David Bowie, whose death is being mourned worldwide Monday, had a long-held passion for bringing together technology and music. He wasn't afraid to try new ideas. Among his 1990s forays into online downloads and concert streaming, now considered par for the course for musical artists, Bowie also made some groundbreaking ventures into less conventional areas.
In September 1998, Bowie launched his own ISP. BowieNet, according to the Guardian, was conceived as a proto-social network. There was 5MB of web space to share songs and creations. The pages used new technologies like Adobe Flash (then developed by Macromedia) to display content. Users even got access to concert streaming service Rolling Stone Network.
The star also launched his own online bank in the same decade. BowieBanc came with a year's worth of BowieNet service. Fans who banked their money with Bowie were rewarded with checks and bank cards displaying his image.
“The demographic of people who listen to David Bowie fits perfectly with people who use the internet,” banking expert Christopher Musto told MTV in January 2000. The service launched at a time when just over 11 million people used online banking. “What’s next? Is the Offspring gonna be the next bank? Hopefully them before Limp Bizkit.”
Bowie also explored tech in ways that seem more familiar today. In September 1999, he became one of the first major artists to release a new album, "'Hours...'," for download over the internet. At the album's launch, the New York Times ran a feature on the growing experiment in downloadable music, noting how easy it was to download the album and start playing. “Just download in Liquid Audio or Microsoft Audio 4.0,” Sue Cummings wrote.
The artist inspired others to experiment with tech. In May 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield uploaded a video to YouTube. In the film, Hadfield is seen floating around the International Space Station, performing a cover of "Space Oddity" on his acoustic guitar.
In true Bowie fashion, celebrities used the latest tech to tweet out their tributes in the early hours of Monday. While music downloads are commonplace today, BowieBanc and BowieNet were short-lived ventures, the latter closing up shop 10 years ago. Nonetheless, they remain emblematic of the artist's desire to experiment with technology to push the limits of the music industry.