Tuesday, 4 September 2007

XFM is 10 Years Old

"Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers!"

So started XFM's first show ten years ago, where Gary Crowley introduced the MC5's garage rock beast to a city (London) of indie music lovers who were excited to finally get a music station that recognised their existence. The station had been applying for a license for years and had previously run licenses that lasted for just a month. I remember the excitement I felt when I knew that XFM was due to broadcast. I couldn't actually receive it at home so used to drive around London trying to get a reception, just on the off chance that I might actually get to hear songs by the likes of Jane's Addiction or Pavement or Blur on daytime radio. Oh, the joy!

We can probably thank the Britpop phenomenon for persuading the powers that be to grant a full-time broadcasting licence - guitar bands became cool. We can also partially lay the blame for XFM's current obsolescence at Britpop's doorstep: it was at this time that what was previously known as (and still is, I suppose) alternative music became mainstream, thus largely negating the need for a station that specialised in alternative music.

You see, XFM has never really been an alternative music station. It would never have survived. It doesn't have the edginess that it believes it has (and isn't the word "edgy" in this context really fucking annoying? It has been completely appropriated by those wishing to manufacture a veneer of cool where none really exists. Hi MTV2!). "Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers!" didn't really waft over the airwaves. What was actually heard that day was "Kick Out The Jams (expletive deleted)!" Rock on.

I believe that XFM remains committed to the same ethos that it had when Sammy Jacobs was in charge all those years ago but so what? What's the point when the daytime playlist is pretty much indistinguishable from Virgin or Radio One? I like The Killers and Kasabian as much as the next fan of guitar-based-indie-rock but I get so disheartened when I turn on the radio (XFM remains my station of choice until I get a DAB and can listen to BBC6) and hear stuff like this when I want to be listening to something new. Oh, and by the way XFM, if it was up to me I'd have the power to revoke your licence if you ever played Snow Patrol or U2 again.

The evening schedule is far better. It's here that XFM actually does play alternative music. Those who defend the daytime schedule would say that this is the necessary trade-off that allows the station to remain true to its roots and be more eclectic in the evenings. This is a redundant argument. Back before XFM existed I got my music fix on Radio 1 from Mark Goodier's (succeeded by Jo Whiley's and Steve Lamacq's) Evening Session, John Peel and Annie Nightingale, plus Gary Crowley's show on GLR on a sunday afternoon. These were all shows that catered for niche markets and as such were broadcast during off-peak hours. XFM now does exactly the same as this. What's the point then?

For me, the point used to be the quality of the DJs. When Christian O'Connell was on the breakfast show I'd set my alarm early so I could lay in bed and listen to it before getting up to go to work. Same goes for Lauren Laverne. And the roster of other ex-DJs is excellent: Ricky Gervais, Zoe Ball, Dermot O'Leary, Zane Lowe and Shaun Keaveny are among many other DJs who have gone on to bigger things. Now, between the hours of 10am and 4pm we don't have DJs. We have "Radio to the Power of U" - music "selected" by the listeners via text, phone and the web. Strangely, the listeners always seem to want to vote for little other the the current mainstream indie acts. So that's basically the same playlists as before but without the entertaining banter between the songs. Terrific. Actually that's a bit unfair. I've heard The Pixies lately. But if I'm looking to give an alternative music station kudos just because they played one of the biggest alternative acts of all time then there really is something wrong.

Is there a conclusion after all of this really un-constructive criticism? I fear not. As previously stated, I still listen to XFM. I find that I'm likely to hear songs that I like here more often than anywhere else. I'm an indie boy at heart (although, worryingly, my next birthday puts me just out of the target age demographic. Eek!) and I'll always like bands playing pleasant rock and pop music with guitars. I don't really see a point for XFM's continued existence but I don't want it to go away either. I just wish it would stick its neck out and take a few risks occasionally. I wish it well.

Just one more thing though - please, please, please play less Kaiser Chiefs. They're fucking terrible.

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