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Crash Media Interview with Backspace's Giorgio D'Angelo

By mute, 24 January 2012

Captain's Mate D'Angelo In Interview with intergalactic hack Josephine Berry aboard Starship Backspace (date: 07 Aug 98 - 19h:39m)

In answer to the question, "What has been the most experimental project ever attempted at Backspace?" Gio d'Angelo, one of its most round-the-clock members, replies, "Backspace is the most experimental project". Such an answer speaks volumes about the independently run experimental media centre perched on the side of the Thames by London Bridge.


Image: Backspace Toilet Grafitti


There is a certain fluidity which blurs the distinctions between all the individual projects occurring at the centre as well as the identity of their 'ideators'. The communal vibe which binds Backspace together has traces in founder James Stephen's background in the film group Exploding Film and Gio d'Angelo's near 10 year squatting career around Greater London. Although there is a strong artistic flavour to the space (net artist Rachel Baker is another dedicated volunteer) this is dissolved within a more general inclination to experiment with technology and upset the dependency of 'user' culture through rewiring and rerouting the technology itself.

Set up just over two years ago, Backspace has managed to evade all the constraints of public funding through the provision of web services for locals and enthusiasts at the cost of £20 a month. The people working there are volunteers which also explains the complete absence of a corporate mentality at Backspace. On the back of this low level income generation, members as well as local or international net-heads can use the premises and the technology for a rag-bag of media-strategic ends. Asking d'Angelo what those ends might be unleashes a chain of free association in which an Italian performance artist named Giovanna who drinks her own blood, the Casio orchestra, a CUSEEME hook-up with AudioRom in Montreal and a South London, teenage MC posse called the Rude Boys all get a mention. Backspace is neither wholesale digital culture venue nor smoothly operational ISP with public access. D'Angelo sums up the atmosphere: "We're not talking about the kind of place where 20 people sit around all day writing e-mails and never say a word to the person sitting next to them. They wouldn't have a chance."

In this rare soup of professionalism and auto-didacticism, where collaboration and antagonism mix, people find the space to explore software, trawl the net, test ideas without the pressure of producing quantifiable results. An attempt to develop a free dial-up for the internet quite typically came to nothing when they realised that the software didn't exist as shareware and couldn't be procured by alternative methods. But the death of one plan only means more space for another, and the latest centres on an abandoned satellite sender/receiver on a nearby rooftop. The satellite, formerly owned by a financial data company, is provocatively trailing a cable half way down the building just asking to be abducted. Backspace is looking for ways to forge the public access which continues to evade us even at the dawn of digital proliferation. Adding insult to injury, Harl the hacker and Alexei the Russian electronic engineer have integrated a mini-transmitter with Real Audio coding in a box. In simple terms this means that the local FM signal can be sent out over the net, and even tuned remotely. D'Angelo is characteristically laissez faire about the end use of this kind of experimentation: "We're going to make a few of these, and then leave them around - they just need to be connected to a modem."

As for the future, Backspace balances precariously between extinction and expansion. Although it's hard to judge whether the project has gained enough momentum of its own to survive any sea change in the volunteers' enthusiasm, this seems doubtful given the number of national and international visitors and participants flocking to Backspace. Stevens also has plans to open other spaces around the UK which would effectively plug in and switch on the same ready-built services developed at the pilot centre. D'Angelo explains their recipe for bypassing municipal structures as a combination of giving other groups this ready-built package and the estimation that "soon, instead of having redundant 4855s it will be Power PCs which can be put back together, and although bandwidth is a problem, if we sort out the satellite data transfer then.... that'll be all right."

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