punk to searing hardcore to noisy thrash - all of it good stuff. I find myself listening each week and either smiling at a classic pick, being reminded of a band I hadn't listened to in ages, or discovering a band that somehow flew beneath my radar. Although he now has that microphone, Scott's presentation is still straightforward and unencumbered: here's what you were listening to, and here's what's coming up next. He also helpfully includes the name of the album or ep each song comes from in the show notes on the blog, so if you hear something you really like, you know where to go looking.

As Scott noted, Mike E. handles the record reviews, and does an outstanding job with them. His present-day takes on records that are often 20 years old are informed and on-the-money most of the time, and his reviews of newer product are a reliable buying guide. But he does more than just review records: Mike is a top-notch story-teller, and each review also includes an autobiographical anecdote. The story may or may not directly relate to the record being reviewed, but it does give the reader the unique opportunity to learn something about the reviewer, and therefore perhaps some insight into the state of mind in which the review was written. Many celebrity "rock 'n' roll journalists" would never dare to be so open.

In addition to the podcasts and reviews, other occasional goodies spring up: top ten lists, interviews with cool people (Steve Jones of The Stepmothers fer crissake!), stories from back in the day, the occasional free-and-legal mp3 download from any of various bands or labels - whatever. Strange Reaction has been a regular visit for me not just because of the quality of the writing, but also because of the fearlessness and utter lack of pretension with which both Scott and Mike present themselves.

Scott was good enough to respond to the Five Questions I've asked of each blogger in this series:

What or who inspired you to begin blogging?

S: Large Hearted Boy. This was the first mp3 blog that I started reading on a regular basis. I always like the variety there, and while I may not always dig the music I do always check out what they're offering. At about the same time I was grabbing lots of old punk that was ripped by lots of different folks and shared via a particular P2P app. While I loved that it was being shared there, I thought it would be cool to share with an even larger audience, ones who probably had never heard of the program and would never find the tunes otherwise.

Is there a story or meaning behind your blog or its name?
S: I took the name from the song "Some Strange Reaction" by Firewater. It just seemed to fit.

Which post would you choose from your archives if you had to provide only one that best represents what your blog is all about?

S: The answer to this would probably best be reflected in a post from an old incarnation of the site, back when I posted full EP's and just gave a little back story on the record or the band. Now that I'm down to a podcast and Mike E's weekly column it's harder to choose.

When you first log on to your computer each day, what is the first site you go to? Why?

S: Reddit. It gives me a look at random news, odd videos and a look at what people will be spamming onto Facebook the next day.

What one other blog would YOU recommend that you read regularly, and why?

S: Alice Bag. She's an original, not only because of her history, but just how she writes and the topics she chooses. I never leave her site bored.

Scott also added these comments about his blog and podcast:
With [Mike E.'s] weekly look at an album and a story from his past and my weekly (mostly) podcast/show/mp3 thing, I'm pretty happy where the site is at, even if it's not a daily read for anyone.

I'm currently getting a few thousand downloads/streams of my show every time a new one is posted which always surprises me, and Punk Radiocast streams it first, every Monday night at 11:00pm EST. So if you're looking for a preview, go there. I then throw it on the website, usually by Wednesday. The one thing I would love to see is feedback to the show, I barely hear a word and I know folks are listening. It's weird.

I know of what Scott speaks when he bemoans the lack of feedback. Folks, the best thing you can offer to any blogger whose writing you enjoy is feedback - we thrive on it, yet rarely receive it! I do highly recommend you stop over at Strange Reaction, and subscribe to the podcast as well, and please do let Scott and Mike know what you think.

My sincere thanks to Scott at Strange Reaction for taking part in this series. Keep up the great work!