As a first-time listener to “The Beatdown,” a too-short 60 minutes by Scroobius Pip on XFM (Internet through my Sonus system) I had no expectations beyond “something in the background.” But now I’m researching IP masking so I can trick Xfm’s servers into thinking I live in the UK. This way I can listen to the show again and again.
I love this feeling.
My exposure to Scroobius Pip has been, like many, through his superb recordings with producer Dan Le Sac. I saw them both live at The Hideout’s Block Party a few years back1 and was blown away by 2 things: The amazing soundscapes created by Dan Le Sac and the beyond-brilliant poetry of Scroobius Pip, issued in a rapid-fire nasal middle-class English whine. Don’t take my word for it, try this killer groove (that has Radiohead’s “Planet Telex” as its fully approved and licensed core)2 and you can see what I mean.
I mean, Radiohead licensed a sample?
What moved me most about the radio program was the range and high quality of Mr. Pip’s curation. In fact, a better title of this post would have been, “For The Love of (Well-)Curated Radio,” because this isn’t about Scroobius Pip alone. It’s about a ballsy programming gamble that we experience too little of these days: broadcasting time dedicated on a regular basis to the taste of one person, and the trust and courage that goes into assigning that one person to share with us those things that we did not already know about.
Why this doesn’t happen more often is clear. Radio achieves profitability in the same way as many businesses: scale and volume. If there is a network of, say, 200 stations playing more or less the same thing their listenership can be banded together to create enough of a gravitational force that a star like, say, Justin Timberlake would do a special promotional thing for that network. Each station then has its own promotion where one of its lucky listeners can go to a private JT concert. “Private” would be in quotes, because there would be about a thousand other listeners from around the country.
Let’s say it out-loud together: scale and volume.
The Joy Of Sax
The pleasure of listening is sometimes found in the comfort of a favorite record. But sometimes an even greater joy can be had in the discovery of something new. That discovery is never a sure thing, and it rarely pleases all the time, but the effort and the spirit of discovery are what carries us through a show that misses more than it hits. For me it all started well over a decade ago when I started listening to John Peel’s regular Thursday night gig on BBC’s Radio 1 before his untimely demise.
There have been many since Mr. Peel who have brought me musical enlightenment. Henry Rollins, who epitomizes taste and thoughtfulness and sincerity in his curation of music, had a show called “Harmony In My Head” late nights on Indie 103.1 in Los Angeles. He moved to the mighty (and excellent) KCRW in 2009 after the demise of Indie 103.
These days I make an effort to catch Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC’s 6 Music, where I am often both acquainted and reacquainted with some of the best earstuff out there.
Irony is beauty, and there is nothing more beautiful than the realization that, while the Internet has “killed the music industry” it has also elevated music to a place it could never be taken by mere “scale-and-volume” radio. The guided tours of music that the likes of Pip, Rollins, Garvey and more provide come to me for free over the Internet. The net result is a gain for the industry: I buy a lot more having heard a lot more than I would have before. It is an easy and honest extension of logic to add the free streaming services like Spotify, Pandora and the like into this observation: the more we hear, the more we buy.
To compel more people to buy more, the music industry (whatever that means) needs to recognize that the traditional gatekeepers – formatted, repetitious radio stations – are no long the primary ways people consume music. Music is social. It’s individual. It’s through Facebook. It’s on YouTube. It happens outside of the formal channels of regular radio stations. I really enjoy the morning party that Brotha Fred and Angie throw on Kiss-FM in Chicago, but it has nothing to do with the stale musical repetition. It’s their chemistry.
And that’s what enables us to “love” things we cannot see: Chemistry.
It is well-understood that piracy is bad for musicians and their support networks, and that there have been many “losers” with the rise of “free” (unpaid and non-commercial) streaming of music. “Free” doesn’t automatically mean “stolen.” Licensing is a business model that needs to reinvent itself in a world of instant global propagation. That is for someone else to sweat.
For me the Internet has been the single greatest saving grace for the music industry. Without the Internet my musical literacy would be a fraction of what it is. Without the Internet my music purchasing would be a fraction of what it is. I enjoy buying and owning the works of artists who take me to a fresh place. But the call-to-purchase doesn’t happen magically. It comes from trusted authorities like friends, or Henry Rollins or Guy Garvey or Gilles Peterson.
And, now, they are joined by Scroobius Pip.
1. – KEXP Radio’s Flickr Account
2. – Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip
3. – Henry Rollins picture from Buzzbin Magazine