Sunday, January 18, 2009

Radio Days

I've been spending a lot of time this weekend hanging round in a car. What has made it all bearable is the radio. Despite having weeks worth of music on my pc, and more music at my disposal than I will ever have time to listen to, radio still offers something else - the unknown and unexpected. Of course this is not true of most stations, but in London at least the airwaves are still crowded with pirates and sometimes community stations with short term broadcasting licences.

So on Force FM (106.5) I listened to DJs Ade and Frisk discussing the relative merits of nu garage, Bumpy 4/4, old skool garage, Bassline and UK funky. They were definitely most in favour of the first two, but the whole thing reminded me of the role of pirates as hothouses for the proliferation of micro-genres and mutations of the 'nuum. More importantly the music was good, Todd Edwards 'When angels sing' a standout track. On Rinse FM there was the inevitable God Made me Phunky, a UK funky take on an old house track that was itself inspired by a 1975 Headhunters track - from the first wave of funk... making me think about the shifting fortunes of the term funk in music - something that for a long time has conjured up a sense of retro-fixated scenes like acid jazz but now reclaimed for the latest twist in urban music... And so on.

Radio has always been important to me. When I was at primary school we used to gather round a small transistor in the lunch break and listen to the chart rundown, in the days of T.Rex and The Sweet. As a teenager I genuinely listened under the covers to the John Peel show, my mind being blown by punk - I can vividly remember hearing Stiff Little Fingers 'Suspect Device' for the first time in my bed. Years later I first heard jungle on a summers day in Brockwell Park (Brixton), lying on the grass and twiddling the dial.

Today all kinds of music are more easily accessible than ever, but there are also mechanisms to keep the unexpected at bay, like lastfm and Itunes Genius- 'if you like this here some more of the same'. Most radio stations, from Kiss to Xfm, are programmed on the same basis of giving their 'core demographic' what they expect to hear. But on the edges of the dial there are still surprizes to be found.

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