Single track downloads have finally met their stylish match.



What are we going to do about all these kids dissing the album? They’re downloading the hits but not the fillers. Fillers are essential. They make the good tracks seem great and build up your immune system to crap. Fillers are like Yakult – good bacteria. Tim Wheeler doesn’t seem to think there’s a problem, but what does Tim Wheeler know? He says that the rise of single track access means that artists will need to make sure every song is a hit from now on, and Ash haven’t written one of those since 2001.

So here’s the answer: a 4.5cm wide pin badge that stores a full album worth of digital music, but can’t be tampered with. You can’t upload tracks to it, nor take them off, nor change their running order. You can skip tracks, wear it and play it, and you can be happy. You can fast forward too, adjust the volume, of course, and choose from five different preset equalizers. You just can’t alter the content.

It’s called Playbutton and it’s the brainchild of New Yorker Nick Dangerfield, who used to own a small record label in Tokyo. “We had a great release coming up, but had nothing to commensurately contain it,” he explains, “so I spent a few months obsessed with that. In Tokyo everyone wears buttons/badges. One day a friend was wearing a giant badge, almost the size of a CD. From there it was all automatic.”

Since its launch in February, what Playbutton has essentially done is inject a bit of kitsch fun back into listening to music while neatly embracing technology, fashion and DIY in equal gizmo measures.

“Playbuttons split the difference between digital and physical,” says Dangerfield. “The music is in digital files, but you can hold the imperfect object in your hands – an unlikely combination of high tech with very low tech. The intimate relation with frail objects, that is something that we cannot do without.” It forces you to listen to music in a forgotten way, also – an intensity that is made for an album like ‘The xx’, which is why the band were one of the first to release their debut on this stringent new format.

For Dangerfield (now based back in New York with Playbutton staff in Japan, England and Spain), the singles market bears little threat. “The album has not become obsolete yet,” he says, “not even remotely. Of course there is a prevalence of one-song only purchases nowadays, but that said, when you analyse the figures of good labels, they still sell plenty of full albums. Take one of our first Playbuttons, if I may, as an example: ‘Wind’s Poem’ by Mount Eerie. That album is a trip, it has the narrative coherence of a wonderful book. Who would want to piece that record apart?”

Single track downloads are of course going nowhere – much to Tim Wheeler’s delight – but Playbutton, for its old fashioned, playful take on the modern age, is a very welcome new platform for the album as a single body of work.

Find Playbutton at

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 29 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2011

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