Inside Television: Channel 4's Music Nation replays the soundtracks of our young lives

  • @MsEllenEJones

BBC Director General Lord Tony Hall cares about the arts. He really cares. And to prove it, this week he announced a raft of new culture programming for the BBC. There will be a history of the classical voice presented by the Music Director of the Royal Opera House, and a performance of Jacobean play The Duchess of Malfi broadcast live on BBC4. “Today we are announcing the biggest push we have made in the arts for a generation,” he said - but which generation was he talking about?

Not anyone under 40, obviously, since the cultural interests of the young, the young-ish and the young at heart, were all conspicuously absent from this ‘exciting’ offering. Even the worthy promise to make 470 BBC Shakespeare productions available to teachers is hardly likely to set young hearts racing. In the context of the closure of BBC3, Hall’s message is clear: Youth culture - if indeed it counts as ‘culture’ - is no longer the business of a public service broadcaster. 

Hall might be forgiven for thinking that the non-classical arts are already well served by commercial television, awash as it is with chart videos and reality shows. But popular culture and youth culture are not the same. These days on TV, the innovative creators who provide the ideas that mainstream feeds on are all but invisible. How do you make exciting TV about youth culture when - to be blunt - everyone with commissioning power is old? Faced with this conundrum, it appears most broadcasters have just given up. 

Most, but not all. Next week, in collaboration with multi-platform magazine Dazed, Channel 4 will begin airing Music Nation, a new five-part documentary series about Britain’s youth music scenes. I should declare an interest here, because the first episode, ‘Brandy & Coke’ happens to be about Garage, the soundtrack to my own Lambrini-soaked youth in late-90s East London. Future episodes include ‘Berkshire Goes Balearic’ (House) , ‘Bristol Bass Oddity’ (electronic music) and ‘Soap The Stamps’ (80s hardcore). What a thrill it will be to see the players in these movements treated with the same reverence TV usually reserves for titled grandees from the Royal Opera House. 

By now all the old scensters are mums and dads with mortgages, of course, but that’s part of the point, too. It proves that even as the original participants move on, the excitement and sense of community which is unique to youth culture movements remains in tact. That’s why personalised, passion-led arts programming like Danny Baker’s Rockin’ Decades: The Seventies on BBC4 and Northern Soul - Keep The Faith fronted by former BBC economics editor Paul Mason made for great TV, whatever decade you call your own. Youth culture isn’t just for the young - it’s for everyone who ever was young. A group which presumably excludes Lord Hall.   

Music Nation’ starts on Channel 4 on Wednesday April 2 at 12.05am and from April 10 on

Life imitating Breaking Bad

They’re calling it the ‘real-life Breaking Bad’. Last week it was reported that a cocaine lab worth £900,000 had been found in the home of a teacher in Cardiff. The police described the situation as “totally unusual”, but we know better than that. Other ‘Breaking Bad’ cases have included a middle-aged Maths teacher in Boston arrested with two bags of meth, a meth cook called Walter White on trial in Alabama, and a Meth dealer with the same name jailed for eleven years in Montana.

These news items all referenced the hit Netflix show in their headlines, but like most art-imitating-life scenarios, they had their cause-and-effect all wrong. Sad to say, stressed-out teachers, draconian drug laws and men called ‘Walter’ were a problem long before Vince Gilligan ever put pen to paper.


Brandy & Coke,

Can’t wait till Wednesday to get a taste of the Channel 4/Dazed documentary series? Fortunately, you don’t have to. The original 8-minute short which inspired the series is available on now. Directed by scene photographer Ewen Spencer and produced by Somesuch & Co, it features interviews with DJ Sticky and MC Creed. 

Salting The Battlefield, BBC iPlayer

A glimpse of life inside the i paper and Independent offices comes courtesy of writer/director David Hare in the final part of his classy, clever spy drama. Hare would never admit whether his characters are based on real people, but that intelligent, glamorous, dark-haired journalist seems familiar doesn’t she?

RuPaul Drives...John Waters

If you find Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee a bit square, then RuPaul Drives... is the motoring-based interview series for you. After several meh interviewees, it came into its own last week when John Waters sat down in the passenger seat. The director of Cry Baby and Pink Flamingos might be 67, but he still knows what’s up: “I always say I want a hacker boyfriend, except they have bad posture.”

Missing, 4oD

This one-off documentary follows three families as they grapple with the uncertainty of a missing loved one. Such unexplained absences are much more common than you might think and this touching documentary raises relationship issues that affect us all.