Is free music a curse? I remember when there was nothing I wanted more than to receive it. Starting my radio show, ‘Machines Are Funky’ back on 209 Radio Cambridge in September 2004 opened the floodgates, and I was like a pig in shit. The radio show was the reason I started this blog and, even though I regretfully stopped doing the show in 2010, these pages remain. Of course ‘Thee Kaleidoscopic Rebellion’ picked up, to an extent, were ‘Machines . . . ‘ left off in 2012, but was brought to an abrupt end in 2015.
So how did free music impact on these shows, and on myself? Not only did I receive free music but I also promoted it by playing it, as all DJs do. The playing, however, is the last troublesome part as you can only fit in a finite amount in one show and the selection process must be seen to be effective. This was never a real issue. It’s the hours and hours though, listening to shite in order to find something wonderful that I’ll never get back. I say this not to denigrate the efforts of those who spend many hours, painfully honing their musical visions into something worthwhile and original, rather to reproach myself for not catching on sooner. Also, to those without imagination and the overly formulaic, it’s your output which goes to the charity shop first.
As I got older and wiser I built my shows almost entirely around that which I’d bought myself. Wanting a return of sorts on my investment I figured money only well spent if I actually gave these tunes a proper airing. The electronic music world is a strange one, being an almost constant rehash of various eras with small flourishes which are often enough to enable a track, not just to stand out but to usher in a new movement. This is the reality of the situation, not necessarily a criticism. We are all complicit. The saving grace is, of course, the DJ, the more creative the better, but not always the best. This sounds contradictory so let me elaborate. There is no substitute for good music, likewise knowledge. A great DJ will have you dancing to stuff you don’t know you like. Also, style. Some play tracks for (almost) their full length, some cut and play them in portions. Some do the talking, some let the music do it. It really shouldn’t make a great deal of difference to whoever is listening, unless said selector is being relentlessly scrutinized. What comes out of the speakers is always a representation of some form of thought process. It’s clear, though, that some are worth listening to more than others, and this isn’t a situation reached overnight.
Whatever the case, we owe it to those who play the music to give them the benefit of the doubt sometimes. True, some of them can’t mix cement, while the others have got no relationship with what they play. The feeling isn’t there, and this is a distinct thing, irrespective of the type music being played, not the music being played. During the broadcasting of ‘Thee Kaleidoscopic Rebellion’ it became more and more about the music fitting the mood of the late hour. Even though the show was supposed to be an electronic one, we would often go beyond this, and become more abstract. Anyone casually tuning in late on a Saturday night would hopefully have any expectations passively usurped. It kept things interesting, however. We were playing for ourselves above all, and if it was interesting to others, great. If not, so what?
All of which sounds arrogant, but the alternative is much worse. It’s sonic homogenization by stealth. We’re already living under its kosh, and always will be as long as we continue to let our time be taken up by an inability to make our own choices. I like to think that whatever music I play that I haven’t bought it myself is being tacitly promoted. You can only do this so much when it’s free, unless it’s always something you would have bought anyway. The continuous search for feedback is understandable, but no one owes anyone anything except to listen without prejudice if they have the time and inclination.