Young people are going through a tough time at the moment, away from their friends, uncertain about schoolwork and exam results, with no clear idea about their immediate future and little influence over the people deciding what that future might be. My how-to-get-ahead advice to anyone over 16 used to be: go out, meet people, venture further than your wifi range, you don’t need money to experience life. Much of the point of going to college and university is meeting others. That’s all changed.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the inspiring energy of youth. Vent is a newish podcast from Vice and Brent, the London Borough of Culture 2020, and it’s full of joyful verve. I binged four episodes and felt thoroughly cheered by the end. The series is part of Brent 2020’s programme of cultural events, and producers Jess Lawson and Arlie Adlington worked with 16 to 20-year-olds to decide on what they wanted to make programmes about. The first series covers identity, and I’ve loved every show so far.
Each one has a different host. Khalid, 15, wants to explain why drill is about more than shanks and gangs. He zips us round a production studio with mad energy and wit. Sixteen-year-old Lily is calm and questioning, wondering whether what she’s been taught in school has any relevance to her soon-to-be-adult life. Santos, 20, presents episode three, where he ponders why so many people get his name wrong and why, when they do, they all call him Carlos; and Foos, who’s 18 and wants to be a midwife, is the host of episode four, about the NHS. They are all different and all excellently the same, because they have a question, they listen to their interviewees and react completely honestly.
Each show is revealing, with little moments I loved: Khalid on the phone to his mum, explaining that he’s fine, Tottenham isn’t that bad; Lily asking: “What’s an invoice?” Santos’s show is very interesting, culminating in a chat about the shorthand labels BAME people use for white people. “It feels almost dangerous to talk about whiteness,” says Rianna Walcott, a PhD student at King’s College London. “It’s usually stuff you just talk about with other black people… The thought of saying this out loud like this, it’s frightening, right?” The team behind Vent also has a weekly current affairs podcast, Vent Weekly, curated and hosted by young people from Brent, which went daily for mental health awareness week last week.
Another cheering podcast is Dead Eyes. Very different to Vent, this show is made by Connor Ratliff, a fortysomething American actor and comedian, who’s successful enough to be able to look back at his life and highlight the crap bits. As anyone over 25 knows, almost every bad experience turns, eventually, into a good anecdote, and Ratliff has taken this literally. Almost 20 years ago, he was cast in a small part in Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers, a TV series about the second world war filmed in the UK, with his episodes to be directed by (gasp!) Tom Hanks. Unfortunately, when Hanks arrived to direct, he asked to see Ratliff’s audition tape and found it not to his liking: the feedback was that Ratliff had “dead eyes”. Ratliff was duly fired, and his job went to someone else.
Dead Eyes goes back over the event in crazy detail, with Ratliff trying to track down the casting director and the actor who got the part, then spreading his net wider to people who have worked with Hanks, constantly analysing what happened. Now he’s sort-of famous, he gets to talk to famous people: Jon Hamm, who he acted with when he was very young; Rian Johnson, director of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, due to a weird website coincidence; Aimee Mann, because her album Bachelor No 2 got him through the bad times. As an interviewee points out, the show is as forensic as Serial but about something utterly unimportant. Occasionally, I got frustrated with the nutty, self-regarding indulgence. But if you like Ratliff – and he is immensely likable – you will find yourself enjoying this show.
Three interesting new music shows
Witch ’n’ Monk: An Improvised Autobiography
Just half an hour long, this is a brilliantly produced piece that definitely requires headphones. Repeated sounds, voices that ebb and flow, small sonic notes that build to create a wonderfully experimental audio piece about the making of the most recent album by Heidi Heidelberg and Mauricio Velasierra, AKA Witch ’n’ Monk. Both are charming characters, but this is far from a straightforward love-the-artist documentary. The music is beautifully recorded and the whole show hums with an amazing environmental presence. Produced by Steve Urquhart and featured on Resonance FM’s Clear Spot show, this is one to listen to when you want to be taken somewhere else.
What Goes Around?
Hosted by DJ Eamon Murtagh and Jazz FM presenter Anne Frankenstein, this is not so much about music makers as music lovers. “All the little people!” says Frankenstein. It’s a fan’s show, essentially. Murtagh and Frankenstein chat about stuff they’ve been listening to, or that they’ve been playing (for instance, at weddings), and interview other music fans (producer Wrongtom, writer Melissa Harrison); listeners respond to their questions on social media and the whole thing is very jolly. As an impatient person, I would cut this show down by 20 minutes, although now my patience has been forced to increase, due to “current circumstances”.
Bip Bop Boom
“A pirate radio for parents”, apparently, this is a brand new podcast/station/concept. Every day, a short podcast (Boom Camp) showcases a new artist, so that parents can keep in touch: the theory being it’s hard to discover new music when your kids insist on playing Frozen 2’s Into the Unknown on a loop. From Monday until 24 June, Boom Camp will play artists that should have been playing at Glastonbury, under the title Glastoff. There’s also a longer weekly episode, Musical Monarchy, which profiles artists such as Björk and DJ Shadow, and an online radio station. Music quizzes are being lined up, and everything is suitable for kids as well as parents.