Pop Playground
57 Listeners (And Nothing On)

enjoying 2004 so far? Yeah, it’s been good. Got a particular favourite band from this year so far? Perhaps you’ve gone with Madvillian’s metal-faced supergroupery? Maybe Franz Ferdinand’s strangely heterosexual art-school Orange Juice tribute? Usher, Courtney Love, Murs, Scissor Sisters, Cee-Lo, Busted, Kanye fucking West? Well…

All week 7 on New Musical Lunch 12-2pm you can hear exclusive album tracks, an exclusive interview and win band related goodies from the best band of 2004 so far,The Stills.

Yep, the official student radio station of Lancaster University has proven, by science, that the best band of 2004 so far is The Stills. No, me neither. The Stills are solely known as “That band that aren’t The Stands”. A band whose sole contribution to popular culture so far is a #39 single entitled “Lola Stars And Stripes”, which, if you can hum, I will give you five pounds.

University radio is an American invention. It’s something the Americans do well. Over there, student radio serves as a barometer of taste. They can, and have, broken bands, provided interesting and funny content, and get listeners from across the world, thanks to the internet. Like cheerleaders and buffalo wings, it’s an American invention that, when the English attempt it, ends up ugly and unappetising. English student radio doesn’t get listeners from across the world. It’s lucky if it gets listeners from across the campus. Indeed, even with 15,000 students enrolled, the average Lancaster University radio show is lucky to break 50 listeners.

In my capacity as editor of the music section of the student paper, I was enrolled into a radio show this year. A sensible idea: the DJ would play this week’s new releases, and then the studio, consisting of one regular representative of the radio station, my bad self, and one “floating” contributor, would drop some science as to how good the tracks were. So far, so repeated on every campus nationwide.

It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

The regular contributor from the radio station was a guy called “Kenny”. He was introduced as “the station’s resident music expert”. Now, I regularly jackpot Pepsi Chart Challenge quiz-machines by knowing that Nicky is the youngest Westlife member, or that “The Great Beyond” spent the most time in the UK top 40 of any REM single. Kenny thought that Fergal Sharkey was the lead singer of The Waterboys. This is the same guy who once stated, after the playing of a Scissor Sisters single, “Well, the Bee Gees were nearly 30 years ago, do we still need to be making dance music?”.

That comment was endemic of the station’s playlist, helpfully stapled up on the wall of the broadcast studio. 40 tracks. 17 were designated as “indie”, 16 designated as “rock”, 4 “pop”, 1 “urban”, one “folk”, one “dance”, and one “novelty”. I’ve seen more diverse clones. Indeed, on the show, instead of reviewing the week’s new releases, we were stuck with the task of reviewing eight new releases from The Stills/Stands/Shins/Kills/Thrills/Liars/French Kicks, one from whichever new boy band had discovered guitars this week, and, of course, one dance track

The DJ was to blame for this show playlist, though—a Jo Whiley in the making, shunning any non-indie in the most 6th form of styles, and gushing over every single floppy haired indie band she’d met the previous week. I recorded one show after having conducted an interview with ACTUALLY FAMOUS #2 SINGLE HAVER Jamelia. Her reaction to meeting, say, Simple Kid had their only historical precedent when Christ appeared to Thomas.

It’s a dumb mindset. It’s a mindset that’s slowly helping kill off the British charts by implanting elitism at the grass-roots level. These people take Murray, Bowman, Lowe, and Moyles as saviours of the British music scene and radio. This is why Radio 2 is trumping Radio 1 in the ratings without even breaking a sweat.

But shouldn’t Radio 1 know better? They recently had a Bank Holiday experiment in which every song played for ten hours was the result of text-messages in. So, what did people request? Did they go for Radio 1’s usual mix of The Thills, Wiley, and The Thrills featuring Wiley? Did they cock. Kim Carnes, Elton John, Dolly Parton, House of Pain, Dire Straits, Hole, Level 42, Ce Ce Peniston, Green Day, They Might Be Giants, Rainbow, and, of course, “The Bomb” by The Bucketheads. Nothing that bears any resemblance whatsoever to the standard Radio 1 playlist. Fun music. Music you can dance to. Music you can just throw your hands in the air to.

So, back to Finger Eleven and Aqualung. What can we learn from all this? British grassroots radio is run by a clique that is intent, and failing, on forcing their own tedious, bland, anodyne tastes on the world. And the children that graduate from these places are going on to work for Radio 1. They’re going on to work for the NME. They’re going on to work for HMV, CD:UK, and Sony UK. Next time you look at the charts, and can’t work out why on God’s green earth Snow Patrol are in there, you have your answer. The rot doesn’t start at the top. It starts way down at the bottom.

So, find a student radio webpage. Find their e-mail address. And, next time they have a “requests” show, mail them in. Ask for Hall and Oates. For Curtis Mayfield. For Lemar, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Clipse, Sandie Shaw, Kenny Rogers, Half Man Half Biscuit, Stevie Wonder, Santana, The Meters, Six Mix-A-Lot, Giorgio Moroder, Girls Aloud, Chic or Dean Martin. Throw a knife into their tedious status quo. You can make a difference. It’s just that the odds are stacked violently against you. For instance, a genuine quote from Olly and Jason in the Afternoon:

“And that’s the problem with I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, it’s just really dull and I can’t understand why anyone would want to watch it. Anyway, here’s Snow Patrol”.

That’s what you’re up against. Heck, it’s what we’re all up against. Have you heard that new Master P?

By: Dom Passantino
Published on: 2004-04-22
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