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MISSING IT

10-02-2007

The BBC has axed one of it's least popular, most inaccessible music shows. And it's a crying shame reckons Steve Beauchampé.

Last night (Friday) the BBC pulled the plug on a little known and criminally undervalued broadcasting gem. After more than 16 years pioneering experimental, groundbreaking music - sounds from the furthest shores of the avant garde - Mixing It will be no more. It's fallen victim to the forthcoming major re-organisation at Radio 3, the primarily classical music station which, since 1990, has found a place in its schedules for this 75 minute weekly fix of seriously uneasy listening.

With no other arm of the BBC's wide broadcasting palette seemingly interested in offering it a home, the programe will join a sadly growing list of the Corporation's more eclectic music programmes which have been lost or downgraded in recent years.

First came the sudden death of John Peel in late 2004 (his slot only partially filled by the Rob da Bank and the estimable Huw Stephens), then the mysterious abandonment of One World (Radio 1's showcase for experimental sounds) in 2006 and the shunting of Giles Peterson, Stephens and da Bank to post-midnight slots (or ultra-post midnight slots in Peterson's case).

Presented for its entire lifespan by Mark Russell and Robert Sandell, Mixing It epitomised everything that is precious about public service broadcasting in the UK.

Audience figures apparently irrelevant, the show displayed a passion for unearthing the most obscure, extreme and unexpected; for presenting - to quote from it's own strapline - music without frontiers.

Knowledgble, informative and enthusiastic in their critical appraisal of the work showcased, and seemingly without broadcasting egos, Russell and Sandell always understood the importance of letting the music speak for itself (and talking over a record was anathama to them), their interventions never less than informative and well-judged (though a dry wit and critical banter often characterised their debates about the merits of particular tracks, artists and genres), their welcome never outstayed.

Yet radio critics virtually ignored them, the show was never appraised in The Radio Times nor (to my knowledge) was it a recipient of a coveted Sony Radio Award.

Where the preponderance of DAB radio stations has led to the 'more is less' syndrome, with dozens of channels (not least the BBC's own) offering near identical output and playlists, Mixing It has fearlessly championed not just the wilfully obscure (John van der Slice, Jackie O Motherfucker, Blectom from Blechdom anyone?), but a host of intelligent rap (such as Bip Bop and Doseone, Faultline, Danger Mouse) and the emerging laptop scene (Merzbow, Autechre, Four Tet etc) often featuring such artists in live performance.

The occasional sorties uncovering the music scene in some of the world's most happening cities (San Francisco, Montreal and, just last week, Berlin) made listeners appreciate quite how much was out there
waiting to be discovered.

Yet Mixing It was never reticent in featuring much better known and (relatively) popular artists, if their work merited it. David Byrne, Bjork, Lou Reed, Radiohead, P.J. Harvey - all featured heavily, often in interview or live performance, drawn no doubt by the promise of articulate, intelligent questions or the space and commitment to showcase their art often lacking elsewhere, even on other BBC stations.

Where else could one hear tracks from an album of percussion pieces played on Great Australian Fences (such as those guarding the country's nuclear facilities), listen to new work from The Residents (the cult band's cult band) or marvel at the sheer otherworldliness of the likes of cLOUDDEAD, Ergo Phiziz or Coleen's album of tunes played entirely on wind up music boxes?

So goodnight and thank you to the Mixing It team, you informed, you educated and you entertained, you always brought us the unexpected and you were worth every minute of the hundreds of hours that I gave you.

Are your missing Mixing It? is there anything on the radio that the rest of us should be making an appointment with or "listening again" to? What about channels available via the web? Leave a comment on our messageboard.

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