January 16, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 59  

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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Alt-radio goes indie?
Kind of, sort of, not really

World Wide Wong
Brian Wong

A&E Editor

Bryce Bridges/2003
INDIE HEROES ON MAINSTREAM RADIO? Say it ain’t so! Cursive gets airplay on Indie 103.1.

A mainstream radio station with a mandate to play independent music? Well, kind of.

Earlier this month, e-bible for indie hipsters Pitchforkmedia.com reported that Indie 103.1 hit the airwaves on Dec. 24, playing music that reflected the diversity of ’90s alt-radio. That’s right — the mook-rock version of alt-radio (Limp Bizkit, Korn and other geniuses who think it’s cool to spell incorrectly) was skipped to make way for classic alternative and newer, lesser-known artists.

What this means is that you can hear old-time favourites like Nirvana, Temple of the Dog and The Police alongside current champions of the underground like Cursive and Chicks on Speed. In an hour of their web stream (www.indie1031.fm), I heard Adam Green’s “Jessica,” Tool’s “Prison Sex,” Radiohead’s “2+2=5,” The Polyphonic Spree’s “Light & Day” and the Foo Fighters’ “I’ll Stick Around” — yes way.

What was most surprising about the news was that Indie 103.1 is a part of the Clear Channel Radio Sales network — the Clear Channel that is America’s biggest owner of radio stations, controlling nearly 1,200 of the country’s radio outlets and more than half of rock radio.

But let’s put aside the media ownership debate and whether this is merely another attempt by the mainstream to appropriate the underground for its own profit-driven motives. What about the music?

It’s clear that Indie 103.1 doesn’t just play indie artists; the graphic on their website promotes all major-label ones: AFI, The Distillers, The Strokes, etc.

And when they do play indies, it’s not necessarily the latest singles that are on rotation — 103.1 is still stuck on The Postal Service’s electronic-pop sleeper “Such Great Heights” (out since April 2003) and Bright Eyes’ caustic “Lover I Don’t Have to Love” (out since November 2002). Better late than never.

It’s still awesome these songs are getting exposure to a wider audience, one that thought all was lost once Linkin Park appeared and Woodstock ’99 destroyed everything in its path. In this way, Indie 103.1 serves as a gateway for newer “obscure” artists: the segment of Gen-X-ers who grew up with ’90s alt-radio are drawn in by classic hits, while also getting a hit of modern hipster favourites.

Things are beginning to shift on other stations, too. A few years ago, it would be unthinkable for a new rock station to play a hip-hop tune that was not by the Beastie Boys. These days, some alt-rock outfits are spinning Eminem, while influential KROQ out of L.A. and Toronto’s Edge 102 both recognize the brilliance of Outkast’s “Hey Ya!”

Edge 102, a station that has also succumbed to the angsty “new rock” format in recent years, has also given some healthy airplay time to local-turned-international sensations Broken Social Scene, whose art-rock creations are a giant step away from Default.

Although more stations in North America are picking up on the new classic alternative format, all is still far from well. Like, where are the girls? Veruca Salt and Tori Amos figured prominently in ’90s alt-radio, but female musicians are still absent from 103.1 and other stations.

So until Indie 103.1 breaks out their records by PJ Harvey, Björk and perennial queen of indie Ani DiFranco, it’s still too early to sing its praises.

 

 

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