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Radio Blues

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I discovered music when I discovered alternative radio.

When I was a kid, the main attraction of listening to the radio was the gadget itself: a portable AM/FM device with a telescopic aerial that I could use to pick up boring talkback and shitty pop music from all over South Africa. Once we moved to Australia I grew to like a couple of 80s pop acts (for about one album each), but it wasn’t until Triple J went national that I really found music that set my head on fire.

This was during rise of grunge music, which bootstrapped the alternative music scene. Prior to that, ‘alternative music’ was what my brother’s friend’s weird older brother listened to. I knew it existed, but I’d never actually had a chance to listen to it. I didn’t know anything about metal, either, beyond what I had read in article in Eye Spy magazine (not the secret intelligence mag; Eye Spy was a children’s magazine distributed to primary schools). From Eye Spy I had learned that listening to metal would turn me into a Satanist and drive me to suicide. Even if I had known where to find it, I would have avoided it.

So Triple J in the 90s was a revelation for me. I learned to really love music in those years. I’d always wanted to play electric guitar, but now I was finally motivated me to go out and buy one–years after I’d given up the classical guitar lessons, as well as the trumpet.

I don’t much listen to the Js any more–they’ve insufferably smug and hip in their attitudes and their playlists–but in those days they were the only station with a playlist that included the music I liked and that would introduce me to music I would come to like.

I’ve been listening to a bit of commercial radio again recently. I still prefer the local independent stations–the community stations PBS and RRR–but a couple of the commercial stations are once again semi-listenable and it’s been interesting to hear what they’re playing and saying.

In the US most regions offer a number of rock stations–most of them controlled by Clear Channel. Usually there’s a classic rock station, a Modern Rock station that I guess in 2012 equates to Hipster Music, and probably a third station that plays the more belligerent strains of contemporary rock–the bands that grew out of neo grunge, SoCal Pseudopunk  and Nu Metal. Here in Australia we have less to choose from. In Melbourne we had a classic rock station for about six months this year, but already it’s been reformatted into Adult Contemporary. We are now back to the two traditional two rock stations: Gold 104 and MMM.

Gold used to be an oldies station; nowadays it basically a 70s and 80s rock and pop and it’s quite clearly targeted at middle-aged parents. Sometimes  hear some good music there. I cannot bear to listen to any of the presenters.

For the last couple of decades I think sportscasting has been the bigger part of MMM’s business, but aside from the sports, they’re  now basically somewhere a classic rock station who play a few of the best-selling and least-offensive modern rock songs. Foo Fighters, Linkin Park, Nickleback (I know it’s unfair of me to lump all of those bands in together). They do have a couple of off-primetime programs that make some effort to expose new music, notably former Screaming Jets frontman Dave Gleeson’s show. They even have a metal program these days. But if you’re looking for new music, MMM is not really the place for you.

What I find interesting about Triple M is that a lot of the 90s era classic rock they’re playing now is music that they never played when it was current.  Triple M hosted the Alternative Nation live music festival in the early nineties, back when grunge was at its height, but they never used to play any of the bands that they brought out for the show. In  ’95, when grunge was in its death throes, I remember hearing an ad boasting that MMM played the newest music first. The Cracker song ‘Low’ was the example they cited. ‘Low’ was released in 1993 on the Kerosene Hat album.

I know these bands and this music was huge in the US, but here in Australia you couldn’t hear much of it on commercial radio. When Kurt Cobain had his various episodes of art-vs-commerce insecurity I used to wonder where the hell he was coming from.  And I think that scene is in a very large part responsible for Triple J’s rise to prominence.

Commercial radio abandoned new rock music decades ago–right about when MTV did. Much as I love it, community radio is never going to be the place for new bands to break. They’re not designed to do this. They’re designed to program for the niches missed by commercial radio–new rock is now just one of those niches.

Now it’s more and more difficult for me to discover new music. There are fewer and fewer independent record stores to troll, now. I used to have an emusic account, but I cancelled my subscription when I found that I had to cross reference it with issues of Mojo magazine to find anything interesting. Now I use a combination of Mojo and youtube. With these tools you’d think it was easier than ever, but the amount of new music I buy is greatly diminished now. But as a general rule I find music journalism to horrifying–I want to know about the music, not about how cool the musicians are and I certainly don’t care how cool the writer thinks him or herself to be.  Mojo is the only magazine I can stand to read that’s not a guitar magazine.

I have instead been buying up a lot of old stuff. Classic rock. Jazz, big band, blues. Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix. Duke Ellington. Black Sabbath. Thelonious Monk. Muddy Waters. Tom Waits. Kermit Ruffins. Dizzy Gillespie. I like rock, I like metal, I like blues, I like jazz. I’m no big on hiphop or country. I generally don’t like motown, soul, R&B, or   synthpop. I like some newer bands, but not enough. The Black Angels. The Black Hearts Procession. High on Fire. Band of Skulls. The Haunted. Sons and Daughters.

Perhaps I’m getting old. Perhaps I just need to make a bit more effort. Recommend me some music–I want to hear it.


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