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Safe as ducklings: triple j to launch new Australian-only digital radio station, Unearthed

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Julia Gillard unearthed

By Jack Sargeant

“Say something, express thyself, say something, express yourself
Express … say something loudly” – ‘King Ink’, The Birthday Party

The best bands, the true greats, created their work because they had to. There was simply no choice. Not just compelled, but utterly driven by their vision. Invariably many created against the odds. We’re talking Mississippi John Hurt, Albert Ayler, Link Wray, Tiny Tim, Love, Captain Beefheart, The Velvet Underground, The Stooges, Suicide, Throbbing Gristle, Teenage Jesus, This Heat, Sonic Youth etc etc etc … people who created art that articulated something from deep within themselves, often running counter to popular tastes. None of them searched for fame, just the opportunity to share their vision from a stage or – if they were lucky enough – through a recording. Some found minor success, a few a degree of fame, but most didn’t, that wasn’t what it was about.

Think of the proto-hardcore Black Flag crisscrossing America in their truck, playing gig-after-grueling-gig. Keep moving: don’t stop. Think of Crass turning a rural farmhouse into the base of a new subculture, or Billy Childish churning out hundreds of albums on almost as many indie labels. There was no choice for these people. This was a commitment to a life.

The urge to create was (and is) so immense that bands, fanzine writers, people putting on gigs or starting record labels have all taken up the challenge. While frequently attributed to ‘punk’, this is simply the most commonly articulated version of a far wider urge in which communities of likeminded individuals would come together and sometimes subcultures would develop – think of the folk music scene in 50s Greenwich Village or the sound systems of Jamaica during the same era. Ultimately these people did it simply because no body else was and they did it because you couldn’t trust somebody else not to fuck it up.

Now triple j has announced the launch of its new digital Unearthed radio station, with the noble cause of helping emergent bands reach a wider audience. Noble, sure, but passionless and safer than ducklings. There seems little risk of any danger. How can a band or a musical community develop and create something new if it is aimed so surely at the masses and the, at best, nebulous aims of reaching an audience? Artistic ambition should be about self-expression, not appearing on digital radio. Depressingly, the station appears to be sanctioned by elected officials at the highest level. Watch the trailer and, alongside a handful of musicians, are the voices of politicians Peter Garrett, Julia Gillard and Steven Conroy (yes, the man who wants to censor the Internet). Do we really want to leave our expression to a medium so readily sanctioned by these people?

Hopefully, somewhere, somebody is sitting with their band, getting ready to change music again, far away from the establishment. Here’s hoping people care enough to search it out.

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