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Experimental audio researcher

Jon Whitney isn’t shy about saying that he’s way ahead of the curve. The 33-year-old Arlington resident is quick to point out that Brainwashed.com, the Web site he founded in 1996, was one of the first to add sound samples to record reviews. He also likes to note that Brainwashed, an online purveyor of what he calls the "weirder side of eclectic music," wrote about bands like Sigur Rós, the Dresden Dolls, and Antony and the Johnsons long before they were "the bees’ knees." And Whitney started recording a weekly Brainwashed podcast way back last December. "I want to stay on the forefront of things," says Whitney. "We always have our ear to the ground."

It’s been a lifelong inclination. The Amherst native began collecting records at the age of four. "I went into a record store in a mall with my mom and I pointed to two records: Rod Stewart’s ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy’ and the Bee Gees’ ‘Tragedy,’" says Whitney, over an El Tesoro Silver margarita at Rudy’s, a Mexican restaurant he frequents in Teele Square. "I’ve always been into death and sex." At 13, he had a radio show on UMass’s community-friendly station WMUA. At 15, he’d already secured a record-store job. By 19, he was interning in Manhattan at major labels like Virgin and Capitol Records.

Working at a major label, Whitney learned right away, didn’t mean handling music you liked. "I would hear one Paula Abdul song 50 times in an eight-hour day," he recounts gravely, like a patient reliving a traumatic experience for a shrink.

So Whitney returned to Boston, and in 1996 he started Brainwashed. The site was primarily just an umbrella domain to host Web sites for bands he loved, like Meat Beat Manifesto and Greater Than One. But over the next six years, Brainwashed (along with its online weekly magazine, the Brain) steadily became a recognizable entity among a small, international population of Wire-reading, Throbbing Gristle–loving "hardcore music nerds." So hardcore that in 1999, Brainwashed formally boycotted major-label reviews, instead focusing on lesser known imprints like Kranky and Mute.

Two years ago, Whitney would start videotaping interviews with the likes of Magnolia Electric Co., the Locust, and Arab Strap. To date, there are 116 interviews on the site. Also under the name Brainwashed, Whitney has released eight seven-inch singles and four full-length CDs. "I still don’t consider myself having a label, even though I have all these records," he says, spreading a stack of CDs and vinyl singles on the table.

Whitney isn’t the only contributor to Brainwashed — he estimates that there are about 50 people with "their hands in the code." The site and its various offshoots aren’t a full-time job: by day he’s a Web developer (he’s also been a ’ZBC DJ since 1995). Nevertheless, the music site is still a round-the-clock responsibility. "I love doing Brainwashed, but it needs constant attention — it’s like a puppy," he says. Brainwashed is about to apply for nonprofit status; since the site doesn’t really make any money now, Whitney’s hoping that nonprofit status will allow him to obtain grants.

But even without the money, the site hasn’t been without its rewards. "It’s an accomplishment every single day when someone sends you a note that says, ‘I really appreciate what you do. I used to listen to Radiohead’" — he says this like he’s sucking a lemon — "‘and now I’ve learned about so much more music through your site. That makes me proud.’"

Jon Whitney holds his monthly VJ night, "The Sound Your Eyes Can Follow" — with one hour of videos from Morr Music bands like Styrofoam, Lali Puna, and Ms. John Soda — this Thursday, August 18 at River Gods, 125 River Street, Cambridge | 21-plus | free | 617.576.1881

Issue Date: August 19 - 25, 2005
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