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Published February 4, 2014

Keen music fans will have heard recent news of Fairfax media investigating if Triple J has a homogenising effect on Aussie musicians. That is, by favouring some types of song bands feel pressured to tailor their sound for better odds of being aired. Several unnamed Australian musicians spoke of feeling the need to adjust their music to appeal to Triple J.

Triple J’s ratings are higher than they’ve ever been so some argue they’ve become more effective at giving wider exposure to new Aussie artists. Even if Triple J were working to a tighter formula, the ends may justify the means if they break more new Aussie bands to the public. But for others, defenders of Triple J are either misunderstanding or ignoring their critics.

After the initial story broke, there was a flurry of opinion pieces both backing and attacking Triple J. But no article’s really hit the nail on the head for me yet. The anti-Triple J articles are saying “what’s this hip-hop crap and hipster bullshit? How bout some rock-n- roll?!” The pro-Triple J articles just say “music’s changed, get used to it oldies!”

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Now, I’m all-for hearing more music from anyone other than young white men with loud guitars. That stuff’s all that’s been played in Australia for the last four decades. Fuck ‘em, its time they learned to be a demographic like everyone else!

But as someone just as likely to be listening to music from the 1950’s to the 2010’s, I’ve noticed so much of what I love about my favourite musicians is totally absent from Triple J’s playlist. Even bands that claim to be influenced by a favourite artist tend to have more in common with their fellow Triple J groups.

For example, despite countless new folk bands there’re no songs with just verses or folk singers getting outspokenly political. That’s the stuff that made early folkies like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger special. Modern indie-folk bands have kept the banjos and the look but replaced the music with feel-good anthems. Take any indie-pop song and swap the electric guitars with banjos. Picture Temper Trap with beards and banjos singing Sweet Disposition. Wouldn’t it sound like every ‘indie-folk’ band you’ve heard? It’s the same music dressed up as variety and people are convinced they’re different genres!

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A change of mood comes with the chilled out party vibes of Aussie hip-hop and dance music. But while the sing-along chants about good times or overcoming adversary may drift from heartfelt indie-pop, it still serves the same upbeat feel-good tone of the whole station. Even dubstep’s mind-melting whAAAArp-jjshhHHH is usually interrupted by some sensitive indie-singer bringing the track back to Triple J’s default mood.

Anyone denying Triple J affects how Aussie musicians make music would tell you a new band can play indie, folk, hip-hop, dance music, garage rock, or anything you want; there’s no limit!

But can you play songs recorded live with that obvious ‘live-band’ feel, where the appeal is in hearing the musicians work off each other? Can you play songs where you appreciate musicianship? (Other than the lead singer’s voice I mean.)

Can you put the focus of your music on the lyrics? There’s rarely a song or band I’ve heard on Triple J lately where the lyrics grabbed me, where I thought you could take the lyrics without the music and still have a good read. Some of The Smiths’ songs sound like Morrissey was just cramming his poetry onto music without even caring if the melody fit!

Vance Joy, whose ukelele hit topped Triple J's Hottest 100 this year.
Vance Joy, whose ukelele hit ‘Riptide’ topped Triple J’s Hottest 100 this year.

And man, can you have attitude now days? Can you be cocky or arrogant or show anything other than earnest sensitive sincerity? Can you get sassy!? Or tell a rude joke? Some of my favourite bands can be quite tasteless!

Can you be heard on Triple J with a sad song? One where keening hopefulness doesn’t shine through? Can you be heard with an angry song? Would they play Public Enemy if they’d just formed this year? Or would Same Love by Macklemore have been a Triple J hit as a scathing attack on homophobia, rather than another feel-good anthem?

Can a new Aussie musician get played on Triple J when the payoff in their songs is anything other than the chorus? Or anything other than chilled out party vibes? Can you get played without writing feel-good anthems? Can you get played if you don’t sing with earnestly hopeful sincerity?

Nope! Well maybe Kanye West or someone can break a few of those rules and get away with it, but a brand new Aussie artist? Forget it! For new Aussie bands starting out, the message (from easily the most effective career-making platform) is “You can play any genre you want, so long as it fits with our upbeat, good-natured, playlist of sing-along feel-good anthems”.

Yet despite all this I still say Triple J is fantastic, they’re exposing the most Aussie music they can to the most listeners they can. They’ve managed to introduce Australians to a whole lot of home-grown music and make careers for countless bands deserving of a fan-base.

It just bugs me that Triple J have somehow created an illusion of variety. It bugs me when friends don’t even notice there’s a formula because it’s what they’re used to. It bugs me when Triple J claim to play the most exciting new alternative music, then play an indie-folk band, an indie-rock band, and an indie-dance artist and all three songs are catchy upbeat pop tunes. It’s leaving young music fans with the impression that that’s all there is out there.

A few years back I remember asking myself, “Is it just me? Am I not keeping up with changing music styles?” A younger listener defending Triple J might say I’m out of touch with current music, they could be right. But if they think they’re getting a truly diverse musical experience, well then they just don’t know what they’re missing out on.

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