Sunday, 11 March 2012

BBC 6Music is 10 years old

So a few days ago it was the NME celebrating its 60th birthday, and today we mark the first decade of another great British music institution... And unlike the NME this institution is one that has gone from strength to strength and continues to give coverage to only the very best new music. Yes, exactly ten years ago today the BBC launched a new digital station called 6Music, which over the next decade would prove to be vital in an age where other radio stations seemed to have given up on good music. 

When 6Music launched in 2002, the only possible way I could tune in was via Sky TV which I could only access via the main telly in the front room of my mum's house where I lived up until 2010. During the time of 6Music's early days I was either hanging around with hedonistic people or working in a pub kitchen where most of the time we had to suffer the misfortune of having to listen to the local FM station, where dreadful adverts and awful chart music were played repeatedly. Radio One had declined by this time although they still had John Peel and Steve Lamacq as well as Mark and Lard, but the head cook in our pub kitchen would insist on choosing ignorance over enlightenment and continue listening to the abysmal local station. But due to the fact that I would only listen to punk rock in between 2003 and 2009, I didn't become a regular listener to 6Music for a few years... 

When I rediscovered my love for indie and alternative music in the summer of 2009 I was keen to find somewhere to bring myself up to date with the best new music. Of course in the 90s Radio 1 had 'The Evening Session' to provide me with all my musical discoveries, but since then the legendary show had been axed as part of Radio 1's aim to keep things trendy. After missing out on six years of alternative music (except for comebacks from the big names) I needed to find a station that could help me catch up and bring me up to date about the new artists that had formed while I was busy being blinded by punk rock culture during those years. Of course Radio One had become even worse by then and FM radio was useless when it came to wanting to hear good music, especially good new music. So it was up to the digital stations to compete for my preference. 

At this point most UK homes had internet access as well as digital or Freeview TV, so by now listening to digital stations was a lot easier. NME Radio seemed to concentrate on indie classics I was already more than familiar with, and the few new artists i'd hear on the station didn't impress me that much. Q Radio was also mostly about the familiar, but as well as the great indie there would be a LOT of overplayed hits from some very middle of the road acts. Plus most of the new music they'd rarely play didn't appeal to me. Kerrang Radio was even worse, focusing on the most commercial aspects of rock music over the last few decades, and most of the new music would be that of boring American rock bands. 

What I needed was a modern day equivalent of 'The Evening Session', and with its host Steve Lamacq now doing his own show on BBC 6Music I decided to give it a try. I was not disappointed. Quickly I was hearing lots of new music from new artists, most of which probably wouldn't have reached my ears if I had tuned in to another station. There were also tracks from bands I had loved years before and quite often the show would introduce to me music from the past that had remained unheard by me until then. As well as the best new and old indie, the show was bringing me excellent pieces of musical history and often changed my opinions about artists I hadn't seen the best in before. As well as Lamacq there were other shows on the station that I began listening to. Marc Riley ('Lard' of Mark And Lard fame) had a show that followed Lamacq's, playing up and coming artists and cult classics from the past. Gideon Coe's programme specialised in 'under the radar' new music, underrated classics and selections from the BBC's huge archive of sessions and concert recordings. During a period of unemployment i'd often begin my day by listening to Lauren Laverne's morning/lunchtime show, again a great resource for brand new music and awesome sounds past and present and a programme that brightened up any day with an enthusiastic approach to new music. During 2010 I listened to more new albums than any previous year, and this was due to the amount of brilliant music that 6Music had turned me on to. 

But just as the station had become a priceless resource and a helpful friend, its existence was put under threat by the powers that be. In order to get the very best out of their range of digital radio services, some people at the BBC Trust considered getting rid of their best and most useful station. This was terrible news. Just as i'd found a great place to discover and hear the finest music, it seemed like it was going to be short lived. But luckily I wasn't the only one who needed this station. Masses of music lovers also knew 6Music was the only option in an age where most other stations are simply filled with chart garbage. Without 6 where would all the best new artists be played? How would any good new music be heard on the radio again? The station's loyal and grateful listeners pulled together and voiced their opposition to the BBC big wigs and their clueless and de-evolutionary plans. Soon word was spreading that a fantastic radio station was facing closure, and more listeners began to tune in. Such was the demand for 6Music that the BBC Trust had no option but to keep it on the air. A rare victory for real musicians and music lovers. And how could they axe a station like this? A station that also featured shows from Jarvis Cocker, Guy Garvey, Huey Morgan and Cerys Matthews, all choosing their own musical selections rather than just sticking to pre-approved playlists. It was also home to Stuart Maconie's 'Freak Zone', a show packed with avant garde weirdness, prog rock, free jazz, krautrock and lots of other experimental wonders. 
BBC 6 Music Celebrates 10 Years

Tom Robinson's programme was a launchpad for excellent new talent, while Don Letts presents a wildly eclectic variety of sounds during his late night weekend shows. Add to that Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie's massively entertaining weekday show and there's STILL more incredible programmes on 6Music that haven't been mentioned. 

So here's some artists I might not have discovered if it weren't for 6... The Phantom Band, Cherry Ghost, Django Django, The Cribs, Goldheart Assembly, The Horrors, Errors, Doyle And The Fourfathers, Fleet Foxes, The Vaccines, Midlake, White Lies, The Decemberists, The Leisure Society, Two Wounded Birds... The list goes on. Here's some artists from the past who I have become interested in since hearing them played on the station: Roy Harper, John Foxx, Simple Minds, OMD, Television, Wire, The Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, My Bloody Valentine, Jethro Tull... More are being added to these lists pretty much every time I tune in to 6Music. Plus because the station also plays rarer tracks from my favourite artists as well as broadcasting some truly brilliant documentaries, they also bring me closer to the music that I love. 

So here's a happy birthday to a truly essential presence on the radio and a station that myself, other music lovers, musicians and perhaps even the future for music would be lost without. Thank you 6Music and keep up the good work.

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