First impression of 3GSM itself is that it's huge and nobody knows where anything is. In the company of silicon.com's Jo Best, I am directed by an attendant to registration in a far-distant hall. There, we find that press registration is in fact half a mile away, roughly where we started from. That's the theme for the next hour, as we try to come to terms with eight halls, five different sorts of map that bear little relation to each other, 50,000 people in pan-European business attire (why do the Spanish wear so much corduroy?), and a press room that we eventually track down at the back of the most distant hall. It is heaving. There is no network access — and, shortly afterwards, there is no power. There are hotspots: Netstumbler counts 42 shouting like crazy at once, which is rather more than the exhausted spectrum can cope with.
I contemplate running away to join the circus. Jo edges away nervously.
Instead, I run back to the hotel where I meet Grahame Riddell, head of music for O2. Now, it must be said up front that O2 is playing a good corporate game in getting music delivered over mobile, making the right sort of investor-pleasing alliances and looking at the market in a professional manner. It is not Riddell's fault that I'm already run ragged by the first morning of 3GSM and the inner punk rocker is alive and kicking. Our opening conversation sets the tone — we're chatting about Barcelona's reputation for having some of the most aggressive and effective pickpockets in the business. Some rumours said that around 300 crimes were reported during the show, not including the Microsoft briefing.
Riddell: "It's almost like an industry, you know, they're that organised" Me: "Yes. They should legitimise it, like mobile roaming charges." Riddell: "That's an interesting statement."
We regroup, and start again. As he goes through the spiel of how O2 is working with Clear Channel for live music, and sponsoring a Brighton band called The Upper Room because the marketing message from their company — Sony BMG — is so well aligned with O2's strategy, and how the new opportunities for merchandise over handsets are exciting, the punk inside me is screaming "Clear Channel? It killed music radio in the US. Don't you know that? And Sony BMG? SONY? Rootkit Sony? What the hell are you doing with these corporate personifications of the anti-music?"
However, I feel that vocalising this would not be entirely professional. Riddell says all the right things about building communities where word of mouth builds excitement over new music, and supporting those users who find out the good stuff as well as those who rely on the first sort to guide their own explorations, but I can't shake the horrible feeling that it's all about control. Listen to new music, but it's going to be the corporate's choice of music, stuff that is approved and registered for passage through the system.
You've found something good? Tell people about it, but for God's sake don't send them the music itself. Download a suggestion but no, you can't put it on your iPod. It's all a subtle perversion of how I keep my love of music alive, which is digging out the stuff that isn't already flowing through the corporate veins, which doesn't fit any marketing expectations, which doesn't have a dollar of The Man's moolah on its back, and passing it on as best I can to others who still feel the joy.
That's what makes music work for me, music that says nothing matters but itself, not the ability to play a 30 second clip on an approved device that offers me the opportunity to buy the T-shirt. And it matters more to me than I can rationally explain. That is not O2's game, nor from a responsible corporate perspective can it be, but it seeks to assume the pretence that it is and that also matters more to me than I can explain.