Anergy in the U.K.
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Is a Lack of Edge in the Industry Holding Back Progression?
ONE piece of musical good news…
IN THIS PHOTO: Jools Holland on the set of Later.../IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/BBC
is the return of Later… with Jools Holland. It is a music T.V. show that reminds me of a favourite aunty: it is the same reliable and kind-hearted spirit who will never let you down; the chances of seeing any radical redecoration in the house or an appearance change is unlikely. Jools Holland’s long-standing show is unlikely to tattoo its scrotum and have its artists smash the stage up and drink their own vomit! That is good in a way – the complaints coming through the BBC would jam the switchboards – but one looks for a bit of change and movement. I am not going to stick with the musical-T.V.-paradigm here but it deserves an undressing. One of the biggest criticisms of the BBC’s latest music show, Sounds Like Friday Night, is its complete absence of anything resembling testicles. The music, bar a few credible inclusions, is the rank-and-file Pop sounds the wank-a-dial teeny-boppers look out for and clutch like it’s the newest, shiniest iPhone in the shops – all about fashion and little substance; nothing practical, deep or nuanced. Jools’ brand of music T.V. has been going for years and seen some of the finest artists of our time pass through his doors. It is back on our screens and has just seen Björk play her first T.V. show in over eight years. There is likely to be the usual cavalcade of cool and quality-focused artists that are recording on the smarter end of the spectrum. The set-up is unique in the sense nothing else on the box is doing the same thing.
That winning formula has been present since the start: the amiable host chatting with guests and playing piano (wanted or otherwise) on their songs; a polite audience listening with passion and a basic, ornate little stage rotating the artists and seeing fantastic performances. Sounds Like Friday Night was an opportunity to offer a viable alternative to the excellent, if conservative, option over at Jools Holland’s hang-out. Rather than create a Frankenstein’s Monster with bits of The Old Grey Whistle Test and a lobotomy of Top of the Pops; a showering of MTV in the blood and a screwed-on bolt of VH1 – put it through a lab and crank up the machinery and, after some spark-flying and clattering, out would emerge the daunting and strange beast. The newest BBC incarnation is still in its infancy and, two series down, the critics have had their say – the reviews range from mediocre to hate-filled and blood-pouring-out-of-my-ears-angry. I am in the camp that suggests, although the show caters to a certain audience; in nailing in a rather limited and quality-lacking land grab; Friday night is not a sound I want rattling around my ears! The fact there are only two options available to those who want music T.V. to exist is somewhat extraordinary.
IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images/BBC
What confuses me most is the difficulty in which one faces when trying to break conventions. I am in the position of pitching a T.V. show to the production companies and am facing resistance by the bucket-load. Many want money and a budget but seem uninterested in the idea I pose. The fact my music T.V. brand would involve more risk – in terms of the musicians and the intense performances – seems to cause a big stumbling block. I am not in a position to pitch to Netflix and Amazon and terrestrial stations are the only way I can get my idea moving. I am a huge fan of the work the BBC puts out and think the perfect place for a music show is there. I worry, when looking at production companies, there is a nervousness going against the grain and green-lighting an idea that strays from the normal path. Conventional shows like Later… with Jools Holland are established and secure; they do their job well and are unlikely to shock the public and change the world. That is all well and good but, considering the likes of The Old Grey Whistle Test ended years ago means we need to update the format and find a modern equivalent. The fact, too, that show was edgy and created some blistering moments means, in many ways, we have gone backwards!
Networks were no less risky and different to how they are now. There have been no major T.V. controversies in music that would justify a level of trepidation and caution that borders on the passive. I will look at a lack of dare that extends beyond T.V. but I wonder whether we will ever see progression and innovation on the screens in the coming years. I may be wrong in my assumptions: somebody may be formulating a T.V. show like mine and it might be close to its first episode. I would be a bit pissed if that were so but glad in a way – having something on the screens that satisfies mine and many people’s needs is better than nothing. There is a definite allergy to a lack of new and inventive music T.V. shows. The cure for this would be to open the mind and not be so restrictive and safe. I can understand how a live T.V. show, given certain circumstances, might cause havoc but, if it was in a later slot, then it would not be seen by minors and those who are impressionable. It would be okay to run a pilot and see what the reaction is. If it is deemed unworkable and a train crash then you could not argue against that.
It is the fact so few people in prominent positions are willing to negotiate and indulge that is holding back new breakthroughs in T.V. You cannot argue there is no need and call for a music T.V. show in a modern age. Many artists rely on that kind of exposure to get a break and have their music reach new people. It (a T.V. show) is a great entertainment and a way of discovering new talent; a relief after the working day and a way of bringing older sounds to the new generation. A broader and multi-limbed music T.V. show could build on what we already have and incorporate all the best elements of bygone shows into a fresh baby. Maybe things will change and executives will take risks. I feel that fear of being edgy and unconventional is spilling into other avenues of music. I listen to the radio and look out at music and there is a chasm of danger. D.J.s are reduced in what they can say and how they express themselves – that does not mean this should spill into music. It seems ancient history looking at the biggest bands and genres explode and change the rules. We have some terrific new artists coming through but the spikiest and most engaging seem to enjoy less airtime and focus than those who keep things simple and soft.
There are guidelines as to what a D.J. can play and how a station operates but I feel, more often than not, there is not enough chance for personal expression and breaking rules. The same seems to come into music: executives and bosses calling the shots; always afraid of the ramifications and results of taking a leap. When I look at criticisms around music T.V. shows and the ‘best’ of the mainstream, it always comes to that rather smooth and serene aspect – nobody really doing anything that would constitute edgy or brash. Why are we living in a time when we need to be so guarded and timid?! There is controversy in the music industry like any other sector; artists are not infallible and there are some who stain the good name of the industry. What greases my jockstrap is the way complaints and feedback comes in but very little changes. I have been pushing my T.V. idea and am not in any position to stop. It may take years but there is a clear demand and outpouring that demands change and something better. Whether that is a Top of the Pops-like show or something with more teeth; so many people are getting discouraged and affected by what we have on our screens and on the radio. Is there a way out of the dilemma?
I feel this antipathy and submission can be abated and reversed. The time has come to answer the calls of the public and start pushing the industry forward. By opening channels for rebellious artists and those with more to say; it will not spoil the status quo and alienate those who like what the mainstream currently offers. There are some great radio stations out there but I feel too much of the playlist is being dictated by markets, brand-new releases and the whims of those who control. I know D.J.s have their own input but there are few who get a big say on what is played and how their show sounds. My biggest gripe comes with music T.V. which is in danger of dying or carrying on without advancement and surprise. I love Later… with Jools Holland and pleased with its longevity and popularity. There is a big enough market for another option; something that builds from what that show does and satisfies the cravings of the people. Let’s hope things change because, where we are now, it is not good enough. It only takes a channel/production company to see potential and understand what people really want from a music T.V. show. If they open that door and let it fly free; it could lead to a movement that spills into other areas of the music industry. If nothing else, it provides a show that the public and critics are calling for. Not answering this protest is one reason why so many people are angry and feel music is unwilling to evolve and bend. Remaining rigid and tepid restricts movement and progress and robs the people of…
WHAT they want and deserve.