Digital Love, Live from Duluth

Darin Back

Magnus is pleasantly liquored up on a Sunday evening in Duluth. He's only had one Bud Light, but Saturday night's epic effort across the bridge in Superior, Wisconsin, might still be affecting his system. While dusting off a vinyl record pulled from a crate at his feet, he launches into a sordid story that sounds surreal coming from the mouth of a sweet-looking, 34-year-old mortgage officer:

"Oh, did I have a night of drinking last night. The cocktails are cheap in Superior. Dollar-ten vodka sours, I shit you not. A bunch of my buddies from Madison were up, and we did a six-bar loop. The Viking, Mama's, some others I can't remember. Mama's actually served food. Some sort of beef sandwich. 'Yeah, gimme a plate of warm germs, please.' Prostitutes hanging out. Older women with no teeth."

Wearing his black Chuck Taylors, blue jeans, and white Gaza Strippers T-shirt, and with his baby face and barely kempt blond curls, Magnus--the DJ pseudonym and actual middle name of Jason Watt--could be 14 or 24. With him as your only visual reference, the year could be 1975, '85, or '95. He's sitting next to twin turntables; as a Hellacopters track fades out, he pauses his chatter to drop the needle on an Oblivians tune. "Vinyl Sunday" at is laid-back, but dead internet air is not cool. is the passion-driven webcasting project led by 27-year-old Duluth native Mark Oberg (a.k.a. DJ Disturbance). Nate Starke and Bob Black help him with production.

"Bob is a computer genius," Oberg says. "Without him there would be no Perfect Sound Radio. I literally have no idea what I'm doing most of the time."

In addition to the four or five hours of live-spun vinyl on Sunday nights, Oberg and Starke co-produce live Friday-night broadcasts from Fitger's Brewhouse and the occasional "Living Room Riot"--a short performance and interview recorded (in digital audio and video) in the living room of a Duluth musician.

PSR is barely a year old, and Oberg didn't start producing original content until last fall, but if he keeps adding original content to the site, he'll achieve one of his goals: providing "a small documentation of musicians in and around the [Duluth] area."

His other goal for PSR is "to expose people to music that they might not hear anywhere else."

In addition to eight archived "Living Room Riots," the site also includes bootlegged shows--Atmosphere, Swiss Army, Words to a Film Score, Winter Blanket, and a few others--and a downloadable copy of Jamie Ness and the ATF's unreleased Driving Record, recorded in 1999 and 2000.

The site gets page views from some unexpected places including Cambodia, South Korea, Belgium, and a variety of African countries. "I recently sent a guy in Germany our Charlie Parr and Jim Hall 'Living Room Riot' sessions," Oberg says. "That, to me, is fucking unbelievable. That I played some small role in facilitating this guy's discovery of their music blows my mind."

Almost everything Oberg posts and broadcasts is legal. He doesn't much care about possible repercussions for the stuff that's not. Prepare to be pummeled with acronyms: When Oberg, Magnus, and the Captain webcast album tracks, they're breaking various copyright laws established by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), and enforced by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Broadcast Music Incorporated (BMI), and the Society of European Stage Authors & Composers (SESAC). Complying with those laws would cost thousands of dollars initially, annually, and retroactively.

"What are they going to do, sue me?" Oberg asks. "Be my guest. BMI & ASCAP, bring it on.

"If I called up Gibby Haynes of the Butthole Surfers, or Steven Malkmus of Pavement, and asked them if I could play their stuff, they probably wouldn't give a shit. I'm sure they're not getting rich off of ASCAP or BMI royalties. Those organizations are supposedly 'looking out' for all artists, which is a crock of shit. They're looking out for themselves first, then artists whose songs are being played six million times a day worldwide."

Oberg's zeal is that of a born-again indie music freak. After graduation from Duluth East, he spent three lame years at the U of M ("I didn't do anything. Never went to a show. Nothing. Period. I totally regret it"), then moved back to Duluth to get his mind and his money right.

He took a year off school, got his current full-time job at Last Chance Liquors, scored rent-free living in a home his dad owns, eventually earned his psychology degree from UMD, and received the gospel of Pavement (PSR is named in homage to the band's Perfect Sound Forever 10-inch).

"I'd always listened to music, but till my early 20s, I didn't dig much deeper than what was getting fed to me by MTV and Rolling-fucking-Stone," he says. "I just randomly picked up Slanted and Enchanted and was like, 'Fuckin'-A. You can make kick-ass music that's not slickly produced.' Then I discovered all the stuff that was going on in Duluth.

"I started buying lots of music and not listening to the radio at all. I scold myself sometimes: 'Why didn't I get into this stuff earlier? There's so much out there.' But that's one of the greatest things about music; I don't care how much of a jaded scenester you are, there's always going to be something you haven't heard."

Magnus and the Captain are facing each other in old kitchen chairs, three crates of albums on the floor between them, in an alcove that juts from the front of Oberg's house. The tiny room has windows on three sides. Outside, a clear April day that feels like October is fading to night in blue gradients of dusk.

The Captain is 42 years old and from Chicago. He's capable of impromptu dissertations--equal parts breathless celebration and objective contextual analysis--on '70s prog rockers Hawkwind and Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. Tonight he's dressed in black work boots, black jeans, a black pocket T, and a black baseball cap with a Mack Truck logo. He works for a buddy who owns a few used auto dealerships, driving cars from huge auto auctions in New York Mills and Minneapolis back to Duluth. The Captain also collects disability; a brand-new UPS driver messed him up good a few years ago.

The alcove is packed: bodies, records, three microphones on stands, a table crammed into a corner and laid out with turntables, a Dell laptop running a streaming audio program called AudCast, blaring mini-speakers, and a couple of mixers connecting it all. Every half-hour or so, Magnus and the Captain break for station ID and to comment on the previous set, which the Captain tracks on a yellow legal pad.

"That was the Ramones from Too Tough to Die, a great album no one ever talks about, from 1986," says the Captain. "It's hard to comprehend that the front line of the Ramones is no longer with us. [Long pause. Sincerely sad face.] What else did we have in that set, Magnus?"

"We also had some Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers," Magnus says. "Not to be confused with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Completely different band."

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