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The Last Tag Show

Nathan Lovejoy

The Last Tag Show, a live ‘net performance’ took place on Last.FM on April 14, 2007. Last.FM is a social networking site centred around tracking its users’ music listening habits and creating a profile based on that data. As a user listens to music, the track title and artist name are sent to his/her profile and listed publicly, allowing the service to create connections between users and the musicians they listen to. Another notable aspect of the service is its reliance on user participation through wikis in creating artist profiles.

The Last Tag Show cleverly took advantage of Last.FM’s technical structure to pull off a 24-hour performance. As the allotted time progressed, viewers saw tracks and artists appear in succession on Last.FM user profile lasttagshow’s profile page. These were no ordinary songs. However, the artists instead altered the metadata of audio tracks such that when they were uploaded to the Last.FM servers appeared as a multi-character dialogue. The principal personages in the performance include ‘Moderator’, ‘Hannah’, ‘Voiceover’, ‘Instructor’, ‘Marck’, ‘Zita’ ‘Vass’, and ‘Gregg’, with occasional guest stars like Thom Yorke. Since each of these characters takes the role of a musician in Last.FM’s data-centric view, each of them has a dedicated user-editable artist page, which The Last Tag Show took full advantage of by developing the identities of their subjects in these spaces. As such, the Moderator, for example, existed beyond his archived snippets of speech, complete with a photograph and short biography.

Yet, while this was a particularly clever subversion of Last.FM’s intended use, judging by their description of the piece, it seems that the artists failed to think through the conceptual implications of their performance fully. The idea of a ‘net performance’ is immediately suspect, especially in the context of a social network like Last.FM for whom archivization and aggregation take precedence over live performance’s immediacy and ephemeral nature. So, while inventive and whimsically guileful, The Last Tag Show as a performance was starkly out of place in an environment existing in the future as much as it looks to the past.

Yet, it is from this oversight that perhaps the most interesting aspect of the piece arises. After the performance was finished and the Show creators had moved on, their once purely diegetic characters began to take on a life outside the confines of that single 24-hour period. It seems that there are several other Last.FM users who listen to tracks in which the artist is listed as ‘Voiceover’ or ‘Papa’ (another character in the Show) and several other names. As these other users consumed their oddly labelled tracks, the artist profiles, which served as a stable signifier for the Show’s players, began to change. Suddenly, their “most listened to tracks”? Were not out-of-context snippets of dialogue, but what seemed to be…actual songs; the real possibility of users coming in and subtly changing Gregg’s biography comes to mind.

Indeed, the fact that these fictional characters can continue to ‘live’ – produce and be produced – long after their utility to the performance has ended makes The Last Tag Show so interesting and the limited period of its run-time so constricted. Where the creators began this piece as a “hack” of a social networking site, in the end, it may turn out that they are the ones hacked – by their creations.