Archive for the ‘4ZZZ’ Category

Rebellious Jukebox: 40 years of Brisbane’s 4ZZZ

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

It’s often lamented that there’s not much rebellion left in music: the heart-on-sleeve socialism of Joe Hill, the salacious sexuality of Ma Rainey long gone, even the refusenik attitudes of the Greenwich Village hippies seem quaint. Subversion, where it exists in the mainstream today, is mostly confected by publicists and stylists; hedonism, escapism and apathy far more palatable for most than righteous indignation or speaking truth to power. It’s a reductionist view – you only need to look to a superstar artist like Ai Wei Wei to see rebellion being served to the masses, albeit in a different medium – but it broadly holds true. The corporate takeover of authentic, socially charged art seems to have reached its conclusion about the same time that Punk Broke.

There are still pockets of resistance that remain though, that combine revolutionary fervour and artistic self-expression. They may be in disparate, atomised reaches of the underground, or the domain of ultra-niche online communities, but they’re still there if you look hard enough. It’s not like there are no pricks left to kick against.

All this makes something like Brisbane community radio station 4ZZZ, which celebrates 40 years of broadcasting today, all the more exceptional. Its founders – to oversimplify it, mostly left-wing students at the University of Queensland – were both victims and beneficiaries of the time and place that allowed the station, and the creative and insurrectionary communities that surround it, to flourish. The perfectly timed collision of new, experimental FM radio licenses, the jackboot conservatism of notorious Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the birth of punk rock in Brisbane’s stifling suburbs all conspiring to instill the station with a character that shall not be moved. With a motto loaned from the labour movement to “Agitate, Educate, Organise”, music and politics have marched together, arm in arm, since day one. The station has long been a proving ground for young journalists too – you couldn’t find a newsroom in the country that hasn’t had a zedder work there at some stage.

With an avowed rejection of both the state’s authority and the easy listening dross that filled commercial radio airwaves at the time, the station embraced punk and other more experimental musical forms for their musicality as much as their inherent ideology. The high fidelity FM signal – the first of its kind in Queensland – was perfectly suited to broadcasting quality music and despite itself, the station found a large audience quickly. While its fortunes and influence may have experienced ups and downs in 40 years, Zed’s role in the cultural life of Brisbane can’t be understated.

“Triple Zed has always played different music. In the beginning Zed played ‘album tracks’ – music that wasn’t just in the Top 40. That was radical for Australian radio back in the mid-70s,” says Sam Kretschmann, a long-standing listener, subscriber, and station volunteer.

Like any good radio station, almost any conceivable style of music can be heard, with primacy given to the new, local, independent and non-commercial, obscure and bizarre.

“Local music has always been very important to the station. It is part of our quota as an announcer to select at least 30% local music content for each show that goes to air,” she says.

Kretschmann, who also performs as Miss P Leisure in Brisbane psychedelic basshead institution Monster Zoku Onsomb! (MZO!), first came to be involved with 4ZZZ in 1996, after growing up listening to the station as a kid in the 80s. Her experience as a listener, then subscriber and volunteer in a range of on– and off-air roles, and participation in Brisbane’s music scene is one that is repeated throughout the station’s history.

“Me and the other coordinators practically lived there. For about 10 years I did all sorts of things: event organiser, promotions coordinator, announcer, programming committee, and board member,” she says.

The active involvement of local musicians in community broadcasting isn’t particular to 4ZZZ, but is still idiosyncratic enough to have played a large part in shaping the station’s identity. The line-ups of many fundraising events are a good indicator of some of the folk that have been involved with, or connected to the station at any given time.

“They are all organised by volunteers, and bands mainly play for free to help to raise money for the station. These events are all from the heart. Everyone comes together for the good of the station and there really is no better feeling than that,” Kretschmann says.

There have been countless gigs and fundraisers organised or presented by the station over its 40 years. The infamous Joint Effort shows commenced in 1976 and featured artists such like Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Screaming Jay Hawkins, The Go-Betweens, and The Riptides.

Market Day, the most notorious of all Zed fundraisers, is now the stuff of legend thanks to Queensland police, who ended the 1996 event prematurely with a trademark display of wanton aggression. Riot Day, as the 1996 Market Day has been known ever since, resulted in more than 50 arrests, with many more bloodied by Queensland’s finest, nearly 10 years after Joh’s reign finally ended. They don’t call it Pig City for nothing.

“These events were crucial to the station. It was the major fundraiser in the 90s and the station would not be broadcasting today if it had not been for the community getting behind these events and raising money to keep the station going. It brought the underground of Brisbane together. Just being there meant that you were giving the finger to the mainstream,” she says.

Riot Day wasn’t the first time the station had been hassled by the man. 4ZZZ eventually broke ties with the University of Queensland after being taken off air briefly in 1988 by a hostile student union, and station staff and volunteers were routinely subject to surveillance (and occasional beatings) by Joh’s Special Branch until its dissolution in 1989. This is a whole other story though, and one that has been told much more eloquently and in much greater detail in Andrew Stafford’s book Pig City, or in the war stories of hundreds of volunteers and staff.

Today, 40 years on, 4ZZZ in many ways serves the same role it has since it was miraculously born. A voice for the voiceless, a creative space where diversity and acceptance flourish, a fertile place for ideas and connections to form. A place to hear cool, interesting, unusual music, played by people who love it.

“It is a great accomplishment and proof that there is passion in Brisbane. Passion for independence and passion to keep the station alive. And whether you like the music played on air or not, Zed is the soul of Brisbane for many people. It is impossible to think that there [could ever] be no Triple Zed. There must always be a place where you can get involved, have your say, and be creative, all without having to tow the corporate line or sell something. With Triple Zed behind you, you can be you – you can be different,” Kretschmann says.

Happy birthday to a true revolutionary. Don’t ever change.

4ZZZ’s 40th anniversary celebrations continue on and off air until December 13. Tune in today from 2pm AEDT for a ten-hour retrospective of Brisbane music.

With thanks to Sam Kretschmann and David Lennon for the images.