Last week saw a slew of people online sharing their final memories of the ‘normal world’ – that weird time when the curtain of COVID was falling across the country, but events still managed to go ahead. Photos of birthday parties were shared, including memories of friends and family they haven’t managed to see since. - For music fans, it was all about their final shows – the last time they went to an actual, proper, not sitting down gig.
Me? It was the 6Music festival in Camden last year, an afternoon visit to Dingwalls to catch Robert Glasper and a truly wonderful set from Sudan Archives.
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In a way, that’s set the tone for what followed. When the headlines tumbled towards the dystopian, when lockdown (Parts One, Two, and Three) began to bite, 6Music was always there. Of course, every Clash writer spends an inordinate amount of time soaking up new releases, but we also need to actually do some work – and that’s where radio came in.
Come rain or shine, 6Music was there. As familiarity passed, however, one thing became clear: it’s a genuine, bona fide asset to the country, a cultural phenomenon, an international leader. Put simply: it’s a fucking great radio station.
Every morning I wake up to Chris Hawkins – the alarm is set to the radio, meaning he’s literally the first thing I hear. The show itself is perfectly judged – it’s eclectic but not obtrusive (I don’t function before 8am, that’s just the way it is) and isn’t afraid to move outside the norm. The other morning I came back through with a cup of coffee, only to hear the first notes of drum ‘n’ bass classic ‘Valley Of The Shadows’. At 7.20 in the morning. On a state broadcaster. Truly, a special thing.
By this stage Lauren Laverne is little less than a national institution, a broadcaster whose calm and reassuring voice is at the forefront of what makes 6Music tick. It’s also worth pointing out, though, that she’s basically one of us – a fan, someone who loves being able to geek out and share new music. The changeover into Mary Anne Hobbs is perfectly done, too. An experienced, calm voice, Mary Anne’s quiet passion is driven by a real purity – whether she’s revisiting Dubstep Warz (on daytime radio!) or introducing post-rock warlords, her pure, unadulterated love for broadcasting imbues every show with a halo of integrity.
Shaun Keaveny’s personality fires up mid-afternoon, and his hilarious approach to radio adds a completely different dynamic to 6Music. Steve Lamacq is a 6Music evergreen, someone who hasn’t so much changed his shoes – DMs, always – in a couple of decades or more. Taking charge of drive-time, though, he’s used it to break, pound for pound, more bands than anyone else in this country. There is a clear correlation between his support and the likes of IDLES, Fontaines D.C., or even dear old Sports Team leaving the underground.
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In a broader sense – and this is purely anecdotal – there is a clear correlation between 6Music’s support and placements in record shops across the land. It’s a station for music fans, for people who want to support their favourite artists, and the hosts reflect that.
Just look at some of the weekend shows. Gilles Peterson revs up Saturday afternoon by playing essentially whatever he likes – from left-field jazz to club cuts, his shows display the rich depth of his DJ sets, while also demonstrating his skills as an interviewee. With the UK jazz communities firing on all cylinders, his show has rarely been so vital, a means for tomorrow’s Mercury nominees to get themselves heard today.
Craig Charles on Saturday evenings has become an institution, with his funk and soul juggernaut extending into festival sets, club outings, and actual compilations. It’s worth pointing out, though, that this music doesn’t normally get in-roads into mainstream culture – Saturday nights on 6Music is like a visit to an alternate universe where Northern Soul, rare groove, and jazz-funk crews actually won their respective battles.
In fact, the riches on display are almost too numerous to mention. Marc Riley in the evenings has a peerless track record for supporting new groups. In a neat twist of fate, the bulk of ‘em sound a lot like The Fall – and he actually did time in the trenches with Mark E. Smith.
Whether it’s Huw Stephens standing in or Cerys Matthews digging into the crates, Jamz Supernova leaping onboard or Radliffe and Maconie doing whatever the hell they like, the probably isn’t finding a show you like – it’s actually locating the will to turn the damn radio off.
In a year dominated by toxicity, in a time when music fans have been separated from one another, 6Music has truly, truly been a beacon. So the next time #DefundTheBBC starts to trend, we’ll simply tweet back: keep your hands away from 6. It’s a genuine broadcasting success, and we’re lucky to have it.
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6Music Festival 2021 takes place this weekend (March 26th - 28th) digitally - find the schedule HERE.
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