Sam didn’t manage to catch Ibibio Sound System, but that’s not the point. BBC/Sarah Jeynes/Jamie Simmonds
When I was a teenager I had this mate who would go into record shops and buy any album he saw poking slightly above the others on the rack. He took it to be a sign from the cosmos that the record would change his life.
My god, he wound up with some shitty music. I should probably add that his state of mind had been severely affected by some dodgy acid he’d taken in India – yet more evidence that the supposed connections between bad narcotics and good music are entirely spurious.
Anyway, although this arbitrary musical selection policy didn’t always work out for my mate, there’s something about it I like in principle.
There is a ton of music out there and it feels lazy and unimaginative to just stick to whatever the Spotify algorithm chucks at you.
I am almost 47. I have to try and put a bit of effort into keeping up with new sounds. Not because I want to be down with the kids but because, having lived this long and tried out most of the stuff that masquerades as life enriching – from booze to drugs to philosophy to fine foods and classic video games – I have concluded that music is the only consistently nourishing source of joy in this life.
There are no hangovers or side-effects with music. It doesn’t always make you instantly happy (unless you’re listening to Earth, Wind and Fire, of course) but it can at least take you out of yourself for a while, alleviate the often suffocating weight of day to day life, and make you think or feel in a way that is good for the soul.
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I went to a music festival at the weekend in Cardiff. There was one band in particular I drove three hours from London to watch – Ibibo Sound Machine – but I ended up missing them completely because I was busy eating a curry. That was a shame, but I made up for it by watching a number of acts that I was largely unfamiliar with, that I had gone without any expectations of but which I came back loving deeply.
I drive home from Wales on Sunday listening to a new Spotify playlist filled with exciting new sounds – plus a head full of new ideas.
First I saw Emma Jane Thackeray, who commanded both her band and the audience with an uncanny (and well-warranted) confidence at the Tramshed, performing super tight jazz-funk with all the elan of a mid-seventies Stevie Wonder. Mind blowing.
Then I saw Ezra Collective tear up St David’s Hall with jazz-meets-Latin-meets-hip-hop knees up that had the whole place going bananas; that was followed by Tex-Mex psych rockers Khruangbin who bent my brain out of shape with their freaky outfits and scary guitars. For a bald-headed father of two with an increasing taste for elasticated trousers and a National Trust membership, I felt quite edgy just for being there.
The festival was organised by BBC 6 Music, my love of which I have written about before. One of the reasons this radio station is such a profound force for good is that it works hard to discover and disseminate fresh, adventurous, and diverse music to lazy dickheads like me who would otherwise be forever stuck listening to the same stuff he listened to in the nineties.
In turn, they are providing opportunity to brilliant musical artists who would be too niche or esoteric for big labels or commercial media to pick up. It’s these artists that are the fountainhead for musical genres that eventually pass into the mainstream and drive our popular culture.
So without BBC 6 Music doing this stuff then not only would brilliant young artists (not to mention lethargic middle aged music fans like me) suffer – so would Britain.
As a country, we have very little left going for us beyond our status as an engine room of global pop culture. Everything else has been sold off and sullied as we race to the bottom of our post-imperial, post-EU, post-industrial national quagmire.
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The BBC is one of the last decent things standing. And BBC 6 Music is a jewel in its crown.
So the next time you see a dead-eyed government minister on TV threatening the corporation’s very existence, just know this: the enemies of the BBC are the sort of people who dream of a future in which we all listen to back to back Gary Barlow songs on Magic FM. Is that what you really want for your kids?
Sam saw Khruangbin, Ezra Collective and Emma-Jean Thackray at the BBC 6 Music Festival in Cardiff. He missed Ibibio Sound Machine because he was eating a curry.
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