OPINION: The problem with ‘Asian’ music – Nerm

Nerm is a BBC broadcaster, DJ and underground muso

I’m in a bar or club and get introduced to someone. Sometimes in the paranoid gulf that is the entertainment industry, sometimes not. Wherever, whenever, the conversation often goes like this:

“What do you do?”

“I present shows for the BBC, mainly music ones. I also run a record label.”

“Oh yeah, what station are you on?”

“Sometimes Radio 1 and until recently the Asian Network.”

“Asian Network? So you do all that Bhangra stuff then?”

I grit my teeth,..

“No, not Bhangra”

“So that Bollywood stuff”

“Not quite Bollywood”

“What then?”

“Mainly Electro, Punk, Drum & Bass and Dubstep”

That’s when either a look of confusion comes over their faces or they burst out laughing. But it’s this conversation, repeated over and over again, that gives my eyes a sparkle. I love challenging perceptions. There are a few of us that do.

UK acts like Engine Earz, Sukh Knight, Nila Raja, Foreign Beggars and Riz MC are making waves outside of any usual ‘Asian’ scene and straight into the mainstream consciousness with award winning performances, supporting slots with The Prodigy and remixing Basement Jaxx.

And it’s feeding back out of the UK. In India there are electronic music producers, bands and lyricists that, when you hear their music, you have no idea where they’re from. Go check out Shaair & Func, Mental Martians or Nucleya and you’ll see what I mean.

The point is that ‘Asian’ music can be more than bhangra and sitars.  Just as ‘British’ incorporates more than just Madness and football chants. It’s an obvious message, and one you were probably told by your Mum. Not “brush your teeth”, or “eat your greens”. It’s “never judge a book by its cover.” Get online and explore. I promise you won’t regret it.


Ed’s… Highlights – Aug ’10

Another UK festival seasons draws to a close. So far this summer; the angel of dance blew out her ten candles as Global Gathering made the restaurants of Stratford “too busy to comment”, Festival Republic took over The Big Chill – employing an army of sixteen year olds stewards to block roads from Malvern to Ledbury, whilst the Mostly Jazz debut attracted,”enough people to make it worth doing again”. Only Shambala and the Moseley Folk Festival left then we can all stay safely indoors.

Back in the land of the live gig, The Glee Club’s unofficial summer hiatus makes way for Caitlin Rose and Willy Mason. The HMV Institute threatens to bring Ned’s Atomic Dustbin back to the city, whilst the NEC declares losing enough money to finance a small country.

All that’s left is to cross everything flexible before the Mercury Music Awards on Sept 7th. It’s a little early but if Laura Marling doesn’t win I’m going to burn all the guitars in the world. Except hers, then let’s see who wins in 2011.

Follow Ed King at www.twitter.com/edking2210

Ed’s… Highlights – July ’10

The Summer solstice has passed. VW’s are leaving Salisbury Hill and flip flop sales are fighting recession. It can only mean one thing… FESTIVAL SEASON!!!!! I don’t usually endorse exclaimation marks but with promoters risking millions it’s the least I can do. That and give the big local three a push.

Global Gathering / July 30th & 31st – The angel of dance returns to Long Marston, celebrating it’s 10th birthday and being the only UK dance music festival still alive and kicking. Headliners Faithless and Dizee Rascal join pretty much every DJ under the sun for the Godskitchen spawned weekender – www.globalgathering.com

The Big Chill / August 5th to 8th – Born from 700 people on the Black Mountains, The Big Chill is now a firm festival contender. Too eclectic to explain, this year sees a bevy of artists from Massive Attack to DJ Derek scaring the deer at Eastnor Castle. You might even blag a Mr Scruff cuppa – www.bigchill.net

Shambala / August 27th to 30th – Moseley born and bred, this increasingly respected festie needs no local introduction. Not giving a lot away online, the Jibbering boys promise a ‘hailstorm of creative madness’ over the last weekend of summer. Tickets are expected to sell out fast – www.shambalafestival.org

Enjoy x

Follow Ed King at www.twitter.com/edking2210

OPINION: Changes in the airwaves – Robin Valk

Ex BRMB presenter (Rockin' Robin) and founder of www.radiotogo.com

For this column, the Birmingham Review asked me some thoughts on radio.

Hmmm. Tricky.

The radio industry is still full of talent, from community level up to national networks. Listening is holding up. But I’m worried.

Cuts continue at the BBC; it’s going to get worse. The commercial sector continues to ramp up automation and networking: this week, 200 jobs went as Global rationalised 18 stations out of existence. And despite great work and some sparkling talent at community level, many stations worry about the future.

The Digital Economy Bill will oversee the change from Analog (AM/FM) to Digital. The scheduled date for this is 2015, but that depends on digital listener numbers. Right now 2015 looks unlikely.

Why? Well, analog AM/FM radios are everywhere. They’re on your phone, your stereo, your iPod/MP3 player, in your car. Analog radios are cheap to make and easy to use. Digital takeup is slow. Britain’s iffy digital tech standards are not used elsewhere, making UK sets pricey. I’ve got a digital radio; I keep having to reboot the thing. There’s a wider choice on digital, but many services are contemptibly bad, with no effort to engage the audience. They’re cheapo placeholders, only there to protect future market share.

And the BBC wants to close 6 Music. This is insane on so many levels, especially strategically. 6 delivers dirt cheap passionate programming. It’s meant to attract listeners to Digital.

To sweeten the commercial sector towards Digital, concessions have been made that allow co-location, reductions in local hours, and the abandonment of local output in some cases. That spells continuing job cuts: there’s been a fifteen year retreat from localism in favour of branded national programming delivered from London or Leeds

Take a look at the audience graphs for any commercial station on www.mediauk.com

It’s not pretty. Fifteen years ago commercial radio led the BBC, with mainly local output. Now, heavily networked with national brands, the BBC beats it with 60% of the market.

And the upside?

Production tools have never been cheaper. Building your library has never been easier.  Local Music has never been better, Good local radio and the right local music are a marriage made in heaven. Many community stations have cottoned on to this.

Barriers to production have gone. If the kind of radio you want isn’t there, go create it. You can audioblog, podcast, and upload to SoundCloud to showcase your work.  So this means you can practice and polish while waiting for the one good aspect of the Digital Economy bill: this allows, after the switchover, for the FM band to be turned over to small-scale and community stations, available on those many, many FM radios you have in your house and your car. You will be doing it for love, in every sense of the word.

As they retreat to their glossy digital network centres in London, the commercial boys have left the field WIDE open. I can’t wait to see what local wonders step forward.

Robin Valk has worked in Radio for over 40 years, notably as Rockin’ Robin on BRMB. He now runs Radio To Go, an independent broadcast advisory and analysis agency www.radiotogo.com

OPINION: Bonkers Boris and the state of the nation

Ed King @edking2210Words by Ed King / First published in Birmingham 13 – May 2008

I have an ongoing argument with my mother about my right to vote, or rather my right not to vote as the case may be. I call it an argument but in reality it’s more like a long drawn out war of attrition. Two sides slowly and relentlessly grinding down each other’s defences with the only possible outcome being an arbitrary slim majority and a prize that’s long since been tainted beyond use anyway. If I’m truthful, it’s a futile and self obsessed debate. One with no productive end and no opportunity for one side to agree with the other. It’s a contest that simply doesn’t want to be won and more than just a little like the politics that causes this family feud in the first place.

I don’t vote. I did once at college due to peer pressure but I swear I didn’t inhale. This particular admission, along with the heresy of thinking Harry Potter books are not actually all that good, seems to upset my peers in a way that they apparently find quite uncomfortable, and has done more to demark my reputation in the eyes of others than its seems Rioja, Sambuca or Staropraman will ever do so.

When I tell politically minded people of my chronic polling allergy the response I get is not just one of disapproval, after all we all have our priorities in life, but I can actually see them physically erasing me from the world of importance. I get the bewildered look of someone who can’t quite understand what they are hearing, followed by the obligatory and well meant, but unfortunately usually condescending, lesson on why it is not only my right to vote but in fact my duty.

Once I have stood silently and piously hearing them out, and have not rushed out to close down a primary school and stand behind a curtain crossing boxes, I can see them start to slowly edge away from me in a mix of pity and disgust and begin to look for someone else that can share the remainder of their drink with. It seems nowadays that non voters in public are worse than smokers, and we don’t even get to seek safety in numbers in beer gardens or in the dull light outside the pub’s front door.

It’s a funny thing but people seem to assume that if you don’t vote you are not politically astute, and your misguided concerns are only of a TV and media circus, based on the shallow world of celebrity and devoid of any substance or real meaning. My own personal viewpoint is that modern politics festers somewhere between George Orwell, Noam Chomsky and Dancing On Ice, and if you are sucked into the whole charade then your misguided concerns are only of a TV and media circus, based on the shallow world of celebrity and devoid of any substance or real meaning.

It could well be argued, and often is between me and my long suffering matriarch, that today’s hustings are simply a puppet show fuelling nothing but the greed, selfishness and global economic hegemony of a select and secret few, all wrapped up in a pretty bow and sequins to distract us from what little choice we really have. An opinion that is not often very well received by the staunch armchair politician.

I am writing this on the day that Boris Johnson became mayor of London and boys and girls in blue up and down the country are no doubt nursing very expensive hangovers. An interesting time indeed and very public display of the ludicrousness and unsubstantiated rhetoric that makes up most of Westminster and beyond. I have no doubt that Mr J is indeed a very smart man (after all he went to Eaton and you have to be clever to get in there right?) but it does make you wonder why a man whose alliterated nickname is Bonkers can so dramatically overturn someone who has for all intends and purposes been a very successful public official.

The voter turns on a dime it seems and the ‘bewildered herd’ that Walter Lippmann so intuitively named have once again bought into the headlines and are stampeding us down another road of political madness. The only solace I have, sitting there in my smug little world of non involvement (and believe me I appreciate my own hypocrisy), is that I never played a part in the poorly scripted matinee performance that is the modern campaign trail.

Or maybe by sitting silent I played the biggest part of all, as my own opposition would argue? But then again that’s just the not-so-clever manipulation of one point to argue another really. Armchair opinions and politics with a small p.