A Journey Through Turntable.fm: What Happens When You Keep Pressing the “Random” Button?

07/12/2011 9:52 AM |

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The time had come. The New York Times had just written about it, my Twitter feed was raving about it, and I was finally prepared to tune in to Turntable.fm’s collective consciousness. Heralded as the newest, coolest development in music-related social media to date, Turntable.fm is a series of virtual rooms where people in online avatar form can take turns DJing, either choosing tracks from the Turntable library, or uploading their own. Once inside a room, visitors can converse with one another and rate what’s playing as “awesome” or “lame,” but a casual observer can also choose from a list which room he or she might want to visit, knowing full well which genres or titles will suit his or her preferences. Or, he or she can leave that up to fate. Just press the “random room” button. After all, that’s what seems truly exciting about Turntable.fm—a new way to discover new music.

I decided to leave myself open to wonder, to chaos, to entropy, to the mysteries of the Internet and the universal mind. I would press the random room button as many times as I liked, relying only on these forces to lead me somewhere wonderful and revelatory.

At 2:57 on a Monday afternoon, I take the plunge. The first room I enter is Indie Denver xfm. A large cat near the DJ’s table bobs its head from side to side, and next to him stands the avatars of a gorilla and a little girl. They’re listening to some inoffensive, pleasant indie rock from the DJ on duty, and already it feels like the strange, magical-realism world of a Murakami novel. “DJ Vegan started playing ‘For Emma’ by Bon Iver,” announces the communal chat box in the lower right-hand corner of my screen.

Great, but all too familiar, too comfortable. I want to leave, to be transported to places of productive discomfort and mind expansion. Random room, please.

The next room, DJ Wooooo’s, is packed, and deadmau5 is playing. It’s popping, a total virtual scene. Only, someone named Brorock Brobama is complaining of “lag.” I don’t know what that is yet in this context, but it feels like I just stumbled upon the place to be. The conversation in my chat box is flowing, even if it is a little trippy and strange:

TwIsTeD: i want some egg rolls and duck sauce right now
BeefMonkey: penis pump for duck sauce!
Snoochie boochies: my left nut for a asian goddess

But soon I realize I’m not actually listening to anything. The music’s paused. I guess that’s what “lag” means. I feel cheated and leave. Random room.

The next three rooms don’t have much going on. Low-ranking DJ’s, a lack of funky animal avatars. Mediocre tunes. Random, random, random.

I come across an error message. “Due to fire codes, this room is at maximum capacity. We’ll escort you back to the lobby.” What?! I didn’t even know that could happen on the internet. Whatever, “mashupmania” room. You’re probably not that great anyway.

It’s “Hip Hop – All Eras – Just Dope.” Dope. Sounds good, straightforward. And hey, it looks like people are bonding over love for Public Enemy. But wait, oh no… the chat box is beginning to look like Tyler the Creator’s twitter account. Someone asks for a moderator, but the Tyler wannabes of the room are already locked in on each other. “I’ll bang everybody in this room granteed [sic],” says Nick Church. Someone named breakbread asks, “who in here has aids?” I leave.

The next three rooms give me variations on trance and techno themes, but witnessing virtual raves on a Monday afternoon just make me sad. Click.

The Indie Acoustic/Chill room is packed to the online gills. This could be great! Will this be my first taste of a democracy of taste?

No. What they’re playing is annoying and makes me want to criticize in all caps. I consider ditching the role of casual observer to become an obnoxious chatbox troll, but I just exit the situation altogether.
Random. ‘90s mix. Random. One room is called “Indie while you’re doing something,” but the DJ is playing Snoop Dogg’s “Sexual Eruption.” I’m not even going to ask. Apparently a DJ had been kicked out for playing too much emo music. Click.

Bollywood. Perfect. I stay here until I’m ready to leave. When I finally exit the world of Turntable.fm, I have the name of exactly one song I want to get. It’s “Mauja hi Mauja” from the 2007 Bollywood classic hit Jab We Met.

I’d reached the end of my journey, and the conclusion I’d come to about Turntable.fm was generally the same for any room with speakers hooked up to an iPod: It’s always more fun when you’re the DJ. Still, an online forum for people to share and stream music from all over the world at any time—that’s the exciting, liberating stuff of the future. And, once more people catch on, hopefully there will be more uploads, which hopefully means more diversity of taste. But then again, only time will tell if the site becomes a seedy cyber back-alley for group sex, or a refuge for people who speak exclusively in 1337.