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The SCUM Also Rises

The WikiSCUM indexes the history of Santa Cruz Underground Music

By Peter Koht

This December, Santa Cruz residents could peruse 30 years' worth of this town's musical history by walking into the Attic and checking out Ukulele Dick's impressive Santa Cruz Music Archives. But come Jan. 1, the Archives will go back into storage and the walls of the Attic will be filled with new art.

Happily, the WikiSCUM (Wiki as in Wikipedia, SCUM as in Santa Cruz Underground Music) is not subject to the stresses of a gallery's schedule. A sister site of the massively popular user-edited online encyclopedia, this "Wikicity," or subencyclopedia, is dedicated to preserving and documenting Santa Cruz's underground music scene. At just over 6 months old, this electronic repository now features over 500 articles about the bands, venues, musicians and artists that have given something to the creative ethos of this town.

Like the Wikipedia, the site is completely open to volunteer editing. If you know something about some obscure band from Santa Cruz, you can add to the archives. The most interesting thing about this participatory model of web development is that the more people participate in it, the better the content. Like Flickr and MySpace, WikiSCUM is interactive by design.

Built around an "architecture of participation," Wikis feature content that is both constantly updated and personally compelling. Eminently scalable, the Wiki increases in scope, quality and depth as more users access and augment its pages.

Of course there are problems, as the recently well-publicized case of John Seigenthaler illustrates. This Tennessee-based journalist and former Kennedy staffer's Wikipedia biography was maliciously altered as a prank by Nashville resident John Chase. Seigenthaler took to the Op-Ed pages of USA Today to state his case against the Wikipedia's parent organization, the Wikimedia Foundation, for allowing his name to be electronically sullied. His comments have ignited a firestorm of controversy around the user-editing policy of the Wiki and led to some changes in the site's structure. Registration is now required to begin a new article.

Yet despite this recent controversy, Wiki readership has grown exponentially since the site's inception in 2001. Now featuring over 800,000 articles in English, the Wiki is a behemoth of a reference work and its model of participatory editing allows small communities--like the music scene in Santa Cruz--to collectively write their history.Oddly enough, the genius behind starting and maintaining the WikiSCUM is a single man, Oliver Brown, local teacher and "Sir Ukulele Extraordinaire," whose long participation in the local music scene, combined with his background in database management, made him the perfect candidate to shepherd the WikiSCUM into existence.

According to the site, Brown discovered Wikicities on May 17, 2005. Shortly thereafter, he applied for the creation of the WikiSCUM and took over the lion's share of the early editing. Brown had long maintained a SCUM site as part of his own website, but his increasingly busy schedule had forced the site to go static. With the inception of the Wiki, he was able to greatly expand the archive and allow for multiple perspectives.

The WikiSCUM predominantly focuses on Santa Cruz­based lo-fi and indie bands, but its structure can easily give coverage to other local scenes including the town's burgeoning hip-hop and alt-country scenes. While biographies of bands are a prominent feature of the site, some of its most interesting articles are more educational in scope. The site has a significant amount of instructive material in its pages, including guides to booking, promotion and distribution.

Another feature that adds to the site's interest is its catalog of performances stretching back to the early '80s and its extensive listing of house show venues. It also details the various artists, record labels and media sources who have helped local musicians reach larger audiences.If nothing else, it's a hilarious slice of history that gives equal respect to established acts like Estradasphere and Tao Chemical as well as bands like Mr. Peanut Is the Ultimate Dandy and Super Soldier Serum. Encyclopedia Britannica shamefully overlooked both groups in their last edition.

WikiSCUM can be found at http://www.wikicities.com/wiki/

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From the December 21-28, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

For more information about Santa Cruz, visit santacruz.com.

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