The esteemed Stephen Birch of No New Wave No Fun blog hopped over to RR for a little guest spot to talk all things Radio 1 Roadshow. That’s right, we do bloody collabs now. Keep your peepers peeled for our post on their wonderful blog ASAP Rocky, but for now, enjoy this little jewel…
Let me get this clear from the off; we all had shit taste in music when we were 13. Even if your Dad was playing wall to wall Bowie, your Mum WAS working her way through the Motown back catalogue, or your hormonal older Sister was smashing her guitar to Bikini Kill in a show of disdain to the patriarchy – you’d have still been listening to Take That/Spice Girls/Westlife/One Direction/Little Mix/BTS (delete where age applicable…) It’s not your fault though, is it? I don’t think so. Pop is aimed at you at that age as much as Kinder Buenos or the adverts on CITV in November are – primed as we are for a life of endless consumption and crippling debt as young as possible.
BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT YOU TWATS BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT.
There’s two men who are really to blame; Sigmund Freud and Edward Bernays. Freud you will know as the Father of Psychiatry, but Bernays may be new to you. He was Freud’s Nephew, who adapted his Uncle’s findings on human nature and adapted it to re-invent and create ‘The Dark Arts’ of P.R. Before Bernays, all adverts were functional and told you about the benefits and features of a product – after Bernays, adverts were linked to human desires, wants and needs. Aspiration, sex, social climbing, self esteem suddenly sold a vast array of consumer products the world over. It’s was Bernays’ work in the burgeoning P.R industry however that marks him out as the evil genius to end all evil geniuses.
He was once hired by a conglomerate of cigarette companies who were looking to increase profits after a small dip in the early 1920s. At the time, it was a taboo and frowned upon for women to smoke in public. This was also however, a time of a growing feminist movement that was sweeping across the big cities of America and subsequently to Europe. Bernays linked the two spectacularly with a theatrical production worthy of Hollywood. He hired actresses and paid for a float to take part in the Macy’s Day parade in New York, they openly smoked in the streets, shouted feminist slogans and carried banners that called cigarettes ‘The Beacons of Oppression’. Guess what happened to Cigarette sales for (particularly young) women? Grade A Shithousery.
Fast forward to the early 90s, the Pop music industry is as big a user and manipulator of any of these ‘dark arts’ and perhaps the biggest enabler of this BBC Radio 1. It’s easy to forget just how powerful Radio 1 was before the onset of the internet on U.K record sales. Careers could be and often were, made on the back of several plays on the station’s flagship shows; once the station got behind a single, it was almost guaranteed to be a hit. As anyone who has ever read a book about Politics knows – with great power comes great responsibility – and Radio 1’s responsibility was to take the show on the road to the masses. The Radio 1 Roadshow was a staple of the summer season for the station, with a different DJs doing a whole week of live shows in front of a crowd with musical acts performing small sets – it was part panto, part festival.
In 1993, I was 13 years old. Nirvana’s Nevermind had taken over the world and the UK’s Alternative music scene had brilliantly fused with Acid House – producing great albums by The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Primal Scream. I however, was too young for the good stuff at that point. My music taste at that age had been a mish-mash of various songs that wormed their way into my mind with almost consummate ease; bloody Freud and Bernays! One such song was the lyrically-challenged Rave Pop classic ‘No Limit’, by Dutch duo 2 Unlimited. So imagine my sheer joy when they were announced as headliner of the Radio 1 Roadshow, to be held in the Welsh coastal town of Rhyl in the August summer holidays.
My sister had turned 19 that year and had her own car, so her and my other sister decided we should all go together; a siblings’ day out if you will. My mother took some persuading, wrongly she had thought that we said it was a rave and I think she thought I might get my can of Fanta spiked with some MDMA, or that my sister might leave an important part of her brain somewhere on the Rhyl seafront. Thankfully, she eased up when she heard who the host was. Gary Davies was the highly tanned, silver-tongued darling of daytime Radio 1, who also spent years hosting Top of the Pops and the Chart rundown. This was going to be the best first gig of anyone’s life! Or so I thought.
You see the thing with the Radio 1 Roadshow was, it was utter drivel. Between the artists small sets, the audience were ‘entertained’ by games played by the host with members of the audience, usually incredibly silly in nature; you could feel your cognitive abilities drain as time moved on. I noticed early on that a band had equipment set up on stage, full drumkit, bass guitar, lead guitar, acoustic and several microphones – maybe 2 Unlimited had changed musical directions radically on their new material?
First musical act of the day were Wrexham based DJs and Ravers K Klass, who’d had a couple of top 40 singles over the summer. Being Welsh, they had a decent following turn up to see them alone, but they were DJing and that didn’t seem too exciting to me. Perhaps I didn’t understand what was going on after the mental strain of seeing the limbo competition some 5 minutes prior. Next up was Eternal. At this point, the girl group were not known and had yet to release a single. They were highly polished as they mimed and danced in unison to their soon to be debut ‘Stay’. I was deeply embarrassed and found the whole experience rather awkward. Here was 4 attractive women dancing provocatively on stage and little old prepubescent me not knowing where the hell to look.
The next hour or so would prove to be a pivotal one. The band who came on next were the first to play live – finally we knew who had brought their instruments with them. Texas were a group based in Glasgow who’d had a big hit a few years earlier with ‘I Don’t Want A Lover’, which my sister had played to death. Led by the charismatic Sharleen Spiteri, the band would produce some great Motown inspired pop later in the decade and went on to become one of the biggest bands in the country. I didn’t quite understand at the time, but I was beginning to feel very differently about music thanks to this set. The sound was so much different. I could hear the playing including any imperfections, and by concentrating on different musicians, could isolate and zone in on the sound coming from them; I suddenly understood the function of a band – the collective experience over the individual.
By now, my excitement was at fever pitch. I was ready to bounce around like an out of control Spacehopper. 2 Unlimited entered the stage to screams and cheers from the mostly teenage audience. Anita and Raymond prowled the stage as the beats throbbed behind them, whipping the crowd into a frenzied mess. I waited for the vocals to hit with that new found comprehension of just how amplified human voices should sound. Oh the horror! They were miming. They weren’t even miming well. I felt cheated by this and sat down with overwhelming sense of frustration – before nearly being trampled on by the sorts of kids who would bully you in school and claim it was banter. How dare they come on to headline and MIME after the great, live, revelatory set from Texas! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO ………….Just NO.
My thanks go to Texas and 2 Unlimited for very different reasons. Clarity was provided by the brilliance of live performance and accentuated by the charade of the worst elements of the music industry. A tiny pyrrhic victory over the ‘Dark Arts’ it may well have seemed in my head, but that day stuck with me and helped sew that seeds of my musical ethos. Now, excuse me while I go and order lots of stuff I don’t need off Amazon.
NoNewWaveNoFun is an independent Alt Music blog, founded by Stephen Birch (of Middleboopmag, Getintothis and Poppedmusic fame.) Contact NNWNF @ NoNewWaveNoFunblog@yahoo.com.