So, some news. If you follow me on Instagram, you might’ve seen I’ve bought (and got subsequently annoyed with) a microphone. Not for singing (don’t panic), but for talking (ok maybe panic). Since starting Love Will Save the Daya lot of people have asked if I’d thought of doing a podcast edition, but to be honest, the thought has always been a bit terrifying. Live streams of DJ sets, running parties, talking to people (endlessly) about music; these things are all fine, but for some reason the idea of doing a podcast was a bit much. However, I’ve done a couple of dummy runs and actually I quite like it. I’m not sure when the first will be yet, and they won’t replace these letters, or be even nearly as regular (the letter is easy to do while commuting, recording a podcast is not). They’ll be vinyl only, follow a similar format to this letter, and I’m thinking guests could be interesting too. Watch this space 😊.
Anyway, as I started to seriously think about setting up a podcast, I started to think what I’d want it to be like. Old timers will know of my pure love for John Peel, so I decided to reread Good Night and Good Riddance. For music geeks, it’s great (it follows his shows across a 35 year period), but for anyone with a broader interest in Peel, his autobiography is much better. Anyway, as I was trying to find some more functional inspiration for the podcast stuff, I actually ended up thinking more about Peel’s role in culture. There are countless examples through the book of Peel ‘discovering’ bands, giving them relentless airtime, and them slowly becoming more and more popular until they hit popular culture, and BOOM. Off they go. The list is pretty staggering; T. Rex, The Faces, Bowie, Roxy Music, the White Stripes. What I thought was really interesting though, was that Peel wasn’t really elitist or snobby when it came to music – he’d happily play a Laurel and Hardy comedy song alongside Captain Beefheart, or Barry Manilow alongside Zeppelin. What he did though, much like Mancuso, or Levan, was reframe what people thought about those songs. (I think) he was trying to present them in different contexts, to show them under a different light, and ease the burden of some of the more surprising new music he was playing. As per my note a few weeks ago, to embed a new idea it needs a blend of familiar and surprising. I keep finding examples everywhere, but maybe that’s confirmation bias.
The second thing that the book sparked, was a thought about the role of cultural gatekeepers. Peel tried his best to avoid being too influenced by other people, and instead focused on finding (and refinding) music that he thought was true, and music that made him feel something. He then dedicates his career to sharing this with others, while often facing criticism from the BBC for being ‘too weird’. Then, his dedication is validated weeks later when the breakfast or drive-time DJ starts playing the same music. He was standing on the edges of culture, taking punts on songs and artists based on his instincts, and then showing his listeners the results. Some of it worked (Bowie), some of it kind of worked (Beefheart), some of it didn’t. But Peel never carried new ideas or bands to the mainstream himself, he kind of carried them to a cultural middle ground. His platform was limited, but those that followed him had much bigger platforms.
Despite his lack of musical elitism, he still held a certain level of disdain for bands and artists that he felt focused on money rather focused on music;
“‘Nowadays,’ he’ll tell his Top Gear listeners just over a year from now, ‘you hear a lot of very famous bands making LPs which they don’t really seem, when you listen to them, you don’t feel that they really mean it any more.’ […] This is why Nuggets is manna for Peel, who loved most of the groups the first time round and believed they captured the spirit of what music should be about. Live for your day in the studio. Give it everything you’ve got. And then – please, for God’s sake – go away. Get in. Get heard. Get out.”
This reminded me a lot of a Kendrick Lamar lyric;
“I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m not on the inside looking out, I’m in the dead f*cking center, looking around”
It feels like there are two critical roles in how culture develops; there are creators, who sit on the edges, in the middle, and in the mainstream (as per my rant on culture being more alive now than ever, and on the importance of artists on the edges). Then there are gatekeepers (curators might be a better term), who find ideas and innovations on the edges and in the middle and move them forwards by showing them to different (and new) people. Creators are responsible for ideas, and curators are responsible for telling people about them. Both jobs are equally as important, because without an idea there’s nothing to tell people about, but equally without people knowing about the idea, it never advances or evolves. Maybe this seems massively obvious to you, but it’s only just really dawned on me…
Two treats for anyone that’s read this far 😊. The first is a link to the Daft Punk Essential Mix from 1997, which was 21 years old this week. I remember taping this from a friends tape, who’d taped it from another friends older brothers tape. I was 11. The quality was dreadful, but the experience was mind-altering.
The second treat is links to two brilliant photo-essays I found this week – one on the Chicago disco scene, and another on social and political graffiti in the UK.
As always, if you’ve read to here, thanks for indulging me ♥️.
See you on the dance floor.
Love Will Save the Day