In the late ’90’s, the Justin Strauss Remix was my introduction to The Great Commandment. I was a very solitary teenager living in a virtual bubble: In the space of a year, my mother died, I moved states, wasn’t going to school, had no job and was too far out in the boonies to really go out and do much of anything. It was me, a flaky landline and a USRobotics 33.6k modem that could only hack 26.4k if the electrical interference gods were smiling on me. My time was divided between fucking around on the internet back when stories about Barney collapsing the universe and Usenet were still a thing, and tooling around in Impulse Tracker.
Somewhere along the way, I decided to use my sketchy Internet powers to try do what I’m trying to do right now: Find more Synthpop! If my horizons aren’t broad enough right now, they were pencil lead-thin at the time. Mechanical pencil lead-thin. A less lazy blogger would be looking up pencil lead thicknesses to right about now to put one final too-fine-of-a-point point on it. How fine, might you say you say? I dunno. Perhaps 0.2mm.
Wtf… at the speed of thought!
Do you remember webrings? Of course you don’t. Either you’re too young or you’re a rational person who deletes that junk from your brain to make room for useful new information like mechanical pencil lead thicknesses. Back in the day, instead of Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, people had their own personal web sites. It was like the wild west, except with cat photos and weird random humor. Which is to say that it was pretty much the same as it is now, just not as thoroughly connected.
Searching wasn’t as reliable. If you wanted to be a go-to source for some topic or service, your best bet was to get yourself listed in Yahoo!’s hierarchical directory (now on it’s death bed). Directory listings came up before the real “search” results, back in the day, so it was like searching the phone book before hitting up the classifieds when you wanted to find someone to fix your car. For the regular masses of sites, they relied on sharing links. It was pretty much obligatory to have a “links” page, giving your readers bookmarks of sites you consider to be worth visiting. The whole internet was kind of like Wikipedia in that way, at the time.
Webrings were one way of doing that. It was a system where a central organizer would aggregate the links of it’s members, who all shared the same interest, and each member of the webring would have the webring’s code. There would be a “back” and “forward” button that took you to the next link, so you could go from site to site on the same topic. This has all been a longwinded I’m too old for this shit-esque exposition that could have been replaced with one simple phrase:
I found a webring of Synthpop track-of-the-week websites.
The first one I found had this Justin Strauss Remix of The Great Commandment available for download as an mp3. The quality wasn’t great (it often wasn’t back before LAME), but I loved the song immediately and immediately embarked on a quest to actually find a copy of the song in a record shop. I eventually bought Voices & Images, though the album version sounded very different. They’re both great in very different ways.
Eventually, I lost the mp3 of the Justin Strauss Remix, and have been listening to the album version exclusively for over a decade. Now, Justin Strauss has posted his entire set of remixes on SoundCloud. They’re even freely downloadable.
Trying to get a hold of The Great Commandment, back when I purchased things like that exclusively from brick and mortar stores, is what really set me off onto Synthpop fandom and specifically wanting to listen to Synthpop and seek out various albums, as opposed to just listen to various bands I already liked that happened to use a lot of synthesizers.
Perhaps it’s a banal event, but it was a defining moment that shaped who I am to day as a fan of the genre. In the spirit of this, I’m presenting it to any of you that might read this as the first of my own series of tracks-of-the-week.