Epitonic.com was one of the first sites to host MP3 files of legitimately. Launched in 1999, it also happened to be the epicenter for all things indie, with a comprehensive list of bands, solo projects, off-shoots, record label details and plenty more. After a seven-year hiatus and a Kickstarter fundraising campaign, it's back.
It's difficult not to understate the importance that Epitonic had in the early 2000s. If you've ever used recommendation services like Pandora or even Amazon, you know that they're more likely to get things wrong then right. Epitonic, on the other hand, was different because it was custom catered.
Instead of, for instance, running music through a magical algorithm that would spit out facts like, "Oh, you like the Locust, you might like the Blood Brothers, Merzbow and Alice in Chains," Epitonic grouped bands together by region, by the fact they'd toured together or by their record label. It seems simple, but we can't count how many new bands we were exposed to because of this.
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More importantly, perhaps, was the editorial content, which included brief but noteworthy bios and reviews of both bands and labels. This helped outsiders learn about scenes they weren't privy to. If you were interested in Cap'n Jazz, maybe you were interested in the rest of the Chicago math rock scene. Or if you were really into Midwestern hardcore, there was plenty of links to other bands and small town labels. There was also the novel fact (back then, anyway) that the site offered downloadable MP3s of all the bands you wanted, so you could actually check them out before special ordering an album from a local record shop.
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The website just re-launched this week, and it's not looking like quite the encyclopedia it once was, but we're hoping that will come in time. Currently you can search through bands by genre, label or name and listen to songs by any band. The genre classifications are downright absurd, as they've always been, including sections like, "Field Recordings," "Dronology," and "Tech Step." Click on any genre, and you'll get a massive playlist of customized content -- by real people! "Math Rock," for instance, will give you The 1985, Red Scare and Oxes, while "Experimental" will give you Joan of Arc, Anthony Braxton and Tarentel. So, it's clear all the bands that were once on the website are still there.
While it's already looking like a great repository of legal MP3s and kickass playlists, the folks over at Epitonic will still have their work cut out for them to get the site up to par with the rest of the Internet. While they managed to get a few brand new, exclusive tracks for the launch, the site is still missing the encyclopedia section that set it apart from every other website on the planet. It's those connections, the facts like, "so-and-so played bass on such-and-such record" that made Epitonic the center for music discovery. Sure, MP3s are a great, logical first step and we realize they're keeping it simple on launch, but we're already craving more.
Despite what people might tell you, discovering music on the Internet is not easy. Sure, you can hear some new things and songs are easy to obtain, but knowing what to listen to is a lot harder than it seems. Epitonic once fit that mold, and we're hoping they'll step back into it.