In all the furore this week over the Radio one playlist meeting that was documented in the Guardian (you may not realise there was a furore about it, I didn’t until somebody linked me to an article about the furore in an unrelated place, and then another one after that, I then had a look, and discovered that there in my cup of tea, was a raging storm of obvious. I was more surprised that nobody at Radio one was taking massive bribes to play such dreary, antiseptic drones all day). I realised that my long standing hatred of playlists could do with being written about. Interestingly (or not, depending on your viewpoint) I was going to write about the radio making me hate bands very quickly after really liking them anyway.
Here’s a little background, I spend a disproportionately large amount of time listening to the radio. Really, all day from 8:30am until 5pm, sat at work, I have the radio on. Have done for a very large proportion of my adult life, as it is the only way to get through the painfully dull working day. And the thing I have noticed most is that the playlisted songs (those that are played on every single one of the daytime shows) go very quickly from being my very favourites, to being utterly hated. Familiarity really does breed contempt in many cases.
Normal people, who listen to the radio in the car in the mornings and evenings on their way to work, will tell me how much they are enjoying a new playlisted record. Because they hear it at most, twice a day, and generally, not even that much. I hear these damn things at least four times a day, five days a week, and if they stay on the playlist, then this can go on for months. The most recent casualty being the new Royal Blood single, which is sad, as I really liked them. And now I don’t.
This can all go back to the summer of 1993, when two bands became utterly hated due to over exposure. Those bands were the Levellers and Rage against the machine, both of whom I really liked at the beginning of the year, when I first heard them. By the end of the summer, where every party I had been to, and every place I had been hanging out as one can only do when you’re 16, had been endlessly playing those two albums, I hated them. With a passion. Twenty years later I can happily listen to them again, without flinching. The same thing happened with Nirvana, Guns and Roses, and any other band that were overly popular at any point. I am often accused of musical snobbery for my dislike of the current trends, and there may be a grain of truth in that, but it’s more often than not that I get bored of hearing the same thing over and over again really quickly.
When I got a proper job, we had Radio one on in the factory all day long, and to begin with, I was being happily brainwashed into buying albums by the bands they endlessly played. I even bought the Ocean Colour Scene album on the back of “The Day We Caught The Train”. I bought a lot of god-awful brit-pop, and I can only claim that I was 18, and therefore stupid, and without taste. Shortly afterwards, however, the self-same endless radio play led me to sell most of these albums, as I was sick of them. Especially Ocean bloody Colour Scene, and their utterly insipid tedious dirges. There’s probably a chance that if I’d only heard these tracks a couple of times a day, I’d have been joining in with all the recent brit-pop nostalgia, hell, I might even enjoy the music of Blur and Oasis, but that’s stretching things a bit.
I was brought up to speed on how important technology is now by a seventeen year old of my acquaintance (no names, privacy is respected here still) who when told that somebody’s parents didn’t have any internet access, said “But how do they listen to music?” Which obviously got a few laughs, and was then changed to “But how do they discover new music?” which made me think a bit more. Now obviously, these are people in their 60s, and as we know, people of that age don’t want to discover new music thank you very much. Not all of them, but a fair proportion I suspect, if my own parents are anything to go by. But if you are so inclined, there is now an absolute avalanche of new music available in just a click. I think if that had been around when I was a kid, I would have never got anything useful done, just sat around listening to new tunes. Not necessarily a bad thing. I was surprised that the afore-mentioned seventeen year old couldn’t think of any alternative though, stuff does change quickly these days.
The only place to hear really interesting, new and exciting music when I was a kid, was John Peel in the evenings. Now, I suspect, Zane Lowe is filling that void (don’t shoot me, I know he’ll never be Peel, but he does play some good tunes at times). When we were young, you either heard it on Peel, or you had a mate who somehow had all kinds of weird, interesting records that they would tape off for you. I had quite a lot of mates like that, and I thank each and every one of them for the many strange and exciting records they got me into. I also spent a huge amount of time sitting in a local second hand record shop, listening to the stock with the friendly owner, and went through a phase of buying records based on whatever had the most interesting cover, and was super cheap. That really was the only way to get into different music back then kids, you could read the music press, but unless there was a tape or a flexi disc free with it, you had to imagine what they sounded like, and when you finally got to hear them (after saving up your pennies, and picking one of the many albums you wanted to buy, and buying it, major investments back then) you would be disappointed (except for the Dogs D’Amour, they sounded as awesomely cool as they looked).
Now, a few years ago, I invested in a DAB for work, as the years of Radio 2 (no Steve Wright, it is not ok to talk over the guitar solo at the end of Rainbow’s Since You Been Gone, and you need to tell the audience what the record they just heard was called, and who it was, I hate you with a passion you can only dream of) and Radio 1 had left me hollowed out and hating all new music. I now had 6music, which was like a whole day of John Peel, briefly. And then I noticed the playlisting was taking over, and for the most part, every daytime show was playing the same songs over and over again at me, and it made me sad again.
It is the best of a bad bunch though, and you can easily tell the records that the DJ has picked themselves. Because Lamacq will never ever stop playing bland mid-90s indie music whenever he gets the chance, Laverne cannot resist Riot-Grrrrl, and Keaveny still has a Who obsession that cannot be quelled. It is a little like my first discovery of Radio 2, around the turn of the millennium, they played the Who, they played Zeppelin, and not the bland insufferable white noise that was being called new music, and being blasted across radio 1 at the time. But that got old, as Radio 2 are still playing the same songs now that they pulled me in with back then.
Why must those of us who listen all day be force fed the same thing over and over again? Why are evening listeners so special that they get the interesting stuff? I’ve been listening all day, I don’t want to listen all evening as well, I want the good stuff in the daytime. And yes, I know, iPlayer, but I like the real time aspect of radio, we are all listening together, and the DJ is talking to me, and we are all in the same gang. I can tweet/text/email the DJ, and he/she might read out what I have said, and maybe reply. I like all that. I want more music that they have picked especially for me, and not stuff that they have been told to play because some crazy statistician has said that is what the target demographic would enjoy. I know I could make my own playlists, and listen to music I want, and have listened to before, and I could use the spotify algorithms for music I might enjoy, based on music I have already heard. But I pay my license fee so somebody else can do that for me. Make the daytimes like the evening and weekend shows 6music, we listen because we like new interesting stuff, if we wanted the same playlisted shite over and over again, we would still be listening to Radio 1.