Fat Planet on Double J

Combined, the USA, UK and Australia account for less than six-percent of the world’s population, yet they make up almost the entirety of our music diet. Fat Planet, my weekly national radio show on Double J, sets out to celebrate the other 94-percent. 


Fat Planet is your ticket to a big world of music

Originally published on doublej.net.au

When I was a young lad, I fell in love with a German girl called Nena. She had everything I wanted in a girlfriend: spiky brown hair, leather trousers, punk attitude, and a tendency to show off her armpit hair with some degree of regularity.

That summer, Nena seemed to be in my house 24/7, but sadly I never understood a word that she said.

I should back up a little and season this love story with a pinch of truth. Nena did exist, albeit as the lead singer of a German new wave band of the same name. Her song ‘99 Luftballoons’ was never off the radio or television in my house that summer, and the 12” copy was practically glued to my bedroom turntable.

‘99 Luftballoons’ was an all-conquering behemoth of a record, and the fact that I had no idea what Nena was singing about barely seemed to matter. I knew that it had something to do with UFOs and Captain Kirk. And balloons of course.

But the song was delivered with such feisty energy and unstoppable swagger that it stomped all over such concerns with a muddy Doc Marten boot.

This teenage episode taught me that emotion and story can quite easily be conveyed without the need for lyrical signposts. For a kid raised on pop songs, this was something of a revelation.

Suddenly everything was pointing to a bigger and better world of music, and the promise of there being even more pop-punks like Nena and more great songs like ‘99 Luftballoons’.

Where would you find Japan’s Joy Division? Or Brazil’s Bowie? Or South Africa’s Salt’n’Pepa? Did they even exist?

 

Pre-internet, pre-digital, pre-anyone really giving a damn about something other than their own backyard, contemporary music in other languages was devilishly hard to come by, even if you had an inkling of what to look for (such as a new Nena album, perhaps?).

The paradigm shifted a little when “world music” started to find its way into the racks in stores, but a quick flick of the discs would often only reveal traditional folk, roots or indigenous music.

Where would you find Japan’s Joy Division? Or Brazil’s Bowie? Or South Africa’s Salt’n’Pepa? Did they even exist?

Fast forward to 2016, and I can tell you that the answer is most definitely ‘yes’. Whilst our insatiable craving for Western music has rendered them largely invisible to us, such artists are most definitely out there, and they are probably well-known and well-loved in their country of origin.

Japan, for example, has one of the most diverse and compelling music scenes in the world, and they simply adore their local artists. 98% of all Singles sold in Japan are by Japanese artists, the highest percentage of domestic sales in the world.

This represents a staggering number of bands and producers, but how many of those Japanese artists find their way into the Australian music psyche? We can probably count them all on one hand.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s probably not “world music”.

It does seem a little unsophisticated to lump “everyone else” into one giant, nondescript category. Should we have dropped Nena’s ‘99 Luftballoons’ in there? Or Bjork? Or Bob Marley? David Byrne famously hated the term “world music”, dubbing it as “a way of dismissing artists or their music as irrelevant to one’s own life … It ghettoizes most of the world’s music”.

Whatever its name, let’s just agree that it’s bloody great music, just waiting for one of those luftballoons to blow it over the ocean.

Fat Planet airs every Wednesday night from 8pm on Double J