The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'rrr'
I have just spent a little over two weeks in Melbourne; I arrived on occasion of a conference on iOS development, but stayed longer to give me time to catch up with friends. It was my first visit to my old hometown in almost five years.
Melbourne is, I am relieved to say, still here. Just about. Some things are new, some things are gone, and some things remain constant. Gentrification keeps pushing the virtual Yarra that divides bourgeois and grungy Melbourne northward; it'd now be somewhere around Merri Creek and Brunswick Road. Fitzroy feels a bit more like South Yarra, a bit brasher and less bohemian. Hip-hop, laptop R&B and house music have largely displaced skronky/jangly indie-rock as its soundtrack. Brunswick Street is now is also a destination for stag/hen-party buses. Some parts of it are gone (PolyEster Books has closed down, its shopfront a sad shell with a LEASED sign on it and the old roof sign awaiting its inevitable demolition, and the T-shirt shop Tomorrow Never Knows appears to have closed as well), while others remain (PolyEster Records, happily, is still going strong, though they've gotten rid of the neon Dobbshead that was on the wall, as is Dixon Recycled, and Bar Open is still hosting interesting gigs). Smith Street, once colloquially known as “Smack Street”, is reshaping itself as a playground for young people with disposable income, featuring, among other things, several video-game bars (including the arcade-machine bar Pixel Alley) and a burger joint housed inside the shell of an old Hitachi train on the roof of a building (the experience of being inside such a train and it being air-conditioned will be incongruous to those old enough to remember riding in them), not to mention some very nice-looking new flats nearby. There is a new generation of hipster/bro hybrids making Fitzroy their stomping ground. North Fitzroy is largely bourgeois and sterile; bands still play at the Pinnacle, but the Empress, once the crucible of the Fair Go 4 Live Music movement, is under new management and has replaced its bandroom with a beer garden; East Brunswick and Thornbury seem to be becoming more interesting, and Northcote is steadily gentrifying. There are blocks of luxury flats going up everywhere, though most of them have no more than three stories, either because of zoning requirements or perhaps to avoid scaring away buyers from Asia.
Melbourne feels increasingly connected to Asia. In particular, the CBD has become a destination for a combination of property buyers and students from Asia, from bubble-tea bars and a surfeit of Chinese and south-east Asian eateries aiming outside the westernised market to real-estate dealerships aiming at the Chinese market. While there are fewer Japanese migrants and students, the cultural and commercial influence of Japan has been increasing. Japanese food is everywhere; there are increasingly many establishments festooned with red lanterns and purporting to be izakayas, some of which are more authentic than others (Wabi Sabi on Smith St. was excellent), ramen restaurants are popping up, as are Japanese ice cream shops; and then, of course, is the several-decades-old Melburnian institution of takeaway sushi rolls, served in a paper bag with a piscule of soy sauce, as unpretentious fast food. Japanese retail is also making inroads; Uniqlo and Muji have opened shops in Melbourne and the T-shirt label Graniph have a small shop in the CBD. But perhaps most impressive is the Japanese take on the $2 shop, Daiso, a veritable Aladdin's cave of the useful and nifty, each item costing a flat $2.80. (European readers: imagine the Danish chain Tiger/TGR, only distinctly Japanese, with the scale and systemacity that implies.)
Some things remain the same. The trams keep trundling along, with minor route adjustments. The radio station 3RRR, now 40 years old, is going strong as an institution of the alternative Melbourne; an exhibition on its history just finished at the State Library of Victoria, and its stickers are ubiquitous, particularly in the inner north. The live music scene continues apace, in venues such as the Old Bar, Bar Open and the Northcote Social Club. (I saw three gigs in the latter: Lowtide, Pikelet and my favourite band from when I lived in Melbourne, Ninetynine, who are still going strong.) Street art remains an institution in Melbourne, a city where aerosol-art-festooned laneways swarm with tourists and wedding photo shoots and businesses hire “writers“ to decorate their walls with thematic pieces. And the arrival of H&M, in one oddly laid out shop occupying the former General Post Office, doesn't seem to have put Dangerfield out of business.
There are also signs of progress. Reconciliation with Australia's indigenous population seems to be making tentative symbolic advances, with signs acknowledging the Wurundjeri as traditional owners, and the Wurundjeri word for welcome (“wominjeka”) appearing on signage. Solar panels are on roofs everywhere. Cycling as transport seems to be increasingly popular, despite Victoria's mandatory helmet laws (which may have helped scuttle the city's Paris-style bike-rental scheme). And work is beginning on the state's first big public-transport project since the City Loop, the Metro Tunnel, a new underground rail route bringing Melbourne into the club of cities with a subway; currently, one side street near RMIT is largely boarded off to build a shaft for the tunnel boring machines, and both RMIT and Melbourne University are bracing for the hit to student numbers that three years of nearby disruptive works will pose.
Melbourne's community radio station 3RRR now has a new website. The new site appears to look somewhat more polished than the previous one, both visually and in terms of the design. (The URLs, for one, are clean, rather than being PHP scripts with CGI arguments tacked onto the end.)
The playlists linked from the program guide now go all the way back to the dawn of time (or 2004, in any case). (They had those playlists online in the old site, but the only way to get at them was to manually try different numbers in the aforementioned CGI arguments; here, they're indexed in nicely paginated indices going as far back as necessary.) Here is the first International Pop Underground playlist they posted online; it's interesting to note that Carew played My Favorite's Homeless Club Kids and various Stephin Merritt-related projects that week.
Also, RRR's website will have a subscribers-only section, which will apparently include expanded audio archives. Not sure what exactly this will entail, or indeed what Australian copyright law will allow.
This morning, 3RRR had an interview with Sarah Maddison, one of the editors of a book titled Silencing Dissent, which alleges anti-democratic and authoritarian measures by the Howard government in recent years. Maddison gave a few examples of the way the government has allegedly used its power to suppress dissent, such as gagging CSIRO scientists on issues like climate change, pressuring non-governmental organisations to suppress criticism of policies, and banning unsympathetic journalists and photographers from the Parliamentary press gallery. From the book's web site:
Silencing Dissent uncovers the tactics used by John Howard and his colleagues to undermine dissenting and independent opinion. Bullying, intimidation, public denigration, threats of withdrawal of funding, personal harassment, increased government red tape and manipulation of the rules are all tools of trade for a government that wants to keep a lid on public debate. The victims are charities, academics, researchers, journalists, judges, public sector organisations, even parliament itself.3RRR has taken a position consistently critical of the Howard government and its allies. For example, this morning's news mentioned the government's dealings with a nuclear power consortium, suggesting improper collusion between the government and mining concerns which have funded dubious research denying global warming.
I predict that at some stage (possibly after the next election, should they win it), the Howard government will get around to setting its sights on the community radio sector. This sector was established in the more politically liberal climate of the Whitlam government and those which followed it, and has a similarly anachronistically progressive outlook. In the mythology of Howard's Australia, the bulk of community stations represent a minority range of views—those of the inner-city latte-sipping pro-refugee socialist elite—increasingly out of line with the (economically aspirational, socially conservative) views of the Silent Majority Of Suburban Battlers in the marginal electorates. It is obvious that such an arrangement on scarce, federally regulated radio spectrum is not sustainable the climate of the Howard culture war; the only question is, how long will it be allowed to stand by default.
Perhaps sometime after the next election, we'll see a bold plan of community radio "reforms", with stations being subjected to the same majoritarian "objectivity" criteria as the ABC on pain of loss of licence, or possibly the three liberal stations in Melbourne (RRR, PBS, and the radical-leftist 3CR) being reduced to one, with remaining licences either being sold commercially or given to new stations run by groups "more in line with mainstream Australian values", such as, say, the Hillsong Church.
Last Friday was the 30th anniversary of Melbourne community radio station RRR's first broadcast. In those 30 years, it has escaped death several times, locked horns with critics and censors, and (along with other community station PBS) nurtured Melbourne's unique music scene. (If you're wondering what Melbourne would have been like without community radio, look at Sydney in the decade or so after 2JJ was ripped out of its community and made into a deracinated national "yoof" broadcaster, cutting off the city's live music scene from its fan base.) The Age has an article about the history of RRR:
The station's evolution into an example beloved of politicians boasting about Melbourne as Australia's cultural capital is ironic, given that for many years it had to fight for survival in an environment unsympathetic to its more outre tendencies.
In an attempt to reduce "accidental" broadcast of unsound material, white nail polish was used to paint over questionable tracks in the station record library, but use of the word "f--k" proved difficult to eradicate when popular culture had embraced it.
Some details are lost to history - such as whether the station went off air for a few hours each afternoon in its early days to let the ancient transmitter cool down or to let the RMIT electrical engineering students have a go. One thing that won't be forgotten is the massive public support that enabled Triple R to narrowly escape one of several death sentences when in 1981 the board voted to close it down, before agreeing to give staff and volunteers five weeks to raise $50,000.Nowadays, RRR's desperate struggles for survival are largely in the past; the station now owns its new premises, and, the article says, has attained "the veneer of middle-aged stability". The programmes still have the same feel of passionate amateurism they have had for as long as I've been listening (since the 1990s). As for political controversy, I suspect that, as Australia's commercial media become increasingly concentrated and dumbed-down and government-funded media become more timid and/or propagandistic, more attention (both sympathetic and hostile) will focus on stations like RRR, and there may be more battles ahead.
There is now a book on the history of RRR, titled Radio City, by Mark Phillips. It is available from the station.
I tuned into the 3RRR Breakfasters this morning (streamed over the internet and time-delayed) and found that sometime Rocknerd columnist Clem Bastow is now reading the news. I wonder whether she (being a coolsie chat and all) was responsible for the Mid-State Orange song being played after the news. Anything that breaks up the monotony of the Breakfasters playlist is, in my opinion, welcome.
I just heard on 3RRR that apparently Ratcat have reformed and are doing gigs again.
I remember Ratcat from various times and contexts; when they were current, I was in high school, and they were popular with the various skate-punks, alongside Dead Kennedys and various hardcore punk bands and such and such. A decade and a bit later, I discovered that they were a staple of Australian indie-pop; the Fanclub night in Melbourne (circa 2004 or so) had a policy of putting on Don't Go Now whenever the dancefloor was looking insufficiently busy. Which makes sense, as they were basically a skronky indie-pop band, just noisy enough for the Vision Street Wear kids to be able to thrash to them without scaring away the indiekids.
Were I in Australia right now, I'd probably book a ticket to see them. And if their contemporaries, The Hummingbirds, were reforming and doing gigs, I'd probably be kicking myself for being on the wrong side of the world.
The 3RRR summer break is over, which means that the normal breakfast team is back. Which is a pity, because I much preferred Richard Watts' summer guest breakfast show.
Watts is a writer, spoken-word artist, DJ and regular of the Melbourne arts scene; when he spoke, it was thoughtfully, and about things from the arts to current issues. He had other RRR presenters stepping in to co-present, and they were similarly intelligent people like Alicia Sometimes. Though most of the show wasn't talk but music; the music was an eclectic selection, spanning decades, and I don't recall him playing the same track twice; the music was radio programming at its finest, in the same tradition as John Peel.
The three regular breakfasters, however, are the typical crew of professional buffoons, joking and guffawing about current news, sports and pop culture, in a marginally more intelligent way than on commercial radio. The volume of chatter exceeds that of music, and the music is repetitive: they apparently bring in a handful of CDs, choose one track from each and play that week in, week out. I cannot count the number of times I've heard, for example, Wolfmother's "Apple Tree" or Danger Doom's "Space Ho's" (which they played today again) on the show in the past few months. (Not that these are necessarily bad songs, but if I wanted to hear the same "alternative" tracks over and over, I'd buy a FM radio and tune into Xfm or something.)
I'm thinking of reprogramming my RRR recording scripts to skip the breakfast show altogether and wake me to different programmes.
Melbourne hard-pop artist Talkshow Boy now has a show on 3RRR. It's a graveyard-shift show, on Monday nights from 2am to 6am, shared with one Edmund Finegan. Judging by the nature of his DJ set playlists, expect anything from twee indiejangle to gothic rock to R&B booty anthems to a lot of music made with circuit-bent Nintendos by crazy Japanese people.
The Age has an article on the difference between the Melbourne and Sydney live music scenes, and, in particular, on why Sydney lags behind Melbourne:
For Sydney, still, is a big international city which can host an extravagant Olympic Games and have massive designs on itself but can't yet sustain its own rock'n'roll culture. It's a scene strangled by bureaucratic red tape; rules and regulations have suffocated what once stood for rebellion. In the ultimate of ironies, a building which was once a classic old Sydney venue called the Stage Door Tavern, in the heart of the CBD, which hosted riotous gigs by the likes of Midnight Oil, is now the NSW Licensing Court - the very body which administers the deathly red tape.
The Camels have had airplay on Triple J, and on local station FBI (Free Broadcast Inc), which now has a permanent licence but is still only emerging. However, this doesn't add up to a skerrick of the favours they would have found at Melbourne's Triple R and 3PBS. In fact, Holt says the fact they've had four Triple J hits means nothing when they get to Melbourne because Melbourne doesn't need to listen to Triple J. And, in Melbourne, they would have played many, many more gigs here in their six years, to people more used to - and therefore more in tune with - live music.A lot of Sydney's live music malaise dates back to when their local radio station, 2JJ, was ripped out of the local community and remade into a deracinated national "yoof" station, depriving the local scene of one of its means of promoting gigs and venues. Though the influx of poker machines (the cane toads of live music) in the early 1990s and fact that local licensing laws are weighted heavily in favour of moneyed residents don't help either.
"Obviously Melbourne is the music capital," says Jamie Holt, "the music capital of Australia, one of the capitals of the world. The strength lies in size, as in the number of venues and all the different types of music that get played down there.
Tim Holt agrees: "Yeah," he says. "Positives and negatives. Like, Melbourne seems to breed genre-based bands just because there's so many of them. There's so many little cliques and genres, whereas up here in Sydney the bands tend to be cross-genre, I guess because we have to appeal to a wider crowd. Plus there's this real small section of the Melbourne scene that is really vocal about why Melbourne is better. You don't see that here. It's quite funny."
Midnight comes. Where to from here? There's one place nearby, Spectrum on Oxford Street, an open-late bar with good music. But that's about it round these parts, except for dance music clubs, which is not a viable option in rock.Though, in this age of fashion-punk, hasn't garage rock become the new house music for the beautiful people? Surely the Oxford St. clubs would let rock bands play, assuming, of course, they had a good stylist.
Recently discovered courtesy of 3RRR's International Pop Underground: this gem.
Having lived in London for a little over a year, and having access to the ubiquitous British broadband internet, Your Humble Narrator has recently been experimenting with tuning into 3RRR (an independent radio station in Melbourne), by means of its internet streaming facilities. I now have the means to more or less automatically spool various programmes to hard disk to listen to at a later time; technical details will be published here once the bugs are known to have been ironed out.
This evening, I listened to the most recent Local And/Or General, a weekly 2-hour showcase of new independent/unsigned/live music from Melbourne, for the first time since leaving Melbourne. It's good to hear some good Melbourne bands again. And there were some good things there.
In particular, they played two songs and an interview by a new project named Holidays On Ice, which sounded really good. Holidays On Ice are a project involving numerous Australian musicians, including Angie Hart of Frente!/Splendid and members of a few other bands. They have a new album titled Playing Boyfriends and Girlfriends, which sounds somewhere between Yo La Tengo and Saint Etienne, with bits of Stereolab and Architecture In Helsinki in the mixture as well. I'm probably going to order a copy.
3RRR finds a new home, in East Brunswick too (right at the end of the #96 tram line). Good to see that they won't have to move out to an industrial estate in Lalor or Thomastown or somewhere. (via Cos)
Not that long after Melbourne community radio station PBS-FM was forced out of yuppified St Kilda, it's 3RRR's turn to move. 3RRR's lease on its Fitzroy premises (right off the trendy Brunswick St. latte strip) is coming to an end, and the landlord has told them to move on. They're hoping to find a place in "Fitzroy, Collingwood or Carlton", though with the yuppification of inner-city areas, that sounds a bit optimistic. An industrial park in Lalor or Thomastown or somewhere sounds more likely. Or they could always look around Footscray; it's becoming trendy, but still grimy enough to be cheap.
Local community radio station 3RRR has rejected a sponsorship/advertising deal from the DJ bar opening where the Punters Club used to be, on the grounds that the name "Bimbo Deluxe" is offensive. The owners deny any offense intended, claiming that it is named after an Italian café. Are 3RRR being PC nazis? Or would opening a bar named Bimbo Deluxe feed the rise of a Chapel St.-style "show-us-ya-tits" hoon culture in the formerly countercultural, bohemian Brunswick St?
(I wonder how long 3RRR will stick around there; for one, the culture of the area is now a lot more Nova FM than 3RRR, and secondly, the yuppie apartments being built in the former Universal Theatre next door to the station could put a damper on rooftop live-to-air events. It wouldn't surprise me if, within the decade, they relocate to Northcote/Thornbury or some place.)
Anyway, I'm sure Bimbo Deluxe will find that Nova FM/Fox/MMM will be more than happy to take their money and run promotional campaigns for them. And their clientele probably don't listen to weird community stations like 3RRR anyway.
Tonight I caught part of the Chapter Music show at the Rob Roy. This was sort of the last hurrah of Chapter; the founder, Guy Blackman (who also plays bass in Minimum Chips, and cohosted Untune The Sky on 3RRR) leaves for Japan on Monday, and is winding the label down, at least for the time being.
Jeremy Dower did a set of his combination of experimental glitch electronica and Casiotone boudoir jazz (be very afraid!); much of his set seemed to be prerecorded on a MiniDisc or somesuch (in time-honoured indie/electropop fashion), though over that he played synths, tweaked knobs and at one stage got out a saxophone and played that. Towards the end, he played what sounded like a Casio-driven twee-electro version of Wham's Last Christmas, with jazzy improvisations; which was amusing, in a silly sort of way. After him, Minimum Chips came on and played a set of their groovy, krautrock-meets-lounge-pop brand of music. (If you haven't seen Minimum Chips, imagine what Stereolab would be like if they came from Fortitude Valley, had played at the Punters Club for years and had an aversion to going inside a studio and recording, and you might have some idea of what they're like.) Which was good, as they played a number of the songs they haven't gotten around to recording.
(Aside: I always find that Minimum Chips are the sort of band who sound better on recordings than live. Perhaps this is because they're such perfectionists in the studio that recordings come out highly polished and impeccable; one of the reasons why they don't have much released output. They're sort of like the opposite of Ninetynine (who sound better live than on recordings) in this way.)
I left shortly after Minimum Chips finished (the Wagons, the next act, are a bit too country'n'Preston for my liking), but I went away with the Chapter retrospective compilation Double Figures, as well as the recent Chapter rerelease of Essendon Airport's Sonic Investigations of the Trivial.
3RRR just played the title track from (a sampler of) the upcoming Ninetynine album, The Process. Hmmm... on first impression, it sounds impressive. It has a lot more energy and punch than most of their earlier recorded material (which tended towards the meandering in places, at least in my perception). Of course, the songs sound different in a studio recording than in a live show; it doesn't have quite that reverberating adrenaline rush of seeing them live, but I could hear a finer, more layered quality to it. If the title cut is representative of the album, it's set to be impressive indeed.
3RRR just played Dandelion Wine's cover of Slowdive's Melon Yellow. Very nice. I like the new electronic-beats-and-dulcimer format.
An interesting music-review site/webzine: Gravitygirl, written by Melbourne street-press journo Anthony Carew (who also hosts the International Pop Underground show on 3RRR). (Warning: the colour scheme can be a bit hard to read.)
This evening, when I came home, I stumbled across a pretty doovy programme that was playing on 3RRR. It's called International Pop Underground, runs from 8 to 10pm on Wednesdays and plays a lot of glitchy-yet-melodic electronic ambience and such. It's sparse and novel and yet not so experimental as to be unlistenable, a good mix of atmospheric instrumentals and songs with avant garde production and instrumentation. (An example: some of the things they played tonight have included Björk, New Buffalo and a GYBE-related act whose name escapes me.)
A piece on public radio station PBS, which has been forced out of St Kilda by rising rents and yuppie pinks who don't like that noisy weird shit taking over, and is moving to Collingwood. (Collingwood? They'll probably have to move on from there within 10 years once yuppification takes hold. And anyone want to bet on how long 3RRR will stay in Fitzroy (just off Brunswick Street latté-land, where the Punters Club won't be for much longer), before being moved on to an industrial park in Lalor or someplace?)
Listening the Far and Wide on 3RRR now; they just played a song from a new/upcoming Trembling Blue Stars album. Not bad; I may have to reassess my view of Bob Wratten's post-Field Mice solo career as mind-numbingly dull. At least it wasn't a weepy guitar-strumming come-back-to-me-I-still-love-you number like most of their first album.
Oh yes, and the Dot Allison song they played sounds interesting... I'll have to track that down; that and a CD copy of that King of Woolworths EP.
Oh, and I didn't get a copy of Björk's Vespertine, which they were giving away, despite having programmed 3RRR's number into the autodialer here.
Today, I went down to Collectors' Corner and found a copy of Trembling Blue Stars' Her Handwriting (they were a solo project of one of the Field Mice). I found it a bit underwhelming; it's relationship-breakup angst, but done in a relatively ordinary way. Anyway, I've posted a review of it to Records Ad Nauseam. (I also managed to pick up Single Gun Theory's Flow, River of My Soul, which has apparently been deleted for ages.)
Apropos of nothing: the 3RRR Radiothon is on now, so those Melburnians in the audience who listen to said station should think of subscribing and helping to keep them on air.
This afternoon, after Far and Wide finished, I wandered down to Heartland to see if they had any CDs I'd be interested in (I wouldn't mind getting the Robots In Disguise album, except that nobody seems to have heard of it). As I looked through the store, I noticed that the CD they were playing was really good; sort of quiet indie-pop, with plaintive, almost Morrissey-esque vocals and shoegazer reverb. I didn't find anything I had been looking for, but I did leave with a copy of The Field Mice's Where'd You Learn To Kiss That Way? retrospective 2CD.