The maths of a music show
Part of the festive routine round these parts, along with pulling dusty boxes filled with mouse droppings and Christmas decorations out of the loft, is my squint back at the most interesting Welsh music that has tickled or bludgeoned my earbuds during the past year.
I always start with the best intentions, planning a montage of the best music, extracts from the most interesting interviews and blogs, a trawl through the best bits of the fascinating regular contributors to the show - building a veritable Frankenstein's monster of Welsh musical excellence. Then I start assembling the programme by looking, first, at the best music that has been gifted to me. And I end up with a playlist that's over 10 hours long. That's TEN HOURS LONG!
Okay, raise the quality threshold. Cut out the stuff that maybe is going to get trumpeted elsewhere anyway; hack away tracks that I really like but perhaps don't love quite as much as their adopted brothers and sisters; stab others in the back simply because they don't 'fit' in the grander scheme of things; make decisions that are as easy as wilfully pouring lemon juice onto my own naked eyeballs.
I'm now down to six hours. All of this is supposed to fit into a three hour show, remember. So long story cut an iota shorter: I have to sacrifice the plan to include talkie bits - music is king, queen and all the subjects of this realm, after all, with me acting fool amongst the storm.
I pray for some quantum miracle that will allow me to create a new dimension in radio time so that I can get six hours worth of music into a three hour slot. But the gods are just like the majority of the rest of Wales and they aren't listening to me either. Apart from the god of lost causes (a Wrexham fan) who catches up via the iPlayer. Good for her!
Sorry, got sidetracked by false modesty.
Clearly no quantum miracle is going to help me. World Service is immovable. Three hours it is.
Next step, I do something I never do otherwise. I listen to every track on that playlist (over 100) and work out where I can fade in and fade out so that I can cram more music per square inch than I have ever achieved before. But that's time-consuming and it feels like I am sacrificing all the interesting spacey bits, making the kind of brutally unmusical decisions that are normally the preserve of heads of music at commercial radio stations.
Even after all that bloody maths, I'm still left with too much music and too little time. The bolt gun comes out and I have to start being callous. Tracks that I love - like, say, that lead track off Ersatz's debut album, or Soft-Hearted Scientists' Manta Ray On Main Street - are taken round the back of the house:
"Sorry, I've tried everything to squeeze you in. It's not that you're any worse than any of the ones who made it onto this ark, you're just..."
"Pull the trigger, Adam. We're not that bothered, you know. It's not like this is Peel's Festive Fifty or anything..."
It's heartbreaking. As I laid the headstone on Polly Mackey thinking "Well, she's going to do very well in 2010, I'll be able to include her next year" - I was almost in tears. Please don't think I'm exaggerating. I have lost sleep over some of the decisions I have made, I've visibly aged and, er, put at least two pounds on. Yes, this was the reason for the extra two pounds.
Finally I have 67 tracks I think I can shape into some kind of programme. The only way to achieve this feat is to chop all that is unnecessary out, me in other words. Suits me. Then there is the technical challenge of how I knit this together as seamlessly as possible. I decide to approach it as a mixtape - it'd be impossible (well with my skill deficiencies) to mix it seamlessly. Welsh music isn't uniform, 120bpm four to the floor dancefloor fodder that a llama could mix. It's shifts and shimmies all over the stylistic and tempo spectrum.
I give my CDJ's a dust. Fire up Traktor Scratch Duo and just do it.
It's rough as nuts. Breakbeats smash into surf guitars; acerbic hardcore blasts out of sweet psych vibes; some dubstep gets stranded on the indie club dancefloor. Beats are matched with all the sartorial grace of a Christmas jumper convention. But it's as good a snapshot of Welsh music in 2009 as any you'll hear, I think. In the aftermath I realised that there were tracks that I'd overlooked that I had wished I'd included, not least something off Sibrydion's Campfire Classics album or Akira the Don's The Omega Sanction mixtape. And there is no Valleys pop metal. A definite blindspot for me. And, oh god, didn't the Viva Machine album finally get a release this year?
After 50 hours of preparation, tearful whittling and half-assed execution, It's done. And you can hear it at the link below.
I hope you enjoy it. Really I do.