Playlist war

I’m totally nicking today’s subject from Andi Hamilton. What’s the point of having this network of One-A-Dayers to hand if I can’t spot a really nice subject and steal it? Well, quite.

So, yes. Back in the 1990s I worked for PC Format, first as a staff writer and then as Features Editor, in which capacity I wrote most of the fun stuff in the mag and worked on a truly monstrous ego, long since deflated. Hell, I was PC Format back then, and don’t you forget it. I got to interview a load of really interesting people, sometimes on the flimsiest of pretexts (“What, someone’s doing a Rocky Horror game? I’d better go and interview Richard O’Brien and discover that he doesn’t know the first thing about computers!”). And then I got it into my head that the internet was the next big thing and went off to run PC Gamer’s web site, which was the first step in it all going horribly wrong.

I digress. For reasons that I can’t quite remember, one day Rich Pelley brought in a stereo, and it stayed, and the insanity began. Now, most of the time it operated in radio mode, belting out Radio One for a lot of the day. Marc & Lard became PCF untouchables and no-one could interrupt their show. Once they finished, however, the stereo became fair game and pretty much anything went.

We had pretty good taste. The first time I heard Unkle was on the PCF stereo. A bit of Prodigy, some Chemical Brothers, a spot of DJ Shadow… find a list of late 90s music that didn’t suck and it was probably played on the PCF stereo at some point.

What we became notorious for, however, was the other stuff. The stuff that you wouldn’t normally play if there was the tiniest chance of anyone else hearing it. That sort of reasoning didn’t hold with us. Certainly not with me. I have this contrarian streak; if people really really hate something to the point of getting quite wound about it, I’m interested. There has to be something to it to spark that kind of reaction, right?

Right. And it was in that spirit that I’d bring in something like The Goodies Greatest Hits, or the Tony Ferrino album, or one of those Cult Fiction compilations of old TV theme tunes. Nothing like Metal Machine Music – it had to be at least listenable, although I did once provoke open revolt by playing Mr Bungle’s challenging second album, Disco Volante. Just stuff that would annoy anyone passing through who took their music a little too seriously. All done in a spirit of fun.

And it caught on. Bringing in potentially annoying music and playing it without an ounce of shame became something of a PC Format cause célèbre. Rich Allen brought in Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds – his own special recording where he’d done a bit of scratching and sped up the word ‘men’ when David Essex sings about a handful of men, to brilliant comedic effect. And Dave Perrett found a Wurzels CD at Bath library, in the days before they’d done Glastonbury and become popular again.

The Wurzels kind of sealed the deal. We were the mag that played shit music. And we loved it. We loved it so much that we held a competition for readers to send us in their shit CDs. That brought us Nestor the French puppet penguin, the Gallic equivalent of Orville the Duck. It was shit, but brilliant. I wish I still had that CD. I do, at least, still have the CD single of Donovan and The Singing Corner doing Jennifer Juniper. Win!

PC Format carried on their contrarian playlisting after I left; I found myself on a title that didn’t have a stereo, and then it all went a bit open plan and office stereos were frowned upon. It’s mostly headphones these days, although I’m currently situated next to MacFormat, where Chris Phin has a fairly hefty speaker system that he never plays loud enough and which I occasionally subvert with my own tunes.

Doubt I’d ever get away with a bit of Adge-era Wurzels, though.



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2 responses to “Playlist war

  1. Alex Cox

    This brings back memories. Horrible, brutal memories. Specific memories of PC Gamer, some 4-5 mags and at least one fire door down the hall, getting very angry about the volume of The Wurzels. Memories of my own music being permanently banned from the stereo after one too many metal experiments. But also memories of that brief time when working at Future was like being part of a fun family of like minded awesome people. What happened to that?

  2. Baby steps, Jim, baby steps. This floor was like a library when I arrived, and it’s only through a carefully orchestrated (oh, my sides…) campaign of quietly introducing, gently ramping up the volume of, and slowly devolving away from mainstream music that we are at even the nascent stage we are now. And yes, that is a hideously tortured sentence. Apologies to it.

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