2002: Discovering alternative music on the WinMX filesharing client

The unthinkable happened sometime in 2001, when Napster got taken offline. It was my lifeline for ‘good’ music, as I was in my teens and figuring out what I liked and didn’t like. I came across a fairly obscure rework of “Tom’s Diner” by Kenny Blake on MTV Partyzone, and loved it. Napster hooked me up with a downloadable version, and it’s a tune I’ve listened to off and on for almost 2 decades since.

Winmx software screenshot
WinMX: click for full size image

When Napster went down, there was no BitTorrent or Megaupload to take its place. P2P was the only way to be able to download music on the Internet back then. It would be a year or so before I discovered WinMX. I remember having no choice but to try my luck at various shady-looking “free MP3 download” sites, where clicking on a song’s download link would take you to yet another unscrupulous site, with another link to click. Sometimes you’d get lucky and nab the full song. I think I picked up a few 2pac tunes this way.

Other times, you’d be asked to download a scary looking .exe file that did god knows what if you opened it. But the worst of them by far were the links that would be a legitimate MP3, but when you played it back, it would only have the first verse and chorus, which would be looped enough times to match the original song’s length. Absolutely infuriating when you consider that a song took 30 mins to download over dial-up, assuming no breaks in the connection.

Once WinMX arrived though, my tastes had changed. I’d been listening to trip-hop, dance and alternative, and by late 2002 my searches were very different. Here are some of my favourite downloads during that time.

Click a song name to read the story behind the download

Underworld - Born Slippy (NUXX) The pre-Youtube MP3 era for me was about 2 things: discovering new music, or downloading favourites from past years. I had completely forgotten about Born Slippy as the video had been doing the rounds on Channel V wayy back in 1996. At some point the opening keys were used in a commercial for the soap the Bold and the Beautiful, a staple of the daytime programming on Star Plus. At that point, I’d never heard anything but the radio edit of that song. In 2002, I saw the video for the single Two Months Off, and that reminded me to add NUXX to my small but growing library. I remember being puzzled by the 10-minute length of the full song; I didn’t need the 5-minute coda of drums, just ‘the good part’. A few years later in college, I’d grow to appreciate their full discography, and realize that the lengthy buildups were a crucial part of the group’s sound.
My Bloody Valentine - Honey Power I had a scratchy CD rip of Loveless, and desperately wanted Isn’t Anything. WinMX had the whole discography, but my connections were always finicky and none of the IA stuff downloaded to completion. This one did however, and completely blew my mind. I wasn’t even aware of their EP material prior to discovering this. The distended guitar tone on this song perfectly bridges the Sonic Youth-y punk of IA with the arty gossamer guitars of Loveless.
Slowdive - Alison My knowledge of shoegaze was pretty basic at the time, MBV and Slowdive seemed to be the most frequently dropped names in the scene. ‘Alison’ shows you why. This was the shoegaze sound I had heard so much about. It was warm, dreamy and comforting, with a haze of melancholic guitars that floated like a cloud above the slightly muffled vocals.
Pixies - Sandy’s Bathroom (fake) As I’ve mentioned, WinMX had a habit of exposing me to some of the stranger corners of a band’s discography. As it turns out though, this was not a Pixies song at all, much as the vocalist may have tried to sound like Frank Black. Who was it really by? I could never find out at the time. However as I write this, a search online points me to this 2004 message board thread posted by someone had downloaded the same MP3. It turns out that it was a real song by a band called My Diet Pill, for an album that came out in 2004. The MP3 was apparently doing the rounds online at least since 2003, when I stumbled across it.
The Jesus and Mary Chain Kill Surf City Next on the MBV RIYL list was the JAMC. Besides a few 30-second samples I’d heard on CDNow, I didn’t know much about them. KSC was a B-side from Barbed Wire Kisses, and wasn’t a great intro to the band. I wouldn’t fall head over heels in love with them until I borrowed a full copy of Psychocandy from a friend returning from abroad in summer 2003. New Kind of Kick Thanks to my janky dialup connection, nothing from Psychocandy would fully download. This one did however, and it’s one of their first songs that I remember really liking, particularly the distorted guitar jam after the second chorus. I thought the lyrics were dumb though, and had no idea that this was off of a 1998 Cramps tribute. Down on Me / Nine Million Rainy Days It’s spring 2003, and I still have not managed to successfully download a single song from Psychocandy. I do have ‘Down on Me’ from Darklands however, which I liked. Songs with depressing lyrics but upbeat guitars always do it for me. NMRD wasn’t as much fun.
TATU - Not Gonna Get Us This song and the prior single “All the Things She Said” were everywhere in 2003. I think NGGU holds up better than the latter though.
Sonic Youth - Superstar I watched this on one of my many late night sessions watching MTV Indonesia, a goldmine for alternative music, especially after midnight Jakarta time, which conveniently translated to 10PM in Dhaka. It was a non-album track; as a cover of the Carpenter’s song, it would appear on a tribute album in 1994. As a cover, it’s just OK; I like SY though and am aware that they’re huge Carpenters fans. It was a nice rarity to add to my collection.