Triple J and Alternative Music

Posted Wednesday February 11, 2009 by John Gunders in |

My most recent substantive post was actually about the Eurovision Song Contest, but most commenters picked up on the throw-away introduction about Triple J and my (perhaps ill-considered) implication that Blink-182 does not belong in the pantheon of indie and alternative acts for which Triple J used to known.

Like other things I have written here, I think the whole definition of “indie” or “alternative” is problematic. Like tofu, because these terms have no real meaning of their own, they pick up the taste of what is around them. That and the fact that terms like “indie cred” have valorised the concept to the point that everyone wants to be alternative, which makes as much sense as everyone being “above average”.

Probably about 10 years ago I went to a “battle of the bands” type of competition with a friend, and one of the bands had identified themselves as “alternative” and claimed Nirvana as their main influence. This was long after Nevermind and Nivana were well and truly mainstream by that stage. I remember scoffing self-righteously, but I might have been overly harsh, because what is happening is a bit of convenient terminological confusion. Wikipedia describes Alternative Rock (in the USA; “indie” in Britain) as a specific genre of popular music deriving from post-punk and including such movements as grunge and Brit-pop. In this sense, as a stylistic but also temporal genre, it is easy to cite bands such as Sonic Youth, Soundgarden, or the Violent Femmes, but also bands that went on to mainstream success, like Nirvana, R.E.M., or even The Cure.

But “alternative” and “indie” also carry that authenticity-based connotation that opposes them to “mainstream” and “commercial”, and I would argue that that is what most of us think of when we see the term “alternative”. Like Wendy I think I can see a pretty abrupt shift in Triple J programming about six to eight years ago, coinciding—I would guess—with a change in the listening demographic. It is hard to qualify, but I have heard people complaining about the station becoming “more commercial”, and the featuring of a Madonna album was a particular low point, considering it was going to get played to death on every commercial station in the country.

I remember Peter Garrett saying at a Midnight Oil gig in the mid-1980s that in the early days the only radio station in Brisbane that would play their music was community/subscriber station Triple Zed. That was about the time the Oils were becoming “classic rock” staples on commercial FM. Like I say in my thesis, authenticity is about the people who had always been into (insert prestigious band/performer/genre).

So I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense talking about whether Triple J, or any other radio station for that matter, is “alternative”, because it is the listener that wants the cred, and we will read into a situation what we need to create that moment of authenticity.

Now, what’s the chance of a Blink-182 song making it into this year’s long-awaited “Hottest 100 of all Time”?

Your Comments

  1. Matthew Smith writes:

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