If there’s one way to know you have made it in the music industry it’s when you get a call from the ABC to be a guest programmer on rage. It’s the television equivalent of being on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Not only is it the ultimate “desert island discs” wishlist, but you are following in the footsteps of legendary musos before you.
“Often with Australian artists we get the ‘oh my god I’ve wanted to do that for so many years!’ We often get that little speech, which is great,” says producer Narelle Gee.
“I got a letter from a band the other day saying it was ‘an honour to appear on a show that we’ve watched since we were in nappies.’ Which was a cute line.”
Gee has seen a lot of changes at rage in her 12 years at the ABC.
“It used to be very, very low tech. We’d be pushing around enormous trolleys with one video on each tape.”
These days the show is the polar opposite to its early beginnings, afforded contemporary equipment and the respect of the music industry. In a game where pop is as disposable as a 3.30 minute song, rage has endure for 21 years. Admitting she is an “extremely late 30’s” Gee comes from a background in street press, and relies on many sources to stay in touch with tastes of a younger demographic.
“Community radio, the record companies, publicists, managers –we’re drowning in new music and information,” she says.
“We still take notice of what’s hitting the various kinds of charts too. There’s so many different kinds of charts now.
“We suck up music from all sorts of different sources. It’s great that everyone has a myspace page. Before we’d just be getting random videos with an address on them and that’s about it. If the music’s good and the video’s good we don’t really care if they don’t have a profile. It doesn’t hurt of course. If a new video’s good it gets on the show,” said Gee.
It was John Safran who once cheekily attached a video camera to his dog with looping music just to prove that “…even a dog can get a video on rage.”
These days rage is usually more structured, but with the appearance of being free-form.
“Every Friday night its new releases and new music so we’re always getting new audience in,” she said. “We’ve kept a lot of the previous audience as well. Our demographics are all over the place. Everything from the kids who love pop releases on Saturday mornings to an 80 year old who sent us a fan letter.”
Having such a diverse crowd means it is a challenge to satisfy the viewing audience, particularly one that can be so vocal about the content.
“There’s such a wide mix of genres that we try and give everybody a little bit of what they like. We’re not very locked into what genres we play, it just depends what part of the show you might find yourself landing.
“The metal fans are always saying ‘play more metal.’ We always have metal at a 3:30 morning timeslot. At 4:00 it’s a little bit of an indie zone, with completely unknown stuff that doesn’t really fit in anywhere. It can be kind of eye-popping, you don’t quite know what might happen. And then around 4:30 we tend to go into urban dance and then into more popular music for the morning.
“But we start Friday night with whatever we think is the best video of the week, which can be any genre. Whatever we think is the most ‘rage-worthy’ clip of the week.”
rage has also been recognised for its tribute nights to artists like Madonna, Kylie and Prince. But showing a degree of taste, the programme is also highly selective about which artists are ‘worthy’ of such status.
“Someone who has an amazing back catalogue of videos like Madonna is definitely worthy. As soon as we play one we always get harangued by Madonna fans saying, ‘when’s the next one?’
Each January rage gets retro replaying old Countdown and Rock Arena specials too. Lately the show has been enjoying ‘concept specials’ built around different themes, including a ‘weird science’ night (technology, robots and space) and a ‘rage gets sweaty’ special for the Olympics.
“A recent one we did was the Wildcard Special where we just shuffled the deck and pulled out all these random, weird stuff that hadn’t been played for a while.”
Last month it also showed how it responds to news in the music world, when it slotted in clips by Isaac Hayes following his sudden death.
“We like to acknowledge them, especially if they’ve been on the programme a lot. Kurt Cobain or Jeff Buckey .. we like to do an obit or show our respect. Michael Hutchence’s death was actually a Saturday so I came rushing into work to make sure INXS was on the show that night.”
But rage has also come under fire for a decision to drop its Top Fifty, a move the network imposed to shift the show away from the Video Hits style shows on commercial television. It was a decision that, ironically, sparked rage amongst long-term viewers.
“That was massive” acknowledges Gee, “it was such a popular thing. We still do a kind of new hits section at 6-8 on a Saturday morning. It was a management decision that maybe (the Top 50) wasn’t right for the ABC. Certainly the audience weren’t too thrilled with it. We still get people lobbying…”
Gee said there were no plans to return the Top Fifty.
The show also posts its playlists on its website www.abc.net.au/rage where viewers can see what’s coming up.
“We like to finalise that as late as possible to make sure Friday night new releases are as new as we can possibly have them. We don’t completely finalise the show until Friday morning and then we put the playlist up on the afternoon. On Thursday afternoon we give a rundown of the main new releases.”
This weekend the show has another ‘Wildcard’ special with a Radiohead clip previously unaired in Australia (“Pop is Dead”), plus Urge Overkill, an old Sugar Cubes clip, Yellow, and a guy from the UK who sings his song by “baa-ing” along with a flock of sheep.
rage screens late nights Friday and Saturday on ABC1.