Friday, 26 February 2010

6 Music is Not a Threat to Commercial Radio

Reports in the Times Online that the BBC will announce the closure of 6 Music and the Asian Network next month have exploded over the internet like only middle class outrage can. Mark Tran reports for the Guardian that:

the BBC intends to shrink overall services and focus more on quality over quantity.

Quality over quantity? A selection of the most played artists on the 6 Music website includes The Who, The Cure, Blondie, New Order, Madness, The Rolling Stones, Blur, Beck, The Jam and The Beatles. Even though the list also includes U2, it’s difficult to suggest, by any objective measure - and many that are subjective - that this doesn’t represent quality.

What will the argument from the BBC be though? The £6 million budget of 6 Music is a drop in the £3.5 billion licence fee, and only a small dent in the £25-30 million they reportedly want to cut from the £100 million budget for buying-in shows from abroad. The Times leak suggests the BBC will admit that

the average age of a 6 Music listener — 35 — is very desirable for advertisers, and the station unfairly harms its commercial radio rivals.

Is this honestly an argument behind any service provided by the BBC? If, during the week leading up to Comic Relief, there is a drop in donations to other charities, should it be cancelled? If a great storyline in Eastenders means that fewer people tune in to Coronation Street, should they make life more boring in The Square? 6 Music doesn’t aggressively target their audience, and the 35 year-olds so desirable to advertisers could easily be targeted by commercial rivals.

The latest figures suggest 6 Music has 695,000 weekly listeners. Absolute Radio, with a similar playlist and, therefore, a similar demographic, has double that (and have, this afternoon, been reported in the Times as interested in buying 6 Music) Kerrang! also has twice the listenership of 6 Music. Over all, Heart Radio clocks in with more than 10 times as many listeners. These commercial stations, with a roughly similar music policy, are clearly not scrabbling for market share in the wake of a leviathan BBC station.

More interesting will be the reaction of the BBC to what one report has already labelled ‘uproar’ in the ‘Twitterverse.’ After ‘Moir-gate’, will this be another example of the small socio-economic group that makes up the majority of UK Twitter users affecting the vastly similar small socio-economic group that run the UK media? The powerful, Twitter-centered community has another target in its sights, but, passionate as we are, how much weight should our views carry?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Hype Machininsts

Three tenths of the Hype Machine top 10 is currently being taken up by songs involving the Xx: three remixes, then another mp3, 'Intro', at #18. This is as important, in this age of genre schizophrenia, as any other measure of cultural value, surely marking this album out as the biggest since Justice appeared on every single blog on the internet.

Of course, sparse beats with plaintive vocals are eminently remixable, especially with a fashionable dubstep aesthetic. The album is also incredibly intimate, sometimes feeling like eavesdropping on a private conversation, and this intimacy translates nicely into certain schools of downtempo electronic music.

This success, then, is unsurprising: hype is hype, the album is great and the sublime soporific wash of downtempo dubstep continues unabated. What is strange, though, is how long it took me to realise it was good. I loved Justice as soon as I heard them, the same with other blog-hyped acts like Boys Noize, Burial, Miike Snow and Animal Collective. But I hated the Xx: boring, depressing and inexplicably loved by everyone.

Maybe it's a lack of immediacy. I always hated The Smiths, grating at Morrissey's intonation and bored by the pace. And I'm from Manchester. It was only when, from the molasses of popular culture, a few songs had slipped in to my consciousness, and I was forced to sit down with The Queen is Dead that I realised how great they were. The Xx are like like the Smiths in a number of ways: subtle, nuanced and deeply personal.

I have spent an adolescence bouncing off walls and grinning to big silly drops, offensively crunchy synths and unashamedly yobbish tunes, but had always felt that something was missing. A 'Sunday Playlist' at Uni attempted to address this void, filling up with acoustic tunes and minimal house, but that lost its purpose when I graduated and no longer had whole days to sacrifice to lying in bed and listening to soporific indie music.

The Xx do fill this gap though, and do it beautifully. They deserve the plaudits on blogs and in the press, and may even teach me patience and an appreciation of subtlety again.

Currently #5 in the Hype top 10: