IMPORTANT NOTICE: Since the following piece was first written, quite a lot has happened (to make perhaps the biggest understatement so far in this millenium!) Luxuriamusic has returned to the Internet. For details, please look here.
Requiem or Rebirth?
At the stroke of midnight, on May the 5th, 2001, www.luxuriamusic.com stopped broadcasting, and the world became a quieter, less interesting place.
For any sort of Internet operation to shut down in this day and age isn't exactly an unusual thing. Indeed, the passing of this particular online "radio station" went comparatively unnoticed by pundits and press in the shadow of the goings-on with the likes of Napster, MP3.com, Loudeye et al. Luxuria in and of itself didn't involve a tremendous amount of money (comparatively), or a staff of thousands. It didn't even qualify for the dubious honor of being mocked by Phil Kaplan in "FC.com". At one level, Luxuria was yet another online multimedia play that fell victim to a business environment that suddenly turned mean. On another, though, Luxuria was something unique, and its passage a sorry loss.
The founders of Luxuria, Chuck Kelley and "The Millionaire", put together a musical pastiche of treats that sought to capture a "lush life" feeling. I believe the intent was to generate an atmosphere like the "What sort of man reads Playboy" page in that magazine. In fact, the playlist must have included at least a dozen different versions of the "Playboy Theme".
The overall repertoire was so eclectic that it encompassed nearly every imaginable genre. There's not likely been any other station, on the Internet or the airwaves, that would typically put Fantastic Plastic Machine, Louis Prima, Serge Gainsbourg, Peggy Lee and Astroslut in the same set--and have it come out making sense. This was not "elevator" but "turbolift" music. It was playtime music for grownups. It was party music for people who still like to shake itjust not quite so hard. (Don't want to spill the martinis, after all.)
Going beyond that, Luxuria's creators put together a comprehensive package that was remarkably successful at acheiving the classic but elusive goal of creating an "online community" Subscribers who signed up (for free) were given access to areas to create their own Web pages, in addition to high-quality online articles about oddities, kitsche and pop-culture esoterica. (One memorable piece dealt with the closure of the best, and perhaps the only, Polynesian supper club in Ohio.) There were message boards about subjects ranging from "Do you believe in God?" to "What was the closest you ever came to fame" to "What is your favorite musical accompaniment for the horizontal Mambo?"
Although the music was served up at off hours by a robotic playlist sequencer, prime hours were handled by live DJ's. Instead of typical radio announcers, Luxuria hired a collection of musicians, comedians, eccentrics and Tinseltown artisans--people who had something interesting to say between the tunes. The site included a chat room, to which both listeners and the on-air staff had easy access. A Webcam was installed in the studio, and the jocks were encouraged to interact with the chatters, taking requests and spinning peoples' comments into spontaneous on-mike and -camera whimsey. The result was that it was hard to tell where the show stopped and the audience began. Many people who never thought they would waste their time in chat rooms became devotees, and a number of genuine offline friendships developed. (Two chat "regulars" are now planning to marry this summer.) Although moderation, depending on the DJ, ranged from slight to none, behavior in the Luxuria chat was rarely marred by the rudeness, flame wars, stalking and other negatives that have been so typical elsewhere. Even the robot, who was dubbed "Luxotron 5000", was imbued with a "personality", and would welcome guests into the chat room and make comments like, "Your salty palaver brings a blush to my cheeks" when the language wandered too far into profanity.
All this may have been an artistic and technical tour de force, but someone has to pay the bills. Luxuria's parent company was acquired by a huge broadcasting conglomerate. The new owner's main interest was in a sister operation that was also an over-the-air "top-40" station in Los Angeles. The eccentric little Web station down the hall just didn't fit into the plan.
The shutdown was initially announced the first of April, with only two weeks' notice. The end was then pushed back to the end of the month, and Luxuria's leaders found themselves scrambling to find support for buying their own station back. Listeners were polled as to whether they would be willing to pay for subscriptions, and the response was generally positive. However, as the remaining days slipped by, it became apparent that putting together a new package and finding the right investors to sell it to wasn't going to happen before the deadline.
The last days were an emotional roller coaster, for the Luxuria staff and their audience. Idealism may seem quaint, or even stupid, to some new-millenium cynics, but it was obvious that these people were in this for something more than just the money. Most of the staff soldiered on, either in hopes of an eleventh-hour rescue or because they just wanted to "do their thing" as long as they could. Those of us on the other end of the wires watched as each DJ finished his or her last shift with a tearful farewell. Over 50 chatters and an unseen legion of other listeners stayed through to the end, when Byron Werner finished his last edition of "Martian Love Grotto" and the audio streams were abruptly stopped in the middle of his closing theme.
It is hoped by all that Luxuria will be "reborn" in some new context. Right now multimedia over the Net is suffering from a backlash caused by all the hype it received and, frankly, by a degree of ignorance and greed. The record companies and other "radio" organizations presume that any online operation should be expected to grab the attention, and the money, of every one of the hundreds of millions of Internet users at once. The present state of the technology makes this ludicrous. The hardware, connection bandwidth and server licenses to stream audio to, say, 50,000 listeners over the Net costs more than a 5,000-watt radio transmitter on a hilltop that can simultaneously reach millions. Sooner or later this problem will be solved with technology that will allow distribution of the same information packets to any client computers on the Net that wish to partake of them.
This may be missing the point, though. Although the radio station's signal is potentially available to millions of listeners, it's only possible to estimate how many of them are actually tuned in. The present state of Internet technology actually makes it possible to know exactly how many are listening, via analysis of the server logs. It it this concept of "narrowcasting", to target an audience with true pinpoint accuracy, that should make the Net a more appropriate medium for "specialty" stations. This should by all rights be a marketer's dream come true. It remains for someone to figure out how to make best use of it.
In the meantime, all we "Luxuriophiles" can do is buy some CD's to play, stay in touch with one another and wait for further news. Luxuria will almost certainly return in some form, probably with better technology. Whether some or all of the same cast of characters are included in the deal is anybody's guess, but for the moment we can but hope.
For now, Chuck, Mill, Marianne, Val, Eric, Monsoon, Tea, Sea, Kaci, Ron, Byron, Kari, Strike, Jack, Stu, Azalea, Jon, Lolita, Prickle (If I've left anybody out, I'm sorry!)--we trust you're getting a much-deserved vacation, but we miss you all terribly. Here's hoping we can party again, but next time, let us grab the check.