Episode 1 of Music Nation on Channel 4 was an interesting watch.
Didn’t catch it?
Well, it covered the start of the UK Garage music genre in London, and integrated with UKG was of course the pirate radio scene.
It made a nice change to watch a programme charting a music genre that was more relevant to today. The BBC especially, although not exclusively, spends hours and hours of airtime charting the 1960s and 1970s with documentaries about music from that era as if it was the only music and cultural revolution. Virtually nothing looks at more modern music genres: Until now.
The problem with music revolutions is that it’s only with hindsight that anybody ever realises there was a music revolution. In fact we regularly have music revolutions, we can feel them, but it takes a while before we know how big they were, or if it was a revolution at all.
There was a lot of honesty in Music Nation from those who were there and part of the UKG explosion. They didn’t realise how big and important it was at the time. They accepted that it, sort of, all ended in tears. Ok, as with all music explosions, UK Garage hasn’t died and still takes pride of place on Kiss FM UK. Well, once or twice a week, it does. But, at the height of its time the clubs started to become dangerous places. Unfortunately the kids who loved the music also thought of themselves as ‘gangstas’ and so guns and one-upmanship took the place of ‘fun’.
On the ‘streets’ the postcode based gangs of 12 and 13 year olds, sporting their Avirex clothing, spat their even more aggressive lyrics, as they too wanted to be part of the revolution. They’d listen to the pirate stations playing their heroes and record them on their phones in order to play them over and over again.
There are, of course, parallels with every cultural and music revolution, but UKG belonged to the East End and South London based ‘ghettoised’ youth, and for a moment it was the most exciting thing around with people dressing smart slick and drinking champagne every night.
It was funny watching those who, arguably, were the main movers like EZ (still a favourite of mine on Kiss FM UK) talking about ‘back in the day’ in exactly the same way that the millions of hours of documentaries about the 1960s and 1970s include people that look near death but use the phrase ‘back in the day’. UK Garage only seems like a few years ago, and yet here were these ‘young’ men saying ‘back in the day’.
Just as with the pirate radio operators of every decade before, they were showing off their ‘keys’. These are used in order to gain access to towerblock roof areas in order to put up their radio transmitters and aerials, essential to share and spread the word of UKG. They discussed the battles with other pirates and how their ‘rigs’ would go missing and so they would go and take others off the air, in wars that seemed to exclude the authorities.
All in all, nothing changed from the many generations of pirate radio stations that went before, just the music and the people.
Thankfully, music and culture is constantly evolving. Those doing the exciting stuff today will be having documentaries made about them tomorrow. It will always be this way.
And in that respect, I commend Music Nation to you as it looks at the last 25 years of music revolution. Catch up on 4OD and watch the rest of the series from this week on Channel 4!
More info here.