Back in 2013 I decided to rebuild my 90s techno vinyl collection because my original records and CDs had been lost over the previous decade. I had no written records about anything I owned. But most of it I knew was played at least once in a radio show called the Steve Mason Experience. By searching the internet for playlists of this underground techno radio show – that ran throughout the 90s – I started a journey that would lead to thousands of hours in research and in building an archive website with 8000 music tracks listed: stevemasonexperience.info
How it all started
In 2013 after more than a decade without really listening and caring about music I found myself once again drawn to oldschool (90s) electronic music. I wanted to rebuild my CD and vinyl collection that entirely vanished either by theft or by moving apartments too many times. While I remembered a few tracks by name most of the titles I used to play I could not remember. The only thing I clearly remembered was the Steve Mason Experience radio show I listened to throughout the 90s. With the help of Google I began my search for this forgotten radio show.
I quickly ran into online resources were some playlists could be found. They were mostly incomplete or just left to rot in a half-baked state. But they were at least a start and I could quickly find many records I appreciated back in the 90s. I slowly rebuild my collection but always found white spots in those radio show playlists. One of my sources seemed to be abandoned for a very long time. I ripped the complete page just in case it would vanish. After looking through the ugly mess of that rip I started formatting the saved playlists into nice looking text files and added links to discogs. Thats when the Steve Mason Experience Archive was born.
Vi, Kirby and git
After I worked my way through a dozen text files a sudden idea crept into my mind: This radio show needs a properly maintained playlist archive. stevemasonexperience.info got registered and Kirby as flat file CMS was – and still is – used as backbone of the archive. It allowed me to reuse all text files with only small modifications. Every new change made to a playlist was – and still is – done directly on the Linux console with Vi. Kirby does its magic and instantly generates a web-readable version of each text file. Finally every change is tracked with git. The nerd in me was happy with simplicity and scalability of this solution. Updates could be done from everywhere, flat file Kirby guaranteed fast website speeds and git made handling of errors easy.
Real people noticed the project
Suddenly real people contacted me via discogs and email. First just one, then another one and after a year there were around 10 regular contacts. They provided playlist over playlist and recording over recording. My inbox got bigger by the month and my backlog started to look like real work. Who would have thought that so many people still loved a radio show that stopped broadcasting in 2001. The website got restructured twice over the past two years to handle the constant flow of new playlists. There are 10 years of weekly radio shows to cover. That is more than 500 playlists with 20 tracks each.
Becoming the master of discogs
Every playlist requires the validation of the artist/act and the track name. It requires a unique link into discogs; so people could just get the track they fancy from there. At the time of writing 406 playlists have been added to the webpage and each and evey discogs track link of those playlist has been validated manually. I have become a master of using discogs, of finding hidden records or forgotten labels. I noticed certain patterns in those shows and the tracks Steve Mason played over the years. What nowadays is a process of 30 minutes work used to be hours for the early playlists.
The importance of community
In the early days I thought I could easily maintain and curate all playlists. I was so wrong about that. Only the steady stream of emails and forum post has kept me going with Steve Mason Experience archive. The creation of this archive was and still is a huge task and there is no tangible reward. People saying thank you or wanting to make the archive better are the only reward there is. I am very thankful for all of their support.
There are people out there with a vast and deep knowledge about 90s underground techno that never fails to impress me. They pull out a playlist from seemingly thin air and that playlist proves to be correct months later when someone else uploads the complete show on youtube. They impress me by knowing so much about the early years (91-93) of the Steve Mason Experience show. I often feel like the scene from Waynes World where they both fall to their knees and praise “We are unworthy”.
Without all those great people that archive would never have made it this far. They push me and they motivate me. They like me sacrifice their free time for playlists of a radio show long past.
And when it is finished?
The years 1991-1998 have been added to the Steve Mason Experience archive. The 1999 playlists are almost finished. That leaves only 2000 and three shows of 2001 still undone. Those final years are the best documented years of the show. That means by October 2018 all available playlists will be added to the archive. That again means almost five years of constant content updates will come to an end. *sigh*
There is still some work to be done. Like adding the few missing shows and updating incomplete shows. But that will require only a fraction of the time it used to take to build the archive. There will be time for another layout rework and there will be time to work a little bit on a long term concept for the archive. The initial version of the archive had some wonky 90s techno advertisment in it. Maybe that could come back.
And then there is the issue of monetization that I still havent figured out yet. The archive should at least cover hosting and Kirby license costs without placing annoying adverstisements all over the place. I have a few ideas but that will be a different story for another blog post.
For now, this is the story how I accidently created a radio show archive … and never regretted it.
A blast from the past
Back in the early 90s commercially successful electronic music was in its infancy. European music enthusiasts with cheap equipement copied the sounds they heard on vinyl from Chicago. They did not just copy it they infused it with energy and creativity born of the fall of the iron curtain in Europe and the reunification of Germany. At a time when the internet was just not available radio shows were simplest way to reach a broad and geographically scattered group of people.
From an unusual place came the sound of the underground
Ever since the end of WWII Germany had a permanent presence of American and British troops. And these troops needed a way to connect with their homes. So they brought their own radio shows with their own radio show hosts which could be listened to on normal German radio frequences. For the British troops BFBS broadcasted a 24 hour program around the world including Germany. In 1991 a guy named Steve Mason got a once-a-week-two-hour time slot to play more modern music. At first that meant British dance charts. But this Steve Mason guy discovered there was other dance music nobody else on BFBS was playing and he just started playing it: underground techno from the UK, Belgium and most notably Germany.
Creating a cult show
By the end of 1993 once a week for 2 hours thousands of German adolescents were gathering around their radio receivers with empty audio tapes ready to record new electronic sounds Steve had collected for them. Playlists where eagerly written on backcovers of audio tapes and shopping lists for next weeks record store visits were created. Steve played new records, unknown artists and a live mix every week. He moderated in English. Without knowing it he motivated those who followed his show to learn English more eagerly in school. Recordings of the Steve Mason Experience shows were given to friends, weekly mixes were copied countless times and blasted through many shared headphones of early 90s walkmans.
What started a small show for British soldiers became by the mid 90s the mandatory radio show for electronic underground music in Germany.