Tomorrow is a sad day for fans of experimental music, and it is a particularly poor one for the reputation of the BBC in certain circles. Probably the best music programme on radio, Mixing It, has been axed. The final programme will be tomorrow at 2215 on Radio 3.
Mixing It was probably the only radio programme I would go out of my way to listen to. Ever since I was introduced to it six years ago by a good person on a messageboard about Feeder (of all bands), the programme has been the main source through which I discovered new bands. It’s been doing the same thing for many others since 1990. But that will all end tomorrow.
Over the past six years, nothing has influenced my music buying habits more than Mixing It. There literally is nothing else like it on the radio. It wasn’t called Mixing It for nothing. You genuinely wouldn’t know what was around the corner. It took Blectum From Blechdom as seriously as the rest of Radio 3 took Bach and Beethoven.
This love of modern experimental music earned it a certain reputation from some particular snooty-nosed Radio 3 listeners who would rather the station was filled with classical music and nothing else. People such as Friends of Radio 3 (some “friends”, huh?) say that Mixing It would fit better on Radio 1 or 6Music.
I can only assume that they have never listened to Radio 1. A perousal of Radio 1’s “Experimental” [sic] page would downright offend any self-respecting fan of experimentation. Right now it features The Klaxons and CSS. It is hardly boundary smashing stuff.
As for the programmes on Radio 1, even in the past five years the change has been drastic. Back then there was The Blue Room, an ambient / acoustic music show which, while tucked away in the schedules at 5am, at least suited its slot. In the past year, it has been axed. Other experimental shows by Mary Anne Hobbs and Gilles Peterson have scandalously been moved to graveyard slots like 2am to make way for Colin Murray.
Meanwhile, 6Music (with a couple of notable exceptions) is really just Radio 2 for people in denial. For all of its good aspects, 6Music probably does not have the ability to accomodate a programme with such varied and eclectic playlists. I certainly could not imagine Radio 1 or 6Music broadcasting concerts by artists like The Matthew Herbert Big Band.
And this is not to mention the approach taken by Mixing It, which really took an interest in the way the music was made. It was chin-strokey but not po-faced, an approach shaped by the brilliant banter between Mark Russell and Robert Sandall. The programme didn’t take itself too seriously, but it had quite an analytical bent that really only suits Radio 3, certainly more than it would suit Radio 1 or 6Music.
Take, for instance, last week’s special programme on the Berlin music scene. Radio 1 might do a documentary on Berlin, but it would probably only focus on a genre at a time and it certainly wouldn’t last ninety minutes. Mixing It‘s programme explored many aspects of the Berlin community and took a genuine interest in the way the music was made. It didn’t try to relate everything to some kind of superficial, non-existent scene.
Mixing It was a unique in that it didn’t see a boundary between pop and classical music as somebody like Friends of Radio 3 or even your average Radio 1 listener would see. The approach of Mixing It has possibly fostered a new culture linking pop and classical music. I recently wrote about how brilliant Jonny Greenwood is. Writing on the Media Guardian website, Ed Baxter of Resonance FM said:
Witness the BBC Concert Orchestra’s coy description of its current Composer in Residence, Johnny Greenwood, as “probably better known as the guitarist in the hugely successful band Radiohead”. Probably. And probably too such a collaboration would have been inconceivable without Mixing It connecting savvy classical players and serious young pop stars.
It is very sad that Radio 3 should be turning its back on something so wonderful, in a year when Jonny Greenwood won the Radio 3 listeners’ award in the British Composer Awards.
Because not only has Mixing It been axed, but its only close relative — Late Junction — has been cut from four shows per week to three as well. Radio 3 appears to be closing the door to the sort of music that doesn’t get an outlet anywhere else (despite what Friends of Radio 3 might believe!). And to think that just a few years ago things were looking up, when Mixing It‘s slot was extended.
So what has Mixing It been replaced with? Something called Jazz Library, a new programme dedicated to playing old jazz records. Now I don’t have an aversion to jazz, but I find it difficult to believe that this new programme will make anything like the same impact as Mixing It did.
Is there really not enough space for Mixing It to remain on Radio 3’s schedules. It is not as if 75 minutes tucked away on a Friday night (or even its old slot of 60 minutes on a Sunday night!) is really getting in anybody’s way.
What can fans of experimental music listen to now? Do we really have to make do Mary Anne Hobbs’ yelping (at 4am) and whatever podcasts we can rustle up from the internet? What will influence my music purchases from now on? From Saturday onwards, I will be a little bit more lost than I was before.