Number one of ‘the legend of the downloaders’ is dedicated to a unique blog, dead since 2012: Holy Warbles, by Owl Qaeda.
Investigated by G. Papa
In the summer 2020 I had time to go through some old mp3s from 2011. I randomly selected a mixtape compilation called ‘Just a closer walk with thee’. I had vague memories I had downloaded it a long while ago from a blog I liked. The original cover image was an old black and white photo of conjoint ‘freaks’ twins playing merrily the saxophone in a 1920’s frolic. Creepy and typical of the ‘diggers’ musical blogs of the era around 2011, I thought. The images stressed the dissonance of the dusty, mysterious music on offer, contrasted with the clean and ready access that was made possible through the open web.
The music in the mixtape was flowing in the background. Just a few familiar names – Tuxedomoon, Albert Ayler, le stelle di mario schifano. Together with the familiar names, a lot of largely obscure world music from different recorded ages I had never heard of. I liked it. I enjoyed its variety and sequencing, gradually feeling the urge to find out more, planning to get other mixes like it, if I could. Immediately this find inspired new incursions in the world of the legendary blogs we loved in the early noughties. I knew from experience this could provide healthy musical entertainment for a good time.
I do not listen to world music a lot. This is mainly because the ‘genre’ is so extensive – ‘world’ in my mind refers to all the music that is not mainstream commercial stuff and not created by western artists. Only for a short period in the 80’s a mainstream success for this music seemed possible, rapidly collapsing under the hypocritical, polished productions and sound colonization of labels like Peter Gabriel’s Real World. I think today the interest persists in a minor key, mainly spearheaded by the honest work of Luaka Bop or by cultish labels like Finders Keepers. Clearly the genuine ‘world’ listener should choose a region or type of sound to focus on, looking for lost recordings on cassette or very lo-fi tapes, if there’s hoping for some depth. This is not necessarily appealing, but in the broad sense, finding ‘world’ stuff you want to listen and keep is great fun, yet requires long of patient hours, aimed at selecting the most interesting artists or enjoyable tunes.
It is something I have little patience for, especially after the long-lasting burnout brought about by endless hours of garage-beat crap on compilations like ‘Pebbles’ in my youth. At that time I searched the perfect cult rock anthem summing up the caveman myth I identified with. With a different age, I found all the patience left goes into searching for the perfect jazz tune. It is generally a satisfying choice: jazz rightly eludes such high ambition with endless excellence and promotes curiosity, in a dynamic process where variety and novelty keep up a constant tension of desire. I listen to good world music if a friend recommends it, or if I find mixes like the holy warbles ones.
The music in the mix was ‘world music’ in the broadest sense and of the best quality, clearly coming from someone who knew his music and had spent hours digging and listening old and new records. In the mix, he pursued a higher harmony out of different styles and musical languages, ranging widely from the non-western tradition to western but unusual productions.
Thanks to the embedded info, available in the ‘get info’ panel on itunes, I found the origin of the music and the name of the blog – Holy Warbles. It was not unusual to find a signature embedded in downloads of various nature at that time, a proud claim to the originality of the product.
Searching it on google, at first I found with great disappointment that the blog had disappeared around 2012.
This is such a common disappointment these days. This is what justifies mapping the early, legendary blogs that still deserve attention, aiming at a celebration of their ephemereal nature and largely still unrecognised place in the development of our musical taste and cultural identity. So I kept looking.
It turned out that Holy Warbles was a famous and popular blog, much missed by a large group of aficionados, especially in early 2012, when it became clear that it had stopped existing for good.
What follows is useful information I found on other blogs and online magazines and hope you will find it helpful too. The search brought up other names of legendary blogs, that may justify a whole series on the matter.
Here’s an extract from an interview to ‘Dr. Dog keyboardist Zach Miller’ from ‘http://magnetmagazine.com/2012/03/23/from-the-desk-of-dr-dog-holy-warbles/’:
“The late great Holy Warbles was an mp3 music blog run by the mysterious “Owl Qaeda” that posted what he considered, in his own playful Peter Tosh-esque Owl-speak, “Intangible Kultural Properties”: mostly long out of print eccentric and ethnographic LPs. He is also a mixed tape maker par excellence, and I was fortunate enough to have obtained the complete “C90” series of mixes before he was cut off by the heavyhanded Megaupload raids.”
In the interview, Miller talks of what must have been the peak of popularity of the blog’s obituaries, the WFMU broadcast
that took place on 27th January 2012 with the title ‘Holy Warbles is dead, long live Holy Warbles (Love is Owl you need)’.
This was a felt tribute to the blog’s legacy and music and to its creator, ‘Owl Qaeda’.
The page displays a work from cult outsider artist Paul Laffoley, ‘THE KALI-YUGA: THE END OF THE UNIVERSE AT 424826 A.D. (THE COSMOS FALLS INTO THE CHAOS AS THE SHAKTI OROBOROS LEADS TO THE ELIMINATION OF ALL VALUE SYSTEMS BY SPECTRUM ANALYSIS) (1965).
I thought the ‘holy warble’ inscription on the figure was the origin of the blog’s name, however, on checking it, the original has no such inscription. Interestingly, Paul Laffoley’s art appeared in different web tributes to the blog, as if it stuck retroactively. I think I can see why it fits with the tone of the blog, though I am still missing the origin of the blog’s name.
The comments to the WFMU broadcast are worth reading and are here: https://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/43637#comments
You will find there the disbelief and the grief of many who had found a profound consonance with the outsider’s music on the blog. They insist on its cultural and deliberate non commercial value while decrying the censorship of such creative and scholarly efforts.
On a deeper level, one detects a strong sense of fragility and of the passing of time too. Take listener Hugo’s comment: ‘I wrote a post on the HW blog a couple of days ago about the fickleness and transient nature of the whole internet experience; the what’s here today is gone tomorrow type of experience and dreading the day when the net will become the main source of information. Two days later the blog vanished. Proved my point, I guess’. The hard work of a generous soul, sharing with others what they valued most, is at its most transient on the net, where it can be wonderful and go in no time, disappearing like a tibetan sand mandala.
Perhaps the most lucid analysis behind the disappearance of ‘Holy Warbles’ can be found on Bodega Pop (http://bodegapop.blogspot.com/2012/01/guilty-until-proven-innocent.html).
The context is the scandalous story of Kim Dotcom, the maverick genius behind ‘Megaupload’, at one point the passage point of 4% of the internet traffic, a guy who made millions by selling subscriptions to access quickly and securely all sorts of downloads. Kim Dotcom became more grandiose and omnipotent in the process, through stealing others’ artifacts and copyrighted material, yet posing as a sort of modern day, fake hip-hop Robin Hood. He built an empire very quickly and was shutdown by the FBI in 2012, leading to a rapid collapse of all sites that relied on its technology to survive, Holy Warbles included. I remember well that day, as after much reluctance I too had paid my subscription to megaupload, losing immediately the imagined downloading privileges and my money.
An excerpt from the rabid, pained reaction at Bodega Pop in 2012: ‘Owl Qaeda’s Holy Warbles…had its Megaupload content stolen by the FBI action. As if that weren’t enough, no doubt freaking out over the Megaupload action, Blogger simply shut his blog down, claiming multiple instances of copyright infringement. Of–we should be clear–expressive cultural artifacts that were either long out of print (and never to be reprinted) or so obscure as to be readily unavailable to anyone whose head is not a giant interactive encyclopedia.’
I could not find recent traces of Holy Warbles or Owl Qaeda on the net. Some early attempt to find a space on soundcloud, a few occult rarities under the moniker on youtube, but all left halfway through, as if after the days of the blog nothing could really take its place. Who knows where Owl Qaeda is these days, or if his scholarly work continued in other ways.
My research seemed to have come to a rabbit hole, and I was left just with the regret for what I had missed. Reports of musical treasures I and others would never find. But it was not the end of the story. The passion for the blog led the kind Spanish speaking author of the ‘melomanovariopinto blog’ to a veritable work of love, a work that miracolously is stil laccessible in 2020 in the face of an apparent end of activity since 2017. In his ‘little hommage to what was a great blog’ (https://melomanovariopinto.wordpress.com/2012/04/18/mi-pequeno-homenaje-a-lo-que-fue-un-gran-blog-holy-warbles/)
The ‘rainbow-coloured music lover’ included a short documentary history on youtube which claims ‘a little bird’ told the author Paula Carmicino that Holy Warbles would be back (no follow-up available since the doc was made in 2013).
Most importantly, on the same page you find links to 12 of the original mixtapes published on the original blog. The search is finally over, and evidence of the fine mixing skills of Owl Qaeda, that strangely named legend, is still meticolously preserved for our renewed pleasure, at least for the precious moment, at least until other lost downloads are unearthed. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think.
Additional noted resources for the contemporary holywarbler:
A ‘holy warbles tribute’ page has 83 subscribers and a fine collection of the mixtapes that seem to have survived to this day, the same you find on the melomanovariopinto blog:
The uploads on the youtube page have enthusiastic comments, however it is unlikely we will see much more original mixes sourced there, as there has no been recent uploading activity in the last two years.
You can also find a compilation of Holy Warbles’ tunes on spotify: