Those of you who know me in my various internet guises will have heard, repeatedly, of my dislike for radio, particularly Triple J. As a youngster I was weened off the breast and on to Triple M, and over the course of the next 15 years I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit 14.2 million times. When I discovered the term mp3 and that the internet could be used for things other than looking at pictures of naked ladies, I switched the radio off. For good.
Well, that was until late 2012. I grew bored of music, and I started to become quite insular, and so sought the comfort of a warm voice speaking to me on a lonely Sunday night. No, I didn't start listening to talk back, because I hadn't completely taken leave of my senses. I switched on Triple J. For anyone living outside Australia, Triple J is a government run radio station that focuses on alternative music and heavily promotes local artists of all genres, whether they are any good or not. The equivalent is BBC 1 in the UK, and college radio stations in the US.
Now there are 3 reasons I disliked Triple J. The music, the DJs, and the listeners. There's not much more than that is there? But let me quickly explain. When I first discovered there was a world outside of Midnight Oil and The Beatles, it was like discovering Baskin and Robbins made 30 other flavours besides vanilla! There was hip-hop, post-rock, soft-rock, indie pop, prog rock, downtempo up tempo chillout EDM dance industrial electronic glitch.. There was a genre for every sperm I produced in a day! So naturally I went looking, and amassed somewhat of an arsenal of personal tunes. My mum bought me an iriver for christmas one year and I was set.
But the car.. I learnt to drive. And back in those dark days, it was either listen to one of my dads ruined cassettes or brave the radio again. The very first song Triple J played when I turned it on was Bigmouth Strikes Again by The Smiths. HOLY SHIT! There is a radio station that plays THIS kind of music?! I kept listening. M.I.A., Joanna Newsom, The Go! Team, The Streets, Animal Collective, Bloc Party.. But then I would turn it on the next day. M.I.A., Joanna Newsom, The Go! Team, The Streets.. And so on, for about 2 weeks, until I knew Fit But You Know It so well I could recite it upside down completely naked in front of the Queen whilst being tipped in a tank of Sharks. Why in god's name would you play such damn good music, but then conform to the horrible radio standard of playing each individual song until the words and sounds have no meaning anymore?
Now, the listeners. I know that we live in an odd world. For example, The Circle still exists, and shows like The Biggest Loser and Big Brother manage to conjure an audience. But I think Triple J have some sort of screening process that ensures anyone with a memory of the past 25 seconds or more of their life is unable to ring through. If I have to hear the word 'like' used once more by a caller, or I have to hear 'dude' thrown around like the drunk girl at a party I will blow my own head off. Apparently the average IQ is 98 in Australia. Halve it.
Ok so you're now getting the picture. I am a sad, jaded, cynical individual who dislikes just about everything and should be shunned and extracted from society. True. However, I do have an honest appraisal of Triple J in 2013. Outside of my gripes with presenters (and despite my words, I rarely miss The Doctor, I adore Hack, and I always try to catch Father Bob and John Safran on a Sunday night), this gripe takes precedence. The music. There was an article written recently quoting anonymous musicians who claimed that a cosign from Triple J was so crucial to their development that pleasing the juggernaut became part of their creative process. Whilst this is seen as quite harmless activity elsewhere on the airwaves (don't tell me Springsteen hasn't sat down and written a song for a radio station before), on Triple J this kind of statement is an attack on their very fibre. The problem has, in the past, been quality control. They have pushed and promoted Aussie music ad-nauseum, and the issue has been that most of it wasn't very good at all. Running a contest called Unearthed, where local bands upload free music to J's website and they spin it throughout the year, choosing a winner at the end, has seen a big fat load of nothing really. Missy Higgins, who has (thankfully) dropped out of the scene, and Grinspoon are the only two acts who they have truly 'unearthed'. Every other band has disappeared, releasing one or two bad albums.
You can see the appeal of pandering to the station though. Courtney Barnett played at GoodGod last night, and I know 3 separate people who went, and all of them learnt of her through me, and I learnt of her through Triple J. Getting such regular airtime on a national broadcaster can mean the difference between two drunk blokes rocking up to your show and a room full of hipsters chugging KB lager and debating the perfect amount of spokes on a fixed gear bicycle over the top of your set. That literally puts food on the table. I don't see an issue with this. An artist is just that. They can create whatever the hell they want. If they want to get paid, they create a product they deem will do that for them. It's the same reason people work in jobs they hate. We could all drop out and make obscure ambient music on our computers. But we don't, because Centrelink sucks and starving to death sucks even more.
No, the problem with Triple J is this tunnel vision they apply to music. It is an elitist, exclusive club. Once you're in the door, expect your phone to ring off the hook. But if you miss the boat, there is very little else around Australia other than building word of mouth following. Station Manager Chris Scaddan described his station as avoiding pop music, 'We avoid sounds that are overtly commercial - traditional pop and R&B, soft rock'. Hmm. So Boy and Bear isn't pop music? Warpaint isn't soft-rock? Arcade Fire?! Don't piss in the street then hop back in your Jaguar. You're a radio station, you play pop music. Get over it. High ideals, in theory but never in practise. If they are so hell bent on promoting local acts why have they played Thank You by Busta Rhymes 82 times in the last half hour, when they could've put on some Monks of Mellonwah or Blank Realm? I dislike hypocrits..
I've got a couple of people I know through social media, and I will shout them out here (my blog has 30,000 views guys, just send the cheque in the mail). Lee Monro, formally known as Figgkidd, Empress MC, Ello C, and Mista Clean. I went to a local hip hop night AGES ago and every one of the Sydney cats spitting bars would eat someone like Illy or Pez for breakfast. I tried to listen to Illy's Cinematic and almost died of laughter. Why does Triple J latch on to some and reject others? Well Ello C never had a record chart on ARIA. Illy did..
Ok, so the music Triple J play isn't bad, except for all the atrocious Aussie hip hop. That track that 360 did with Daniel Johns is a stain on the great mans career (Johns, not 360). It's just this image they portray of themselves, as this great white hope for young aussie artists, as the holy mecca of music. Their influence is wide reaching, yet anyone holding on to some romantic notion that their presence in the musical landscape is a positive on the whole for aussie artists is kidding themselves. They may be a government run station with no ads, but without listeners they wouldn't exist, and 95% of those listeners want to hear a certain sound. That's what Triple J will always deliver.
Want to hear true grass roots indie music and you live within a 5 mile radius of Alexandria in Sydney? Tune in to FBI 94.5 FM. And lament at the lost chance that Triple J continues to be.