Saturday, July 10, 2010

Radio One is Wonderful

I was never much of a fan of BBC Radio One. It began in 1967, part of a BBC radio revamp and intended to take back youth radio audiences from the offshore pirate stations. The enduring and possibly indestructible fuddy-duddiness of the BBC (that's why she's known as Auntie Beeb) inflected the station from the beginning and although it didn't suffer too much from the housewives'n'recipes formula of Radio Two, it wasn't exactly edgy. One confined one's listening, as far as possible, to the late evening - John Peel and Bob Harris - when new rock music, as opposed to current pop music, was played. But then, of course, I emigrated to the United States, where pop music was and still is such utter shit that it made British pop sound like a Golden Age of Youthful Exuberance. (Of course I exempt a few, like Michael Jackson, from this shotgun contempt.) Currently I only hear US pop at All You Can Wrangle Down Your Neck Sushi Bar in town, and it appears to currently float loosely around a center of mimsy R&B topped by Auto-Tune vocals, intermixed with an unhealthy percentage of limp folkie droning done by young men with unnaturally quiet acoustic guitars and testosterone peaking at 300 ng/dL on a good day.

Then I bought a new car. New cars come with a free trial of XM radio. Although 15,000 channels of XM consist of US pop as described above (and another 30,000 or so take care of Christian, jazz, classic rock, heavy metal and so forth) one of the channels is BBC Radio One, weirdly time shifted by a few hours, putting it as far as I can tell about half way between when it was actually broadcast in Britain and the time of day it's supposed to be listened to.

When I first heard it, it felt like falling down a rabbit hole. A bizarro world of quaint accents, weird regional tones half of which seemed to have been developed after I left the country, as though dialects sprouted in the Thatcherite weeds and bore strange new fruit carefully plucked by Auntie Beeb and put on display. And in between the chatter is playing some of the most unusual pop I've ever heard. Most of it is dance music, some of it hardcore, and all of it unlike the American stuff. Trance, Drum & Bass, House, Reggae, Dubstep, Electronica of all sorts, some of it actually broadcast from Ibiza, like the real thing. They must still have needle time restrictions, as a seemingly large fraction of it is re-recorded live for the BBC by the original artists, either at Maida Vale studios or in hosts of live and festival venues and interspersed with a number of interviews and guest appearances by the musicians, many of whom have their own home-grown regional accents despite singing in pure bi-coastal American like the best LA artists.

Even the folkies apparently have a pair, or share one, and it's possible to listen to say, Bombay Bicycle Club, a current favorite of the Beeb's, without wanting to shoot them to put them out of their misery. Most of the DJs are the usual Beeb fare, although enhanced now with the magic of instant texting which means a funny story can be instantly followed by ten more funny stories or other reactions from the listeners. Many of their routines are identical to the routines of the seventies and eighties but either they've gotten better at it or I'm getting senile (I don't know which is more likely) because one bit of banter today had the two of us laughing out loud in the car. I haven't listened to the most serious muso DJs as I'm in the car when they're broadcasting daytime school/college fare. (The texts and tweets when I first got the car all concerned "I'm revising for me exams!" and the ones today were all "I'm off on me holidays!" so I'm pretty sure who the audience is, at least that part of the audience the DJs acknowledge on air.) The most muso so far is the excellent Zane Lowe, one of the few I'd already heard of, as his interviews regularly make it back over here. For instance, I have a nice interview of his from last year, with two Maida Vale-recorded live tracks from an apparently genuinely-interested in being there Dead Weather. His regional accent is Kiwi. Some of the DJs can actually DJ, as in mix beats - I assume they go out and play live shows a lot. Many of them seem more at home talking to the teenyboppers and students, though.

It's possible for the music to be dreadful. Listening to The Mystery Jets' Two Doors Down today almost made me rip off my own head and eat it to get away from the Americanitus. MGMT are just whimsical and Oasis-y to get away with their erectile dysfunction music and some, such as fave artist Diana Vickers, really seem to have little going for them. (Except that when we first heard the DJ exclaim "That was DIANA VICKERS!!" I responded, "And her Magic Knickers!!" which has now caught on in the household and it's important she really does form a band with that name.) And of course, on occasion the DJs play American pop, so we can enjoy the Auto-Tune.

The XM free trial ended today, and I didn't renew. Its odd behavior of cutting off for three seconds two seconds after going under a bridge threw me, for a start. (And yes, I know why that happens.) And the $15 a month to continue the subscription seemed outrageous. I'm thinking more like $8 would be a reasonable option.

Right now I'm listening to BBC Radio One's Dubstep show. How, you may be asking yourself? Because the Radio One feed is free on its website. You can listen to it all day long. You don't even have to be in a car!

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