Archive: comedy

When this blog returned last month, a reader asked me if the impending return of Adam and Joe to our radio sets was the best thing that has ever happened to me. Well, it’s not quite the best news I have ever heard. But nevertheless, tomorrow is exciting.

Adam and Joe return tomorrow morning at 10am on BBC 6 Music!

To celebrate, here is a clip of one of the funniest moments of the programme — when Adam and Joe dangerously ate a chill cake that was sent in by a listener.

One of my odd little interests is public information films. Lately I have been getting stuck into the ‘Charley Says’ DVDs. Fantastic stuff.

It was just after watching the ‘Splink’ PIF with John Pertwee that I realised that I hadn’t taken in what ‘Splink’ stands for at all. It always gets me how some mnemonics are far harder to remember than the actual thing they are supposed to remind you about.

I guess it was the inspiration for this brilliant video, from a Channel 4 pilot called ‘Shit Club’ by Alex Morris.

I also recommend the ‘Careers Adviser‘ video from the same television programme.

About ten years ago I shunned music radio. It no longer reflected my musical tastes, so I turned to speech radio stations instead — all on the BBC.

After a while, I began to get into BBC 6 Music. I was still interested in the speech elements of the station more than the music. Adam and Joe became a regular listen, but I also began to appreciate the music output more. Programmes like the Freak Zone and Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service simply would not exist on another station — which is why there was so much outrage when it was suggested that the station would be closed down.

But when considering alternative options in the event that 6 Music closed, I realised that the outlook was perhaps not as bad is it might seem. As a commercial alternative, Absolute Radio wouldn’t be a bad option.

Shedding Virgin Radio’s dad rock image

In the space of just two years, the new owners of what used to be Virgin Radio have given the station a completely new lease of life.

I would never have considered listening to Virgin Radio. Its playlist was limited, repetitive and fusty. It was wall-to-wall dad rock.

Looking back, the transition to the new-style Absolute was quite steady. But the day it ditched the Virgin brand was the day it could move on from that albatross and the Smashie and Nicey image. Today, I think it is easily the most interesting commercial radio station around.

More than music

The key selling point of Absolute Radio, as opposed to Virgin, is that it is now not just about music. Now it’s an “entertainment” station. When you tune in, you are more likely to hear a comedian than a dusty old Status Quo song. Its current presenters include people like Dave Gorman, Iain Lee, Frank Skinner and Richard Herring — all much better known for being funny than being fanatical about what Virgin always called “real music”.

It’s a template that has been successful at BBC 6 Music ever since it started. Its original breakfast presenter was Phill Jupitus, while other high-profile presenters have included Russell Brand, Craig Charles, Jon Holmes and… Richard Herring. And it’s difficult to escape the feeling that Absolute’s weekend morning programming has been heavily influenced by the success of Adam and Joe on 6 Music.

The really impressive thing about how Absolute have gone about it is the fact that Dave Gorman appears to have more influence over the music that is played on his programme than Adam and Joe ever did. As a whole, Absolute is more accessible than 6 Music, but it is a station that is unafraid to step out of the mainstream on occasion.

Determined to try different things

But gradually, Absolute is becoming something more than a commercial 6 Music-lite. Its deal to broadcast English Premier League football matches is a bold move to for a music station to make, particularly since Radio 5 Live and TalkSport are so well established in this area. Apparently it is the first time a music station has broadcast top flight football since Capital Gold brought Jonathan Pearce to the world 20 years ago.

Absolute have launched some interesting spin-off stations as well. In addition to Absolute Classic Rock, there is Absolute 80s and Absolute Radio 90s (that is a way to make me feel old — my decade is now for proper nostalgia!). There is also Absolute Radio Extra. The best thing is that the latter three are all available on DAB.

There was also Dabbl, an experimental station where users chose the content. It has closed down now, but it is nonetheless a sign that Absolute is determined to experiment with radio.

Doing new things with radio

The people behind Absolute Radio have a great website, One Golden Square, which takes you behind the scenes of Absolute Radio. The openness of the website is wonderful. It is a great insight into what makes them tick, and it’s all very encouraging.

Absolute are always at the cutting-edge, thinking about the future of radio and different ways to listen to it. That is no wonder — the traditional 1215 medium wave frequency is very poor quality for a music station, so it helps them to investigate alternative ways of broadcasting.

One Golden Square Labs outlines some of the really interesting things they are up to. There is some nifty iPod Nano integration. They are also pushing ahead with HTML5 delivery.

Compare My Radio - comparison of Absolute and 6 Music

One Golden Square are also behind the wonderful Compare My Radio. This website is a heaven for radio and stats geeks — perfect for me.

It is a treasure trove of stats about radio output in the UK. You can see what tracks and artists are popular, search for artists to find out what stations play them, and even compare the output of two radio stations — with Venn diagrams and everything.

A lot of people turned to this website to learn about 6 Music. Many defended the station on the basis of statistics collected by Compare My Radio. You can see how 6 Music compares to Absolute Radio.

The website is a fascinating service that must take a bit of work to maintain. It’s great that a radio station can take a step back and fairly allow others to compare it with other radio stations.

All-in-all, you get the impression that the people behind Absolute Radio are seriously passionate about radio. As a bit of a radio fan myself, that is a big winner for me.

I was sad to read that Frank Sidebottom — or Chris Sievey, his real name — died today. I have vague memories of him being on television when I was very young, and it was a joy to rediscover him when he made his comeback four or five years ago.

He never returned to the heights of his late 1980s zenith, so I have had to make do with YouTube for my fix of Frank Sidebottom. Although I did buy and enjoy ‘ABC&D’, his best of CD.

I had seen that he was diagnosed with cancer recently, and clearly he was in a very bad way. But it didn’t stop him performing and just last week he released a World Cup song, ‘Three Shirts on my Line‘ (“35 years of dirt, just washed out by me mum”).

His former keyboardist, Jon Ronson, wrote a great article about Frank Sidebottom’s career a few years ago. Fascinating reading, and quite sad too.

I only learnt today that he worked for a few years on Pingu. Via the Cook’d and Bomb’d forum comes this video of an episode of Pingu that he wrote.


(If you look carefully in the credits, you’ll see that he is even credited as Frank Sidebottom, not Chris Sievey.)

A Twitter campaign to get Frank Sidebottom to number 1 is gathering steam — @MakeFrank1. I think it would be very apt. Because going by the reaction from people today, while Frank Sidebottom disappeared from view somewhat in recent years, it’s clear that many people loved him.

Read on to view a selection of my favourite Frank Sidebottom videos.

Click for more »

Save BBC 6 Music

If the reports that the BBC will close down 6 Music are true, it is a great shame. Of course, this could be seen coming. The BBC has been utterly weak in almost every respect for the past few years, and it is difficult to escape the notion that it is too big, with too many outlets. Of course, when effectively forced to cut back, it will opt to close down the high quality products, rather than those that are merely popular.

6 Music is the only mainstream radio station where you can regularly hear genuinely experimental and alternative music on a regular basis. It is the only station that confounds expectations and delights in challenging the listener.

The Freak Zone is a jewel in 6 Music’s crown, dedicated to playing esoteric music from today and undiscovered gems from the past. For sure, it is a challenging listen at times — but that is the very point.

Similarly, Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service is truly unique. One of the most eclectic playlists I have ever heard is mixed with ponderings on, for instance, the sad beauty of abandoned Christmas trees.

I have effused before about Adam and Joe, which I think was genuinely the best programme on radio. These are just three of the must-listen radio programmes that 6 Music has brought us.

6 Music should have broadened its horizons

There is simply no commercial alternative. In short, it is precisely the sort of thing that the BBC should be doing.

In fact, I have in the past been critical of 6 Music for not being adventurous enough in the past. The BBC does, after all, already have three other major music radio stations, each of which is dedicated to playing different strands of mainstream music. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that. But this should have provided 6 Music with the opportunity to explore the outer reaches of music more freely.

Instead, 6 Music has ended up being slightly unsure of its role. It has come to attain a dual identity. One is that of a genuinely exploratory musical agenda, for discerning listeners who are passionate about the music they already love, and are itching to discover new music.

The other is that of a mere weakened popular music station with a vague indie bent. This aspect made it like a transition station for listeners who have moved on from Radio 1 but can’t yet bring themselves to listen to Radio 2. Hence the travesty of George Lamb. There are plenty of commercial alternatives for these people to turn to. This is an audience that doesn’t need to be catered for by the BBC.

Instead of trying to gain listeners with gimmicky attempts to cater for the masses, 6 Music should have set its sights higher by increasing its quality. It could be transformed into a station that is genuinely dedicated to music that you won’t find on other radio stations.

And there is no need to stop at music. It could encompass culture as a whole. Why shouldn’t such a station also champion alternative comedy, experimental drama and the like? It could be like a well funded version of Resonance FM.

Instead, the BBC appears to have taken the coward’s option. Instead of setting its sights towards enhancing the station so that it becomes a great hub for alternative and experimental culture, it has weakly chosen to throw in the towel. Instead of realising the potential of 6 Music and promoting it properly, the BBC has left it in a corner to gather cobwebs and eventually die.

The BBC’s disregard for experimental culture

This would be palatable if it weren’t for the fact that experimental music has been increasingly marginalised on the BBC’s other radio stations over the past decade as well. As if the passing of John Peel wasn’t enough of a blow to adventurous music on the BBC, the corporation appears to be determined to dismantle every last piece of its experimental music programming.

A decade ago Radio 1’s evening schedule was brimming with experimental music. But the station’s few remaining programmes dedicated to experimental music have all been shunted to shorter, graveyard time slots. To take just one example, Rob da Bank’s programme is on at the truly insulting 5-7am on a Saturday. Meanwhile, Mary Anne Hobbs’s Breezeblock is on at 2-4am on Thursday morning.

New experimental music has all but disappeared from Radio 3 as well. Since Mixing It was removed from the schedules, all that has remained is Late Junction, which has itself been marginalised in recent years.

In short, the BBC is doing less of the sort of programming it should be making, and replacing it with the sort of thing that ought to be left to its commercial rivals.

Absolute to the rescue?

The Times suggested that Absolute Radio may be interested in buying 6 Music should the BBC decide to close it down. It seems to me as though Clive Dickens was merely making a point about the inefficient way the BBC has run 6 Music.

But the idea that Absolute might acquire 6 Music and keep it alive is an interesting prospect. I have find myself being increasingly impressed with Absolute. I am sure that it has taken inspiration from 6 Music as it tries to re-build itself without the Virgin brand behind it.

Like 6 Music, Absolute thinks of itself as a home for good music (although in practice it just trots out middle-of-the-road dad rock). It mixes this with the use of comedians like Dave Gorman, Frank Skinner and Iain Lee as presenters.

This is the exact model that 6 Music has used throughout its existence. The station was launched by Phill Jupitus, who presented the 6 Music breakfast show for several years. Since then, 6 Music has been home to several comedians.

I find it doubtful that a radio station like 6 Music would flourish as a commercial operation. But if anyone can pull it off, it is Absolute. It would be fabulous.

The BBC has failed to convincingly promote digital radio. The lack of publicity is the real reason why 6 Music has so few listeners. Fewer than 10% of Radio 1 listeners are listening on a digital platform. When 6 Music is only available on digital platforms, it is no wonder it appears to perform so poorly. Only one in five people in the UK have even heard of the station. Hence Adam Buxton’s joke that it is “the secret station”.

Yet, over 54% of Absolute Radio’s listeners (approximately 31 minutes in) outside of London now listen on digital. The BBC, with all its supposed marketing might, has failed to generate anything like this sort of result, despite having shedloads of cash dedicated to the exercise.

The BBC is now weak and ineffective. It has failed digital radio, and it is now failing to commit to the very adventurous programming it is supposed to be dedicated to.

The country lurches back into its usual routine this week. But with the new year comes changes, and a vital part of everyone’s daily life — the radio — will seem very different.

My parents are concerned about what will happen to Radio 2 after the departure of Terry Wogan from breakfast. They were not happy to hear that his replacement will be Chris Evans. My parents originally stopped listening to Radio 1 when Chris Evans took over the Radio 1 breakfast show. (Quite how they tolerated Steve Wright before this is beyond me though.)

I get the feeling that they will stick with Radio 2. Chris Evans is a very different broadcaster to what he was ten or fifteen years ago and has apparently pleased most people with his performances on Radio 2 so far.

While Terry Wogan’s last show was the one that caught all the headlines, the end of two other radio programmes will be far more disruptive to my routine. I was not a listener of Terry Wogan’s, though I don’t suppose I am really part of his target audience.

The end of Adam and Joe

Much bigger news in my world has been the end of Adam and Joe’s programme on BBC 6 Music. They are raising the drawbridge at the Big British Castle for an indefinite period while Joe Cornish focuses on his new career as a film director.

This programme has been a core part of my week for the past two years. It is also unusual because due to its Saturday morning time slot, it has been the only thing that has managed to get me to wake up at a decent hour on a Saturday.

Adam and Joe have an excellent knack of doing a type of humour which is silly but not stupid — a balance that very few manage to strike. This made it ideal listening for the start of the weekend. It was perhaps something to gently lift you out of a mild hangover. The accompanying podcast was also excellent for lifting spirits during your journey into work.

Their gentle humour was mixed with sharp observations on popular culture. Increasingly, towards the end of the programme’s run, listener contributions were a larger part of the programme. Combined with the programme’s elite listening force Black Squadron and the STEPHEN! phenomenon, there was quite a tight-knit community feel to the show.

This was no doubt helped by the fact that it was on BBC 6 Music, jokingly referred to by Adam Buxton as “the secret station”. Even though it was the most popular programme on the station by quite a long way, due to its location in the outer reaches of select DAB sets, Adam and Joe’s was a cosy and understated programme. It is difficult to imagine Adam and Joe’s programme working so well on another, larger radio station.

Adam and Joe’s replacement will be Danny Wallace, who is not quite in the same league. It will leave a huge gap in my Saturday mornings. What else can I listen to? Saturday Live on Radio 4? Sorry, not for me. Jonathan Ross on Radio 2? Possibly. Or will I return to my old ‘default’ radio station, Radio 5 Live, for Danny Baker and Fighting Talk?

Changes at Radio 5 Live

Speaking of Radio 5 Live, that is the source of the other big change to my radio routine. Richard Bacon has vacated the late-night slot to take over from Simon Mayo, who is moving to replace Chris Evans on Drivetime at Radio 2.

I was a fan of Richard Bacon during his first stint on 5 Live in the weekend late-night slot, and he continued to delight when he returned to the station to do weeknights. Given his background, he is surprisingly good at dealing with big issues as well as light-hearted stuff.

He is also unafraid to use humour. It could be so embarrassing (and some would probably say it is), but I think it works well. The interesting bit after 12:30am was entertaining and brave. I can’t think of many other presenters who would get away with completely doing away with news for half an hour every day on Radio 5 Live.

I am greatly regretful that I never managed to get my hands on one of those badges. It was nevertheless an honour and a privilege to listen.

Richard Bacon’s irreverence is what makes him good as a broadcaster, but it’s difficult to see how he can leverage this in his new mid-afternoon slot, one of the most important in 5 Live’s schedule. Most disappointingly, it will be on during the daytime, meaning that I won’t be able to listen to it.

The replacement in the late night slot will be former Daily Sport editor Tony Livesey. I will reserve judgement until I hear the programme. I gather he is actually quite good. But if I don’t take to it, I might take the unusual step of switching to a commercial radio station during weeknights to listen to Iain Lee on Absolute Radio.

Richard Bacon’s move is part of a wider shake-up at Radio 5 Live, which also sees Gabby Logan getting a daily slot. With the day going from the Nicky Campbell Speak You’re Branes hour to Victoria Derbyshire to Gabby Logan, it’s not difficult to see why some people have started to nickname the station Radio 5 Lite.

It’s not quite the quality station I loved just a few years ago. Just now Radio 5 Live seems utterly bereft of ideas, aside from attempting to stealthily change it into a 24/7 Mark Kermode station. At least Up All Night is still good.

If I was being uncharitable, I might suggest that the presenters that remain at the station are the ones who are prepared to make the move to Salford when the station relocates there next year. The logic behind moving a radio station that covers news (most of which happens in London) to Manchester is still beyond me, I have to admit.

On the bright side…

It’s not all bad news on the radio front. In addition to his new daytime Radio 5 Live slot, Richard Bacon has a Saturday afternoon programme on 6 Music. He promises to take some of the jollity of his late night 5 Live show to 6 Music. But who listens to radio at that time? Not me.

I might make space in my Sunday afternoons for 6 Music though. Jarvis Cocker will have a new programme alongside the already-excellent Freak Zone.

But weekend mornings will still be a problem. And I’ll need a new comedy podcast to replace Adam and Joe. Does anyone have any suggestions? (Not Collings and Herrin — I tried it, and it was crap.)

Continuing my look at 20 Warp albums from Warp’s 20 years. For other articles in this series, please see the table of contents to the right. Albums are presented in randomised order.

Broadcast — The Noise Made by People

The Noise Made by People coverThis was the first Warp album I ever bought, and it remains a favourite of mine to this day. Broadcast’s music is heavily steeped in 1960s influence, and comparisons with Stereolab are commonplace (and not inaccurate). But they sound anything but derivative.

The Noise Made by People has a dark and slightly creepy aesthetic. Most of the album creeps along at a rather slow pace. Then there are Trish Keenan’s almost robotic vocals. The music itself — largely based on 1960s-style electronic instruments — could almost be transmitted directly from that decade, complete with unsettling background noise.

Put together, this all gives the music a rather otherworldly vibe. It is as though you are listening to a ghostly music that has been trapped in the airwaves since the 1960s and has only just escaped.

Funnily enough, the real life story of the recording of this album is similar to the picture I have just described. It is said that Broadcast struggled with the recording of the album, and it took three years to make. Perhaps this is another reason why it sounds clinical, though it’s all the more captivating for it.

Since The Noise Made by People, Broadcast have reduced in size to become just the core duo of Trish Keenan and James Cargill. In turn, the music has become less dense and more raw, and has lost the otherworldly qualities of their earlier material. Although Broadcast is still a good band, I feel that they were definitely at their peak with this album.

This video for ‘Come On Let’s Go’ captures the aesthetic of the album really well:

Tortoise — Standards

Standards coverMany feel that Tortoise were at their strongest in the 1990s. I did not discover them until 2001, so maybe I am biased in that sense. But I think that the band was at the height of its creative powers with Standards.

Quite simply, it was one of the most unique-sounding albums I had ever heard and remains one of my favourite listens to this day. The effortless fusion of punchy rock, cutting-edge electronic music, multi-layered drumming and jazz makes this an extraordinarily bold album that captivates you from start to finish.

If ever there was an album that was definitively not just ‘going through the motions’, it is surely Standards — despite its title. This record documents Tortoise standing on the very edge of what is possible with rock music. I find it impossible to become bored of this album. There is so much going on in so many layers.

Each instrument would be fascinating to listen to on its own (this was proved when the rhythm section of Tortoise released an album of drums and little else called Bumps). Each band member is doing his own thing. And yet, everything here makes a perfect fit.

Nothing Tortoise have produced since then has come close to reaching the standard of Standards. But then again, few albums by any bad do.

This is the video for the attention-grabbing album opener, ‘Seneca':

Seefeel – Succour

Succour coverI only discovered this album a few years ago — probably over a decade after it was originally released. But I am glad I opted to buy it. The music is from the place where ambient, shoegaze, indie and techno all converge. The allure of Seefeel comes from its mixture of ambient-style drones and textures, techno-influenced minimalist drums and guitars, and the dreamy, processed vocals of singer Sarah Peacock.

Although superficially it feels like a pure techno / IDM album, the use of guitars and live drums was unusual for a Warp release at that time. This is what led Steve Beckett to recently single it out as “the first sacreligious move”.

Musically, Succour is a fabulous success. But if you thought this was the evidence that guitars could happily sit in a techno environment, think again. Apparently due to Mark Clifford’s efforts to push the band in a more electronic direction, the old artistic differences emerged and the band only lasted a few years after the release of Succour.

In a way, I feel as though I have missed out by not experiencing this music when it was first released. It must have been so incredibly exciting, at the cutting edge, when it was released. It would be interesting to hear what this band would come up with today.

Incredibly, Seefeel have recently re-formed. Initially this was for a one-off gig as part of the Warp20 celebrations. But there are now hints that Seefeel have also been in the studio. I can’t wait to hear any results that might come out of this.

Chris Morris — Blue Jam

Blue Jam coverChris Morris, as one of Britain’s most influential satirists, probably needs little introduction. But few may immediately associate him with Warp Records. But Warp has been the outlet for a lot of his material, including the CD releases of the radio series On the Hour and his Bafta-winning short film My Wrongs #8245-8249 & 117 among other bits and pieces. Warp Films is also backing his current project, Four Lions.

But his first CD on Warp was a compilation of sketches from his experimental radio programme, Blue Jam (which was later turned into the television series Jam). This was a dark comedy, equal parts disturbing and funny. Unusually, the sketches were surrounded by a constant backdrop of ambient music (much of which was originally released on Warp) from the likes of Aphex Twin. Perhaps even more unusually, the show was originally broadcast on Radio 1. It inhabited a late-night slot which fitted with the programme’s surreal, woozy and nightmarish style.

The series contained a mixture of music and comedy; of the surreal and the disturbing; of sketches and monologues. Most of it was a world away from his previous material, though from time to time Morris would drop in one of his infamous interviews. Here, he flummoxes posthumous Diana biographer Andrew Morton.

This month the seminal Warp Records label is celebrating its 20th anniversary. There is a heap of festivities planned, and I am expectantly waiting for the very awesome looking Warp20 box set to arrive in the next week or so.

They have a lot to celebrate. The label has personified the cutting-edge of electronic music for most of its existence. Few labels can claim to have been so seminal, and remain so strong for so long.

I discovered Warp at the beginning of this decade. I had already been developing a taste for experimental and electronic music, but before getting internet access I had no way to explore it. I had heard bits and bobs about Warp, but my first real exposure was when I saw the band Broadcast on one of those late-night music programmes on Channel 4. I remember very little about it, but I think the song that mesmerised me so much must have been ‘Illumination’. Here is a video of the band performing it live in 2005.

Once we got the internet, I was able to explore further. When I visited the Warp Records website, ‘Eros’ by Tortoise was playing on its front page. It was one of the most amazing and unique things I had ever heard.

The mixture of soaring sci-fi electronic sounds, intricate multi-layered drumming and funky guitar playing transformed my expectations of what music could achieve. Compared to the standardised indie-rock I had previously been listening to, hearing something as distinctive as this was an utter revelation.

I knew I had to continue on the path of discovery. Given that Tortoise shared the same label as Broadcast, there could be no starting point other than Warp. I was also quickly. attracted by Warp’s striking visual identity, which was largely shaped by The Designers Republic.

As I investigated the artists of Warp on the label’s website, I was surprised and delighted to discover a huge variety of new (to me) and exciting music. It is no surprise that today many of my favourite albums are ones released by Warp in 2001, when I was 14 and discovering all this amazing, diverse music.

But the Warp I discovered was already very different to the Warp that began in 1989. Back then, the promise of label founders Steve Beckett and Rob Mitchell was for the Sheffield-based Warp to be a “recognised, credible, uncompromising dance label”. Inevitably though, a label cannot survive 20 years without evolving.

Between 1992 and 1994 the label released the seminal series of albums including the eponymous compilation Artificial Intelligence. The idea behind the series was to showcase “electronic listening music” which designed more for home listening than the dancefloor, or more for your head than your body. This series contained music by musicians that were later to become huge: Richard D James (best known as Aphex Twin), Autechre, Black Dog Productions (containing the members of Plaid), Alex Paterson (from The Orb), Richie Hawtin among others.

The cover of Artificial Intelligence depicts a robot reclining in an armchair with copies of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Kraftwerk’s Autobahn lying on the floor — an indication of Warp’s ambitions. The label became the most famous outlet of what is known as Intelligent Dance Music or IDM.

The IDM moniker makes everyone cringe. Few of the best IDM artists think of themselves as IDM, and the artists that describe themselves as IDM are usually not worth listening to. Musically, it might be fair to describe it as dance music’s equivalent of progressive rock. It was the necessary next step, but is denigrated by those who think it is too pretentious and impossible to enjoy.

Like prog rock, IDM had a limited shelf-life and it peaked around the turn of the decade. Electronic music as a whole is not the money-maker it once was. So Warp have further diversified. In the words of Steve Beckett, “probably the first sacrilegious move” was to sign Seefeel in the mid-1990s. They are a more conventional band with guitars and drums, associated with shoegaze as much as techno.

More non-techno artists followed, including the jazzy trip-hop act Red Snapper, 1960s-influenced Broadcast and, er, the downright odd Jimi Tenor (I never really got that one). There was also an increased focus on hip-hop with the likes of Prefuse 73 and the Antipop Consortium. Later, there was a distinctive move towards more conventional rock. This was most notable, controversial and successful with the chart-friendly indie-rock band Maxïmo Park.

Today Warp has artists as diverse as its history suggests. It probably remains best-known for electronic music leaders such as Aphex Twin, Autechre, Boards of Canada and Squarepusher. But on the same roster you can find electro-rock shape-shifters Battles, folk-rock bands like Grizzly Bear, the increasingly soul-oriented Jamie Liddell, hip-hopper Prefuse 73, indie band Maxïmo Park and even the satirist Chris Morris. Oh, and in addition to music they also now make films.

This diversity has been good and bad. Undoubtedly Warp lost its way a bit a few years ago as it struggled to find its feet after electronic music waned in popularity. But even after twenty years, Warp remains a path-finding label that anyone interested in experimental pop music should keep an eye on.

When I discovered Warp in 2001, the range of styles on offer was already massive. But each artist was notable for being interesting and innovative. It was easy to view the Warp label as a mark of quality, no matter what the genre was.

Long may it continue. There is absolutely no question that Warp Records transformed my outlook on music more than anything else. I am looking forward to the next 20 years of innovative music.

Over the next week or so I will write about 20 of the most interesting Warp albums from its 20 year history.

Years ago, this blog had a little button on it. Where today you see little logos for Amnesty International and No2ID, there used to be a button that said “I believe in the BBC”. It was to back this campaign, which was one of the things that got me hooked on blogging. I couldn’t believe how much of a stitch-up the Hutton Report seemed, and I wanted to stand up for what was the best broadcaster in the UK.

Some time during the intervening five years I removed the button from my blog. I had decided that I actually don’t really believe in the BBC. Of course, over time I have become more and more disillusioned with the mainstream media in general, and my opinion of the BBC has fallen south along with the rest of the mainstream media.

But I have found myself becoming particularly frustrated with the BBC’s apparent fear of its own shadow. It is pretty clear that this neurotic period of the BBC’s history began with the Hutton Report, and has been more recently exacerbated by a never-ending stream of overblown tabloid-generated nowtrage.

Of course, the lame tabloid stone-throwing is practically as old as the BBC itself. The difference is that after the Hutton Report, the BBC has appeared to actually believe that the tabloids have a point. What we needed after Hutton was a BBC that stood its ground and believed in its principles. Instead, it has become a blundering, self-loathing embarrassment; a stumbling colossus.

Nowadays, if a tabloid kicks up a bit of a fuss over, say, a bit of post-watershed swearing, the BBC doesn’t roll its eyes and ignore it like the majority of its viewers and listeners do. Instead, it trumps the tabloids, immediately making it the top story in all of its bulletins.

BBC News journalists then begin conducting fierce two-ways with BBC managers, and viewers are treated to a bizarre self-flagellation session lasting several days. The BBC sternly questions the BBC about its own outrageous conduct. After several days or even weeks have passed it quietly snaps out of it — only for another scandal to come along and the whole cycle begins again.

Take the television fakery scandals that engulfed the BBC a couple of years ago. Somehow, the fact that Blue Peter changed the name of a cat became the most shocking thing ever and threatened the very future of the BBC. I knew that because the BBC itself kept on saying so.

The fact that the commercial broadcasters had spent the previous few years building an entire genre of programming — the late night phone-in quiz programme — that was dedicated to deviously extracting cash from its viewers got swept under the carpet. Everybody was too busy watching the BBC break down in what you might call a Cookie crumble.

It was right that the BBC made changes following the scandals. But the difference in approach between the commercial broadcasters and the BBC was huge. Premium rate competitions were quick to make a return on commercial channels, with a bit more small print. But on the BBC, to this day the world “competition” is practically a swear word. Pre-recorded radio programmes are littered with apologies and warnings about the fact. The BBC’s paranoid fear of another scandal is getting in the way of its programming.

Then there is the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brandwagon, when the BBC inexplicably allowed a rather rude phone call dominate the news agenda for several days. While the economy was actually collapsing, the BBC almost willed itself on to implosion. When a bold BBC should have been responsibly reporting important news (which there was plenty of), instead the nervy BBC we’ve got occupied itself by poking its navel.

I found the BBC’s reaction quite seriously worrying. Even though the phone calls were a bit over the line, the reaction was completely out of proportion. And it has the potential to set a worrying trend, for the reasons Charlie Brooker pointed out.

The BBC is surely supposed to be there to do things that commercial broadcasters are either unable or unwilling to do. By definition, this means making challenging programming — programming that might not meet with popular approval. And in comedy in particular, that means pushing the boundaries.

The BBC’s decision to wave the white flag over the Russell Brand hoo-ha was basically a conscious decision to undermine the principles by which the BBC is supposed to exist. It follows that if the BBC believes it shouldn’t make distinctive comedy programming, why should it make distinctive programming at all?

The result is that we now have a BBC which is paralysed by a fear of criticism. It has become too self-conscious, and when the spotlight is on it nervously stumbles around. It’s not exactly the BBC we’re all supposed to be proud of.

The latest scandal to hit the BBC, over the DEC’s Gaza appeal broadcast, exhibits the BBC’s fear well. Knowing that the Israel–Palestine issue is so thorny, particularly given the right wing’s frequent criticism of the BBC’s coverage, it was caught like a rabbit in the headlights.

The first of the justifications given by Mark Thompson for choosing not to broadcast the appeal is that aid might not be delivered properly. That would be fair enough. It would be strange, though, if the BBC knew better about this than the DEC, a group comprising of thirteen charities dedicated to delivering aid properly.

The other (“more fundamental”) justification was the fear that the BBC might be seen to be impartial. It’s interesting to note that Mark Thompson never says that broadcasting the appeal actually would undermine the BBC’s impartiality. He is just concerned about the perception.

The BBC is perfectly entitled to decline to broadcast a DEC appeal. But the fact that it has allowed its fear of the public’s reaction to get in the way is worrying. It is yet another sign that the BBC is no longer prepared to be the bold public service broadcaster it’s supposed to be. And, of course, it brought a fresh round of awkward interviews between BBC journalists and BBC bosses.

It all makes for uncomfortable viewing and listening. It is clear that just now the BBC has very little belief in itself. So how should license fee payers be expected to believe in it?

I’ve had a busy week. I’ve not blogged here for a week so I’ll ease into this. No heavy politics stuff. Here goes. Do you listen to the Adam and Joe radio show on BBC 6 Music? If not, you should.

Why? Well, this programme has single-handedly made me do two things I would probably never otherwise do. For one, it has got me listening to 6 Music. But perhaps more significantly, it has made me wake up early on Saturdays. And Saturday morning radio is normally a complete entertainment void and intellectual desert, so it was such a relief to discover that Adam and Joe had got a radio gig at that time around a year ago.

It has always confused me why this pair of funny chaps aren’t just all over the place. About a decade ago they had a late night Channel 4 programme with all kinds of japes and tomfoolery like Quizzlestick and miscellaneous spoofs involving Star Wars figurines.

After that, not much of note happened on the Adam and Joe front for ages. But last year they broke into the Big British Castle and managed to get a radio show. And it’s hilarious! Here’s a clip from the radio show introducing the world to juvenilia superhero ‘STEPHEN!’

The programme is perfect for the Saturday morning vibe. It is a pleasing mix of easy chit-chat, silly voices, amusing observations on pop culture and juvenile toilet humour (all plus points for me). And because the pair have known each other since school, the chemistry is awesome.

If you’re not awake on time on Saturday morning (and I am usually not), the podcast is a great way to catch all the laughs. Over the past year, it has become my favourite podcast. Only yesterday I was on the train laughing like a drain, only to discover when I recovered that the ticket inspector was waiting for me.

The highlight of the show is Song Wars, where Adam and Joe both enter songs on a particular topic for the listeners to vote on. It’s quite incredible, because normally the comedy song genre has a bad whiff around it and is to be avoided. But Adam and Joe avoid all the pitfalls to regularly produce amusing songs that are often silly* and witty in equal measure. Read below the fold so that I can pester you to listen to some of them.

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