Thursday, 1 January 2009

Why I don't miss the pay channels

I thought I'd miss the subscription satellite channels much more than I do.  Having Freeview and keeping the Sky dish up for the free channels (plus copious amounts of radio) provides the best of all worlds - you are saved from the unspeakable Edmonds (the comparatively likeable Deal or No Deal excepted), you are now also saved from Madeley and Finnigan (fuck those first names), you are saved from darts fans pissing all over Planet Funk's shimmering "Chase the Sun", but you still get Channel U, Flava, Flaunt (which had a fantastic New Year's Day retrospective - Stardust, Darude, "Out of Space", all the best aspects of the 1990s, basically) and, eek, Clubland TV.

The above "eek" is a natural reflex reaction on my part - the world it inhabits, in its purest form, is a place I would no more want to be than the world of (the thankfully now lost to me) Kerrang! TV and (the still sadly available) Scuzz.  It's a working class territorially protective of its whiteness (and thus the BNP's natural heartland), and some of it is - even to me - terrifying (I'm not sure whether I want to see "Caramell Dancing" ever again - I'm sort of glad I saw it once, but the thought of it brings on a shudder between my toes that I don't want to repeat).  It is also hard to forgive Clubland TV for its promotion of Scooter's thankfully unsuccessful collaboration with Status Quo (easily the former's worst ever song, because Quo, with all their petty, curtain-twitching rock'n'roll racism - and we all know that is the very worst, because most mealy-mouthed and hypocritical, kind of racism - represent the antithesis of everything that otherwise makes Scooter so great).  Nor do I think Ultrabeat's more recent work is up to the standards of the heartstopping "Pretty Green Eyes" and the joyous mirage of "Feelin' Fine". But I still find myself watching it disarmingly often, because the disconnection of this wholly un-American music from tired old pseudo-rebellion overpowers any associations with the lost tribes of Burnley or Stoke-on-Trent (there is no attempt to pretend that this pop is something it isn't and cannot be) and because it gives songs as good as Gigi D'Agostino's "Bla Bla Bla" (almost a decade after the fact in that case, unbelievably) and Laurent Wolf's much more recent"No Stress" a time and space they have never otherwise been allowed in this septic isle.  Indeed, at its best Clubland TV defies its own English provincialism and evokes a parallel universe of pop where the Channel is as narrow and the Atlantic as wide psychologically as they are geographically.

Yet it is still Channel U I always return to, because of all the music channels this is the one which best reflects why many on the Left supported deregulation of broadcasting in the 1980s - it is, in fact, what deregulated broadcasting ought to have been (and would have been in a Left-libertarian society) as opposed to what it generally actually has been (I will praise the post-1990 order of broadcasting to the extent that it has been an ally of convenience allowing a channel like this to exist, but not in terms of the ideology it was built on and which its most popular manifestations relentlessly promote). Unconnected as it is to any broadcaster which is forced to work under ludicrous expectations by a press which regards itself almost as Britain's true government, it can do what it does without the constant fear of official quasi-censorship being imposed on it.  And of course Chipmunk, Tinchy Stryder et al are a pop in exile, a pop desperate for the place that the elite's retrenchment through pop denies them.

The one thing that unites Channel U and Clubland TV is, intriguingly, N-Dubz (who have a family connection to Mungo Jerry!).  I suspect that might be an analogy for something more. Certainly, anyone who can unite pop's twin tribes, otherwise so divided in almost every aspect of their vision of Britain, cannot be ignored.


  1. Amusing; I'd never even heard of Clubland TV! But sounds a curious mixture...

    Channel U I had been well aware of when I had semi-access to the dish, but I too am now a Freeviewer (generally has more than enough to engage, barring Sky Arts and music channels such as Channel U, yes).

    I presume there is plenty of bassline music on Channel U...?

  2. Indeed there is, though if you watch it with any great regularity you know that they often don't show at any particular time what the EPG says they'll be showing. You might turn on for "Pure Bassline" but have to sit through an Usher dirge before you can get there ... as for N-Dubz, their slightly incongruous regular appearances on Clubland TV are probably because they're oddly on All Around The World (the Blackburn-based label which I believe owns the channel).

    My mention of Stoke fits oddly with my WCML point: it is of course the home city of Robbie Williams, probably the last star of that magnitude we'll ever see from the classic WCMLWWC (West Coast Main Line white working-class) background (the revived Take That are also from a WCML city, of course, but they cannot now be called "stars" in the same way, just a big-selling MOR-pop act trading on a 15-year-old name) and as its traditional industries (kept on life support for longer than elsewhere) have declined it has retreated into paranoia over its possible future as something more like the big WCML cities, with open talk of the BNP taking control of its council or winning its mayoralty. Even as Stoke City have enjoyed their greatest success since the early 1980s, they've promoted themselves entirely in terms of a Bulldog England under siege, scaring "poncy" Arsenal off the field (some of us remember when Old Arsenal used to do the same thing to French and Italian teams, but that's a wholly different story). I know that what's happening in Stoke now is in some ways a repeat of the racial paranoia that scarred the West Midlands conurbation during the 1960s, but it does seem to fit with the general impression of smaller WCML towns and cities retreating into themselves, almost afraid of the changes their larger counterparts set in motion, almost wilfully giving up their own dominance of British pop (which has, of course, partially been exaggerated by me so as to make a point: the big WCML cities would always have been unusually dominant simply because so many people live in and around them and for sociological factors such as Liverpool being an Atlantic port, &c).

    Sky Arts is the one pay channel I genuinely miss in terms of things I want to keep for posterity, but their recent listings don't seem to show all that much which genuinely makes me wish I still had it - they seem to be showing a lot of stuff I recorded when I had the chance.

  3. Part of the reason Sunderland has largely resisted BNP domination ('resisted' still meaning 20% support in some council ward elections) is a resilient Tory vote which simply isn't there in Stoke, which I doubt has any Tory wards. Middlesbrough I imagine is fairly similar to Sunderland. All three of course could go down in this remarkably open premier league season (at the bottom anyway).

    Have you listened much to BBC 1Xtra?

  4. As I've mentioned before, the theory I've heard a few times about relatively high levels of Tory support in the north-east is that the aristocracy kept up their position in the area by becoming industrialists more than in other "Old Labour" heartlands, so brought with them a certain amount of cap-doffing and social conservatism (I've even heard that used to explain the "Toon Army" mentality, which is something of a stretch *even for me* although I can understand why someone would make the link) and ensured that the Industrial Revolution did not represent as clean a break as elsewhere. If I have a problem with that theory it's that you'd tend to hear it from people who regard Manchester's undeniable *history* of "radicalism" (and Dave Haslam's point about Manchester having a history of relating to the renegade aspects of American music rather than the mainstream *is* a strong point that can be related to early Granada, who brought over Billie Holiday to sing "Strange Fruit" while ATV's Palladium show tended to feature the likes of Pat Boone and Bobby Vee) as still making sense in the present day and as justifying the city's dominant air of pseudo-rebellion. I think I mentioned to you once that Sunderland's most recent Tory MP (who lost his seat in 1964 if memory serves) was very much on the right of the party - a Monday Clubber who thought Heath was appeasing socialism.

    I've listened to 1Xtra more often than any other "popular music" (something of an out-of-touch judge's term, I know, but one I still use as it's the only term that covers *everything*) station in recent times, put it that way. It has a lot of advantages in being able to use the BBC's resources: the problem (as I hinted in my comments on Channel U) is that it's part of an organisation which is under pressure to apply certain bogus "standards" to *everything* it does, as if it was all aimed at the same set of people with the same tastes and worldview, hence e.g. the forced pre-recording of Westwood's Sunday night show (and what he clearly hinted, when I heard it the Sunday before Christmas, was senior management in the studio "overseeing" it). It's a double-edged sword: the private sector couldn't do it, at least in non-metropolitan areas, but for it to be what it needs to be to be credible on its own terms the public sector must be free from hypocritical moral outrage and/or strong enough for that kind of bullshit not to frighten and unnerve it, and we are sadly a long way from that ... still, whenever I hear it I usually like it, especially bassline of course (a genre which, as Reynolds notes of So Solid / Oxide & Neutrino in 'Bring the Noise', sadly seems destined to have started at the top commercially and rapidly, unfortunately, worked its way down).

  5. (I meant to say "n.p. 'Neu '75" above, incidentally. I forgot. I'll say it now.)