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Black Sky Thinking

Why Closing BBC 6 Music Is A Disaster For Independence
Luke Turner , March 2nd, 2010 14:19

Luke Turner says that today's announcement will be a disaster for independent record labels and, given the current reach of digital radio, bizarrely timed.

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That British culture will be immeasurably worse off without BBC 6 Music and the Asian Network is undeniable. Looking at this graphic, showing the relative spending by the BBC on channels, outputs and services, merely lends itself to the suspicion that the decision has more to do with making sacrifices to appease the Murdoch press and potential new Tory government than genuine cost cutting.

Whatever the reasons for 6 Music's closure (and the argument that culling it is part of a drive for quality is a bracingly nonsensical one), there are manifold consequences to this decision. Perhaps most importantly, it will have a disastrous impact on the already struggling independent sector. Umpteen independent label bosses and staff I've spoken to this morning have said that 6 Music was the one radio station where their artists would be played. Though it's undeniably a ludicrous situation that says a lot about the state of mainstream music journalism, press would follow the 6 Music lead, covering artists that presenters had featured on their shows. The same, I am told, goes for retail, who would give shelf space to fringe artists who had been featured on 6 Music. I can speak from personal experience too. When I looked after the interests of now sadly departed group One More Grain, 6 Music was the station that gave the group a decent airing, even if half the time plays had been generated by texting in from a selection of mobile phone numbers pretending to be Bill from Bermondsey.

Yet I have to confess I never paid much attention to 6 Music's daytime content, which often feels like taking your office desk to an indie disco. For me, the treasures of 6 Music lie in the evening - Stuart Maconie's Freak Zone is one of the best programmes on any radio station, veering between the Caretaker, Kosmische, folk, global sounds and psychedelia, fascinating, in depth interviews the music of labels like Ghostbox in the time it takes to eat a Sunday night roast. The same goes for Dave Pearce's excellent bangers show that followed it, or the specialist programming from Craig Charles, Bruce Dickinson, and so on. The BBC claims that some of these shows might end up finding their way onto Radio 1 or 2, but it's hard to imagine the presenters being allowed the same freedom as they are now. What's more, Thompson's assertion that there should be no "age creep" towards a younger audience for Radio 2 smacks of that common misconception that once you're done with contemporary pop, it's straight over to the pipe and slipper rockist canon. At the Quietus, we have always felt that 6 Music was doing something similar to our desire to create a publication for those too old for chirpy young indie bands, and never old enough to settle down to a lifetime of pre-70s classicism.

No doubt the supporters of Thompson's decision would argue in an age of cultural fragmentation, both in terms of music by genre and how we consume it, the fringe, evening shows that were the creative jewels in the station's crown and are now being lamented, merely cover music that is increasingly well served on the internet. I would disagree - not everyone has the time or inclination to actively trawl the net in search of new music.

Back when I was listening to Radio 1 in my teens, the abysmal daytime fare was countered by Mark & Lard's brilliant mixture of music, poetry and banter, followed by John Peel and Andy Kershaw. These, like the evening presenters on 6 Music, were experts guiding us to pastures new and, if you wanted to explore these new sounds, Radio 1 was about the only place you could do it. Now, the choices are limitless. But without your Maconies and Dangerous Daves and their knowledgeable studio guests, who are the gatekeepers, the quality controllers?

It'd be nice to think that Facebook groups, hashtag Twittering, and emails into the BBC trust might alter this sad decision. This evening, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons seemed to offer a glimmer of hope. We can but wait and see. It's not only a shame, but lunacy, that the station doesn't seem to have been given enough time to settle down since the departure of the reviled prattler George Lamb his replacement in the morning with the surprisingly good Lauren Laverne, and the introduction of new presenters such as Jarvis Cocker.

But finally, and this to me seems the crux of the argument, it seems entirely bizarre to close down a flagship digital station before analogue radio is turned off. The (relatively) low listener figures surely have a lot to do with the fact that many households don’t yet own a DAB set, let alone their being installed in cars? If only nine million receivers have been sold, that surely makes the statistic that 20% of adults (7.4 million) have heard of the station actually quite reasonable, a great foundation on which to build? That when the digital switchover takes place 6 Music might no longer exist is a crying shame. If the station is saved, and more risks are taken in the daytime, then we all owe it to that decision to ensure that, in the future, we actually tune in.

derekwalmsley
Mar 2, 2010 8:27pm

nice piece Luke.

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Guy Millard
Mar 2, 2010 8:52pm

Spot on.

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Stephen Collins
Mar 2, 2010 9:25pm

Totally agree. Cultural life in this country just got a bit worse. This has depressed me more than I expected. It seems to point to something bigger, a slightly more timid future for art generally in this country.

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Mar 2, 2010 9:48pm

This is the first piece I've read about the whole palaver that's mentioned the crucial point that 6music is a digital-only station. If it were broadcast on FM, it would surely have twice the audience and no one would dream of snuffing it out.

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Andrew Knox
Mar 2, 2010 10:39pm

All the arguments in the report just don't add up. Seems to me there's so many contradictions. DAB has been a failure for a number of reasons and 6 Music must be it's saviour (I only have a DAB radio no listen to 6 music in the kitchen) yet the report talks about developing digital radio for the future.

6 Music's budget is tiny compared to all the other radio stations; why is Radio 3 not being touched or are people who enjoy classical music better people than those who are passionate about 'real' popular music?

Aaaargh! I'm so stressed over this!!!!

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Tim Russell
Mar 3, 2010 5:21am

Great piece. Another point to make about 6Music is that for we indie-loving expats in foreign climes (Vietnam in my case), 6Music's live internet stream is a great way to keep our ears to the musical ground. If the BBC are genuinely determined to improve the 'quality' of their output, they should shut down f**king BBC1 which is a national embarrassment these days.

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Hazel
Mar 3, 2010 10:35am

Seems to me a rather ingenious plan to remind minorities (who might otherwise be swayed by the idea of BBC cutbacks in favour of pro-competition re: online news content; and independent, specialist output re: music) exactly why their license fee is so important. Props to the BBC for a nice bit of self-generated PR at a time when their budget is under threat and they face severe criticism from overspending on redevelopment.

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Dan John
Mar 3, 2010 2:24pm

I am listening to BBC 6 music for the first time ever right now, they are playing Al Green - Let's Stay Together.

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Hermeet
Mar 3, 2010 2:35pm

Ha I played One More Grain on 6 Music when producing Robinson I think! Yes it might be harder for those kinds of records to get on the airwaves if there is no 6 Music, one must concede. They were on Victory Garden Record if I remember correctly.

Let's hope the campaign to save 6 works.

Nice work Luke... as always.
Hermeet

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Dan John
Mar 3, 2010 2:46pm

In reply to Dan John:

.....on the plus side I requested a Desperate Bicycles session.

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Freakaholic
Mar 3, 2010 2:59pm

I think the closure of the Asian Network is more cause for alarm but hey, who gives a shit about an actual minority group being catered for by the BBC? 5 Live it is then.

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Luke Turner
Mar 3, 2010 3:21pm

In reply to Hermeet:

Cheers Hermeet! Hope you're well.

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The Schnack
Mar 3, 2010 4:24pm

Hear! Hear! Well said Luke. I wrote a letter to the BBC Trust just an hour before I read your post and I also pointed out that the loss of the station would be a serious blow to independent music in this country. 6 is not perfect by a long stretch IMHO. When I responded to the recent BBC Trust review of 6, I was very critical of the station's non-musical output (all that crap that passes as "comedy" which is really just some geek making jokes between songs) in a station with the word "Music" over the door. Even so, it fills a sizeable void and I would truly hate to lose it.

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John Doran
Mar 3, 2010 4:30pm

In reply to The Schnack :

Alright Hermeet! (And I agree with Freakaholic to a certain degree. It's certainly the more worrying closure. Although both could have been kept by banning Alan Davis from having fresh petals in his changing room and imposing some kind of grimace/frown tax on David Tennant. Actually, it's kind of a shame Russel T. Davies isn't a Sun Ra fan. An Asian Sun Ra fan.)

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wildthyme
Mar 3, 2010 6:01pm

In reply to John Doran:

I don't see how the closure of the asian network should be cause for alarm, i can't see how a station that talks predominantly in an asian language is beneficial to the uk. Asians should be assimilated into uk culture and their culture displayed on mainstream media outlets surely. They shouldn't be segregated, the poor listening figures for the station speaks volumes really.

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Phillip Sweetman
Mar 3, 2010 6:16pm

I do not yet own a DAB radio, and listen to 6music through a TV; I meant to buy a set very soon but I am unlikely to bother if 6music is axed. Take note, manufacturers!

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maggie wright
Mar 3, 2010 6:24pm

Closing both Asian Network and 6 Music is a disaster for everyone who values independent, interesting and innovative stuff, and for all of us who don't want to hear what Fluffy Pussy thinks of the roadworks on the A12. I'm of that demographic that is far too old for Radio 1, and far too young for Radio 2 (I'm 60). I don't want heart-warming rubbish, I want a music station that treats people like adults (for the most part). Radio 6, I'll miss you.

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Ellee
Mar 4, 2010 2:29am

We must save BBC 6music from closing down so that we can continue to ignore it.
TBH, I never really cared about 6Music until its impending closure was allover the headlines. I didn't even know it existed. I read its target demog are 30-ish, middleclass, white, hipster types. Then we have guys like David Bowie, Bob Dylan and Jarvis Cocker defending the digital station. Whoa!
The reason why I have a problem with some of those Facebookers/ twitterers who joined the save 6music page is b/c they have this condescending attitude that mainstream music listeners = awful music tastes. I came across a blog linking Jarvis' show on iplyr. He played familiar oldies tunes, as well as alternative and pop songs and read short stories. Apparently, his show does not want to be niched, he wants to appeal to everyone without becoming pretentious. The same attitude some of those who signed up the campaign must adopt.
But I still want it to exist. Not to satisfy listeners with indie cravings but for some new bands to be given a chance to be discovered and be plucked out from obscurity.

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Dan John
Mar 4, 2010 4:25pm

Instead of demanding that our cultural niche/ghetto spaces are preserved we should be aiming instead to subvert and reclaim the 'mainstream' of radio 1 to do everything we want there, on FM for all to hear. We should demand an end to FM mediocrity, with digital bones thrown to us.

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John Doran
Mar 4, 2010 5:42pm

In reply to Dan John:

Yeah, because that's going to happen.

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Dan John
Mar 4, 2010 8:26pm

In reply to John Doran:

That's a real shame, such pragmatic cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy no? I'm of the k-punk view of things here:
http://k-punk.abstractdynamics.org/archives/011486.html, referring to Taylor Parkes's piece on this site.
The BBC, at least, can do whatever it wants with it's FM services / TV channels, without market pressures. Cynicism leads to us arguing over what individual niche services to cut, rather than how we could restructure the whole BBC to make it better, as that's impossible. I'm just of the view that we should try at least, and I might get shot down as an idealist, but hey.

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John Doran
Mar 4, 2010 8:33pm

In reply to Dan John:

If you like but you know full well, that's not the kind of worldl we live in now. I listened to 6Music all the time until the cunts got their claws into that as well. I pretty much had to stop after it became a dry run audition for new r1 and 2 drive time and breakfast time jocks. It was pretty good three years ago but even then fucking tedious having to listen to Phil Jupitus pretending to be Vic Reeves.

But even when it ended it was still a bastion of avant garde bravery compared to Radio One. Now that it is closed; how do you think we'll persuade R1 to get on board with your Utopian plan? I'm actually not being cynical for once. I just think you're mad if you think R1 or 2 will ever go back to even pretending to have any kind of public service element to their broadcasting function.

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Dan John
Mar 4, 2010 9:09pm

In reply to John Doran:

I despair, how are we to make culture better if we don't even believe it's possible to anymore? Accepting the world as it is, with no ability to change it, is the all-pervasive, normalised, wet dream of the late capitalist neoliberal world we live in, I agree. Cynicism as control. We just need to convince people of the possibilities for change, if we want it.

We can do whatever we like with the BBC, we fund it. What drives the content of the BBC? Ratings? Make that an irrelevance. Have a Director General brave enough to be elitist, and lose some viewers if necessary. Give the people what they need, not what they want.

I guess you work in the media though and have a better understanding of how things work. It must be impossible to remove a bunch of managers and replace them with people with different priorities.

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John Doran
Mar 4, 2010 11:29pm

In reply to Dan John:

I don't have any more idea of how the upper echelons of the BBC work more than anyone else who reads the odd broadsheet and Private Eye. I understand that I must seem pragmatic and cynical. But if I genuinely was I wouldn't run a website like The Quietus which doesn't earn me money, career ops or any of that good stuff. Just the respect of some colleagues and friends and the op to be (as The Guardian said) "vaguely pompous". I just don't believe for a second that facebook groups and the like will have any effect on the BBC. I'm all ears if someone has a good idea; I agree with you on what the problems are and what should happen, I just have no idea how to make it happen - or think that it ever will.

As Luke said: take care of the stuff we've got now. Support it now. Don't mourn it when it's gone. Or say perfection or nothing. Anyway, I don't have the energy or the desire for Lauren Laverne to get onto Radio 1 just so she can play Born Slippy at breakfast time.

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maggie wright
Mar 5, 2010 8:37pm

In reply to John Doran:

I agree, like it or not - they've made their minds up and both stations will go. As I don't listen to R1, I have no idea what its content is now, tho' I can guess. Can't see them (as in BBC moguls) changing it to accommodate those who want 'new bands plucked out of obscurity' as previous comment said. When they are prepared to leave BBC3 alone, and even suggest that it provides a public service, why should anybody assume they'll give air time to things folk actually want? LCD stuff - that's what gets the punters in.

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Dan John
Mar 22, 2010 7:59pm

no links to the guardian allowed?

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John Doran
Mar 22, 2010 8:07pm

In reply to Dan John:

Give it some context and yes. Just a link on its own; what's the point?

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Dan John
Mar 22, 2010 8:19pm

In reply to John Doran:

ok.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2010/mar/22/6-music-john-peel-radio-1
- article advocates more demands on radio 1 to be great, adventurous, to lose listeners etc if necessary, like I believe. I just hate this feeling of people being happy with cultural ghettos, as I've already talked about. Just thought if people hadn't seen this (probably unlikely), it might be interesting.

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