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U2 Interviews

Transcript: Edge interviewed for U2.Burst.com PopMart debut

@U2 transcript by Sherry Colombaro, June 11, 2000

Editor's note: On June 8, U2's PopMart Mexico City premiered on the Internet as a vehicle for showcasing "Burstware" technology, a "faster-than-realtime" streaming platform. U2 has been part-owners of the company developing this software since the early 90s. As part of the Internet premiere, Edge took part in an exclusive interview which focused mainly on technology-related themes. Here is a transcript of that interview. 

Burst interviewer: Speak about how technology -- you see it changing and I suppose its convergence with entertainment on demand‚ so, I mean, for you, how do you see technology and its impact in the way you spend your leisure time? 

Edge: I think technology is going through a huge sort of convulsion and obviously, you know, the Internet is the thing that is the biggest change that everyone is coming to terms with. I have a very positive sort of view of all of it and I see it as a new medium and I see it as something that is in the end is gonna be incredibly useful and beneficial for music and for the arts and my attitude is that it should be something that the music industry should welcome with open arms. I don't have any of the sort of fears or paranoias that seem to be common amongst the business-the music business-I think they're in danger of actually falling so far behind what's going on the Internet that they might actually just miss the boat, but um, it's great. I mean there's so many ways that it can develop and I'm sure there's ways that no one's even thought of yet. But already just the idea of the way music will be available on the Internet for sale or for just to listen and the fact that music that really couldn't find a platform of any kind is suddenly going to be available to people. Word of mouth or its equivalent on the Internet will come much more important and I just think its going to be so stimulating for music to suddenly not have to struggle to get a record deal for bands and artists to be able to release their own stuff. For really great music to come through without the necessity to go through the business of record deals and producing CD's and all that stuff which is obviously such an impediment to bands and artists-I think it's really positive. 

Burst: Do you see the day come where you walk into a room and a box in the corner has it all when you want it‚ I mean, have you been able to use technology in that way or in terms of where you want to see a movie and the next time you don't have to press a button, it's right there? Have you had your own experience with that or do you see it going that big? 

Edge: I see the future as being a world where you can access what you want when you want and I think that when people start to discover that, they are never gonna look back and I think that will be the biggest change in entertainment and in music enjoyment over the next 10 years will be that you can go to your PC- whatever it is it probably won't be a computer, it'll be some sort of stand-alone unit-and you'll just decide what you want to see or what you want to listen to and you access the Internet and it will download to your machine and you'll be able to download it to your machine and you'll be able to watch it or listen to it there and then. I think that's an incredible step forward and I think everyone should be excited about that potential and that's one of the reasons why we've been so excited about what Burstware are offering is the fact that their technology, although when we first got involved 10 years ago it was really‚ it was a theory‚ right now sort of caught up with sort of technology and the reality of the Internet and it's now possible pretty much to do that and we'll see how soon it takes off. But that is where we're all going-there's no doubt about that. 

Burst: You've never been a band that's been afraid of technology, you're especially notorious for your gizmos and different structures in the studio-has the technology from the point of view of creating as an artist influence how you do things? I mean if you look at an act like The Future Sound of London who you know in the past not only did the creating inside of the studio but did not venture outside of the studio for playing live‚ Burst.com are gonna be showing Popmart on the site, which as you know is technology to the nth in terms of concerts. Just with all these things in mind, you can't help from thinking that maybe the day will come where U2 won't tour-you can do it via something like Burst. 

Edge: Well during the Zoo-TV tour, we actually were in discussions with Burst about the possibility of them sending us segments of video that could be stored in some central location down the line so that we could actually have things Burst into the concert itself. Zoo-TV obviously was perfect for that scenario as being a concert that was all about mixing up the different mediums. In the end, we didn't do that at the time because the networks just were not sophisticated enough. I think if we were doing Zoo-TV this year or next year, I think we probably would do that. I think that there's all these new opportunities that this technology is offering, which are very exciting and I have no doubt that it will throw up a whole array of possibilities for touring bands, for ourselves possibly the next time we go out. And uses that no one has even thought of yet. But I think also that it's important to remember that each medium and each piece of technology has its own best use and I'm sure that things will settle down into some kind of paradigm given a little bit of time and I think that's happening with the Internet now, you know there are certain things that will definitely survive and flourish, and in certain uses, probably will fall to one side. But, I do think that TV is the future on the Internet. 

Burst: Coming from a creative point of view, one of the things that seems to be freaking the record companies out the most about the whole Internet is anti-mp3. And, you know at least from their point of view, and the artist's, do you get the CD quality music without art work or with artwork, and that's the main difference to the user. So, you've always been an act who did everything all the way out‚ you did all the music, but you didn't let it stop there. Because of the very way that people are gonna be getting their music is gonna change, has that kinda caused you to think differently about the creative process or is that something a bit further down the line as you are in the middle of an album. 

Edge: What's wonderful about the Internet and being able to distribute music on the Internet is how instant it is. You can finish a piece of music you know Monday afternoon and Monday evening it's actually out there and people are listening to it in their homes. I think the speed in distribution makes it very exciting and I can see U2 taking advantage of that and releasing things in a slightly different way. Because I think also when it's so easy
to distribute, the need to distribute and the definitive work becomes a slightly different thing. Nothing on the Internet is written in stone. Everything is updated, changed, altered, and by necessity, I think people want to see something different and listen to something different when they come back a week after their previous visit. So, I can see music going in that direction where maybe tracks are released in some form and maybe updated later on. We've already seen particularly in the world of hip-hop multiple remixes released. I can see that carrying on and going even further on the Internet because that's the way people are thinking now. They don't see music or any other art form as a static thing; they see it as something that is changing with time, and I'm not sure if I'd go so far as to actually prepare music that people can actually remix themselves, which I know was something that was being put forward as a possibility. I don't really see the value of that per se. I think that the band's responsibility is to prepare the work and, you know, in a sense I feel that's my job. But, as far as giving people different options, different versions, I think there are legitimate variations on the themes of songs and in the past we would only think about releasing the one definitive version, but you don't need to think like that about that anymore. I think that's a fascinating possibility. 

Burst: You know, it's kinda like with vinyl-there's two sides with an album and that was the concept, and with a CD there was one side and I think that in some ways changed the way some people made records. They took time over and over that I think, but one thing I'd be worried about with mp3, this whole pay-per-track has come in and I think you're saying that the artist will still create a body of work that may be the starting point, but there's an album there at the center ... which would you prefer? 

Edge: Yeah, I think there will always be a body of work that you will call an album whatever way the Internet goes. I'm wary of one aspect of where the Internet is taking music which is where it becomes more and more like a commodity where it's not‚ it doesn't have this unique, special quality for people where it's just a new presence and music happens. But I have a feeling that because of the technology that's now becoming available, I think it might become the opposite. I have a feeling that it will facilitate artists who are doing more
unique things. I think it might actually bump music out of where I see it at the moment-which is a little bit at a rut where music is predominately, or the music scene is dominated by the sort of commercial strain of music and the more groundbreaking music seems to have lost some of its power to sort of drive thinking. Whereas in the past, it was always the innovative music that drove journalists to write about music‚ it drove the real music fans to go off and buy albums, and it seemed to be the engine of music. Now, it sort of seems to have gone into the commercial sphere more and more and I can see the Internet as the catalyst to bring it back into a more groundbreaking creative strain again, and I think it is good. 

Burst: It is almost like the tail wagging the dog right now, and the music works towards the system instead of it driving the system. 

Edge: Yeah, I think the Internet will stop that and I mean I'm thinking of also not just music, but independent films. What's interesting about technology now is with standards like digital video, people can actually make a movie-quite a credible movie-with very little equipment and a very little budget . Whereas now cinematic releases are incredibly expensive and incredibly difficult to put together because of the cost of marketing and
prints and the monopoly that certain companies have on the cinema complexes themselves. The Internet changes all that. Suddenly there is a forum for independent filmmakers which enables some kid anywhere in the world to put something together and release it on the Internet and I think that's incredibly liberating for the arts and so in a sense, that's the reason why we're so excited about what Burst.com is doing because their technology seems to be the first really viable software that can enable filmmakers or anybody with information that they want to release the facility to release it and have it in some reliable, good quality format to be accessible. 

Burst: I suppose, I think the thing with showing the Popmart from Mexico City video is to show that. I think it's something that a lot of people are gonna want to see. So, obviously its use is gonna have an effect-so, how are you hoping or what are you hoping to make happen by showing Popmart on Burst? 

Edge: We like to stir it up a bit and I think the music business is so caught up in the whole area of commercial concerns regarding the Internet and I think that there's two things we wanna do with releasing the show on the Internet: first of all is to showcase what we were very proud of-this incredible concert film. We really felt we hit upon something really powerful with it, but also the Internet is at this stage where it seems the sky's the limit and we felt that it would be a great moment to showcase what we've been up to on the last tour and what the Internet is capable of sort of right now. Like there was a kind of convergence of agendas and opportunities there that we thought we'd take advantage of.

Burst: With you being in the middle of the new album now, with showing Popmart on Burst, is it the end of one era and the beginning of another? 

Edge: Yeah, I mean you can put it down to a bit of spring cleaning in a way. This is  something that was the last big concert thing we did and we were very happy when we finished it and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get it out there and showcase it. And, having done that as we will have when it comes out in another month, it'll sort of clear the decks as it were for us to get on with the next record and do everything we're about to do. 

Burst: Can you remember the last time it was when you watched that concert? 

Edge: I watched it not so long ago because we were talking about what we were gonna do with it. You know, you've got memories of doing it obviously, but most of my memories are from being on the stage and from coming up with the original ideas and actually putting it together. I didn't watch so much footage about what it was like out front, so it was actually quite fun to see it and sort of see the scale of it and realize that it was pretty mind-blowing and most of what we were trying to achieve we pulled off. 

Burst: Any highlights from that show in particular? 

Edge: Well, I think it's, um, the PopMart from Mexico concert I think was a great showcase for what stadium concerts can be. You know, I think that the stadium arena is particular. You know, it's not the same as doing a club show-it's not the same as even doing basketball arena show-it demands a different approach and when we went into planning PopMart, we really were thinking in a very particular way about the size of the venue, the
scope of what we could do in that forum and ways of integrating technology and state-of-the-art hardware into that setting and I think that's what came across to me when I saw the footage back was that it was this synergy of cutting edge technology with really imaginative staging and music and whatever and performance all coming together. There were lots of influences from the world of TV and the Internet, and of particularly think of
the opening segment which was very much inspired by the World Wrestling Federation thing. And, um, yeah I think it's, for us, a real triumph of trying to get to grips with what it to be a rock and roll band playing in a stadium in the turn of the millennium. 

Burst: Do you see any symbolism in, you know, the show, I mean every show that actually tours, you're always there to the nth, pushing people to new things out there with the tour-do you see any symbolism in the fact that you do the PopMart thing, you do the video, and it's been how many months-and you're using it to push other technology to a new level in terms of what Burst are doing? 

Edge: Yeah, well you know everything feeds everything else, and I also think that it's very interesting the fact that in that the setting for thing was this giant GIANT space that we were using technology to make more intimate this huge screen-the biggest single screen that has ever been put together up to that point-and now it's been filmed and it's coming back through this other technology through people's computer screens and it's like you're watching this giant event and this giant technology through this small little screen and still I hope it works. I think the great thing about the concert film is that you really do feel like you're there and you really feel like you're a part of it-and the lemon-the way that worked out was also beyond our wildest dreams. When we first thought about that , it was in our heads and it was like Funkadelic's mothership, you know it was some kind of funky bizarre kitsch but incredibly amusing kind of stage prop reference and we were really having so
much fun with it. But, in the film, it had this whole other kind of sinister almost quality-it almost-it's funny but there's this other atmosphere which is kinda cool which we didn't visit when we were thinking of it originally. 

Burst: Okay, with this PopMart video you're letting these Burst people show it on the computer‚ you obviously want quality control-so what has convinced you that the quality's gonna be there? 

Edge: Well, we've had a look at the various different technologies available and we feel that Burst's technology was the best for what we were trying to do. And, I mean there is obviously gonna be a difference between the quality that someone's is going to enjoy if they've got a cable modem or digital access. Less quality if they're on ISDN or on regular phone, but you know a lot of people are on cable modems, particularly in America, and I
think that people are still gonna get a great experience I believe no matter what their cable connection is and I think things are changing really fast and, you know, this is the first step. I think in a few years, most people will have some sort of digital access which will really change the world. 

Burst: So, why Burst, why did you get involved with them-you've been with them for 10 years now-that's a long-term commitment? 

Edge: Yeah, we met Richard Lang 10 years ago. He was this character with an incredible vision for where technology was going and we've always been fascinated by technology and what it is in terms of how it enables artists and how it might affect the world. You know, rock and roll to me has always been about utilizing technology and it's always been the sort-of way its been abusing technology that I've liked. So, with this we saw it as another area to explore and find out about and 10 years ago, Richard had this vision about how people could access information-be it music or moving pictures and sound and in an instant or faster-than-realtime way it could come to them and they could choose from a menu what they wanted to see and hear and it would start instantly downloading it to them. At that point, it really was a kind-of vision of the future. There was no broadband Internet network that this could be supported by, but now that obviously has caught up. We're at a point where his vision has come into reality and it's great to having been a part of it for so many years to actually see it come to fruition now and we've felt that this was a great opportunity for us to get something out onto the Internet, making use of this very exciting new technology at a time where we wanted to get our PopMart live show out there. And, you know, it's getting back to the U2 fans who have all the way along been
behind us. We think that it's something we can do, it doesn't cost us anything, we have the thing, so we're doing it. 

Burst: At the point of bringing it back to the fans; I mean, U2.com will be launched when and what will it entail and why have you waited until now? 

Edge: Well, U2.com will be up and running within 100 days or so from now, so that would mean hopefully within a month of when actually this interview is broadcast. And, the reason why we waited until now is simply because there was so much high-quality U2 information on the Internet that we didn't feel there was any need for us to add to that information unless we could do something that was markably different, or I suppose
superior in terms of the technical flexibility and the depth of the content that we could offer. Obviously there are a lot of issues putting that together, funding is one of them, so we feel now that we're in a position where finally where we can fund a site that we believe will be significantly different to the already available stuff that's out there. And, we're hoping to make connections to the great sites that have sprung up over the years that are to do with U2. There are so many of them and they're all put together by U2 fans mostly, and we'll try to create a kind-of mini-network within the Internet that will mean that for a U2 fan that wants to get onto the Internet, they have the ability to kind of connect with all of the different interesting sites. I mean, there are a few that are more
commercially minded that are kind of, I think, trying to exploit U2 fans, and that's something else. We're interested in the ones that are put together by the enthusiasts and there are a lot of those. 

Burst: So, rather of trying to shut down these sites, you're doing quite the opposite where you want these sites to flourish. 

Edge: Yeah, I think that's the nature of the Internet. I mean I get back to the point I made earlier about the definitive thing‚ I think the Internet is not like that. It's not the same. Things are not written in stone on the Internet, and I don't think you serve whatever. I don't think that we serve U2 or U2 fans by trying to eliminate the other sites. I think variety is a big part of it and I think there's room for all kinds of different things dedicated to the band from the bizarre to the ridiculous to the one that we're trying to put together. 

Burst: It's definitely a very enlightened approach that you have. So, everybody wants to know about the album in progress. What are you prepared to tell people? Will people be shocked-horrified-pleased? 

Edge: I think that as with any U2 record we've ever made, it is such an organic process-it's changing week by week and I think that it's gonna be a record that people play a lot. It's not gonna be a record that people buy and have in their record collection, which unfortunately a lot of records seem to be these days. I think it's a band-centered record, meaning that everything that will go on the record started out from within the 4 members of the band working together. From there, you know we might well abstract a lot of the work in using sampling possibly - we haven't gotten into the end game yet. I think that that core of the record, the heart-and-the-soul of it will be very much about the band-about U2 and I think it will be quite an organic record as such. Style-wise, probably a big variety of different feels and styles-everything that sort of turns us on will be in there in some shape or form as always. 

Burst: So, what are the things that have turned you on? What are the inspirations have surfaced? 

Edge: Well, I think everything from‚ well, great songs‚ we're turned on by great songs, great songwriting, soul is the key element above anything, I think it has to connect, it has to mean something, it has to reveal something. Great rhythm, and just great sound-different sounds than what we've ever used before, different arrangement styles and um, just a lot of experimentation. 

Burst: I don't know if it's been by accident or by design, but previous records and the tours that went with them have creatively been part of the same thing. So, now that you're working on this record and creating the new record, how are you gonna perform it live, or have you decided to think about that until after you've finished the album? 

Edge: We always try to concentrate whatever we're doing at any given moment-right now, making our new record-we've got all our focus on that. When we finish, then we start to think "Okay, how are we gonna play these songs live?" and that becomes another interesting turn for a lot of the material because in the process of rearranging things for live, you can really strip away the studio textures, the studio approach and you get to the
real essence of the piece and I think a lot of the material on this next record will work really well under that kind of a process. I think it's material at its very core is really about the 4 members of the band playing together, so I think it's going to work very well live. 

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