Sometime in late 1993, I started to poke around what was going on in creative digital media in Sheffield. We called it multimedia then; so last century. One of the first people I approached was Simon Blanchard, who happened to be tutoring my Film Studies evening classes at the time. Simon had recently written a report on Cultural Industries in Sheffield, and spoke of New Media — possibly the first time I'd heard either term. And in those days, the number of people known to be active in this area was limited. To three. One was Tim Etchells of Forced Entertainment (who I eventually ended up working with on a, heh, CD-ROM). The other two were Janet and Jon of Lovebytes. They were working out of Sheffield Independent Film at the time, and had made animation films, but were interested in putting on a festival of creative multimedia.
Who is writing the history of these early days of the digital age, when the internet first crept out of universities and the military? When Brian Cross at Artimedia (in an old school building in Batley, was it?!) was proselytising community use of the net, when the Kirklees Host was one of the few ways you could online. Oh yes, and I paid Trimac £250 for a 2,400 baud modem, which seemed like a luxury after the 300 baud modem we'd liberated from a skip at work to access Hicom: the page filled with text line by line, left to right, taking about 20 seconds to load a page with just a few hundred ascii characters. Somewhere I've still got three early issues of Ivan Pope's 3W newsletter about the World Wide Web (and gopher and WAIS). I was angry that I never got the full year's subscription that I'd paid for, but things were moving fast and the newsletter was soon overtaken by events.
Back to the plot. The first Lovebytes I went to — which may have been the first or the second public event they staged, I can't remember — was in 1994. It was one day, and, as I remember it, was mostly just a demo for a few CD-ROMs, held on the mezzanine floor of the Workstation. No web art then; I don't think even Heath Bunting had started producing work. 1996 was the first time we saw newly-commissioned online work at Lovebytes.
I remember raising an eyebrow when Lovebytes moved into music — or so it appeared — in 2000. I didn't know Janet and Jon were into that stuff, and it seemed to overlap with Futuresonic (I went to the first one of those, too, in Leeds, 1996: I had a bad, bad day). However, the audio CD shows the fruits of those commissions, and it's good stuff. Pretty similar territory to some of the electronica that gets covered in The Wire. It's difficult, ten years on, to think back to how fresh and challenging this might have sounded then. So far, though, I'd say it was ageing pretty well.
There's a second disc in the sleeve — I always admired the elegant simplicity in Lovebytes' presentation, and opening up the sleeve shows two pockets, marked Speaker and Monitor respectively. But it's no dice with the Monitor CD-ROM: all I get is a blunt alert, "You can't open… because the Classic environment is no longer supported." And I haven't got the patience to boot up my old iMac to see if it will work with that.
The last Lovebytes that I attended was 2002, the year of the palindrome. I moved away from Sheffield after that, but Janet and Jon are still going strong, having recently completed Lovebytes 2010. Got to admire people who stick to their mission for 16 years — because I never have.
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