Rage hits 30 years old: The clips they had to ban
THE opening credits to the longest-running music TV show in the world (still on air) may also be the cheapest.
The ABC spent $880 on the opening and closing credits for Rage, as well as the now iconic fuzzy logo and those shrieking "Raaaaaaa-age!" voiceovers - designed to stop viewers nodding off in the wee hours.
The program - basically wall to wall music videos each weekend - turns 30 on April 17.
Rage has surpassed Video Hits, which clocked up 24 years, as the longest-running music show in Australian history and is now on track to overtake international music TV icons Soul Train (35 years) and Top of the Pops (45 years) - both now defunct.
And the show still uses the exact same credits, logo and screaming voiceovers that were there from day one. Now that's value for money.
"At one point we polled the audience to see if we should change them and it was an overwhelming 'No!'," said Narelle Gee, Rage producer from 1995 to 2008.
"They were bizarre little titles, with people from the office in them, and they were pretty much out of fashion at the time they were made. Yet people see them as an iconic visual from Australian TV history that shouldn't be messed with."
Rage was born when ABC managing director David Hill deemed that, like radio, the television network should never go off the air.
All-night programming for weekends was suddenly required. Enter Mark Fitzgerald, who had an idea called Rage Til You Puke.
At almost the exact same time, Channel 9 were launching a local version of MTV with Richard Wilkins as host. It would last six years. (Nowadays MTV have dropped the music videos the US network was named for in favour of reality shows.)
"There was a panic that they had to make a music TV show," Gee recalled. "MTV was coming, there needed to be an Australian response to that."
One problem: this was the ABC and there was no budget.
"David Hill hadn't put any thought into how they'd pay for it," Gee said. "So they had to make the cheapest program possible. The music videos were supplied by record companies. Anything they filmed was done cheaply. There was no host. And it's pretty much lived its life as a low-budget entity."
Having no host was initially a financial move, but has turned out to be Rage's saviour - not only for enabling it to survive decades of ABC budget cuts.
"Part of the longevity of Rage is it has never had a host to date it," Gee said. "If you have a Richard Wilkins or a Molly Meldrum that host will give the show a personality, but it'll also date the show and it can wear out. Rage was its own personality. And it does have a personality, which is a little bit naughty, slightly punk, irreverent, inclusive.
"It's weird that I don't think of it as a TV program, I think of it as an entity with a personality. Anyone who's worked on Rage tends to use words like love, respect, protect, defend. We think of it as a creature. And for a lot of people it's like a beast that ate their life! It's all consuming."
The first video aired on Rage was Weirdo Libido by Sydney post-punk band Lime Spiders.
Pre internet, music fans had to wait until TV programs aired new videos by their favourite artists.
Rage even had a 0055 phone line which would, for a small fee, list what new videos were being aired that weekend.
"That was one of the things that kept Rage on air," Gee admitted. "The income never went to the program, and it was the lowest rate possible, but there were thousands and thousands of calls each weekend and a substantial amount went to the organisation."
Rage's 30th anniversary is all the more impressive considering music fans can now go to YouTube to watch music clips at their leisure.
MTV doesn't play videos and Foxtel shut down most of their music channels last year - a move seen as a reaction to new technology.
Tyson Koh left his job as a music festival programmer to take a two-week role in January 2012 programming Rage's popular retro month, during which the program airs Countdown episodes not seen since the '70s or '80s, as well as choice cuts from long-gone vintage shows Rock Arena, Recovery and GTK.
Koh was soon upgraded to Rage producer, a role he's held ever since.
"I started at Rage just before the 25th anniversary and there was a lot of talk then about the internet and YouTube and the future of music TV. But here we are and Rage is still here. It's an 'if it ain't broke' situation. So many elements of Rage have stayed true to what they were in 1987. Even though it's been tempting to change them, we've kept the identity of the show intact and that resonates with people. People just love watching music videos.
"They love being entertained through that medium. There's something inherently enjoyable about a show that's been curated by either producers or guest presenters."
Guest presenters were introduced in 1990 - a format where musical artists (and, controversially, in 2013, politicians) select their favourite videos and discuss them on air.
In this case, the artists are given Rage's video library (currently boasting over 46,000 videos), from which they choose 60 clips, then introduce 14 on camera.
These episodes require an hour of the acts' time, filming on Rage's infamous red couch.
"That busts the myth of the artist sitting on the couch all night," Koh said.
The producers pick the guests. Tex Perkins, Tim Rogers and Mike Patton hold the record for most appearances on the red couch.
For local acts, the chance to present Rage is a rite of passage that declares you've made it.
"I notice quite often local guest programmers will put a lot more effort into the songs they pick and their delivery on camera because they've grown up with Rage," Koh said.
"They know the videos that get picked all the time, they try to go for things that are a bit different. Sometimes for an international artist it's just another appointment on their schedule; but we get a real enthusiasm from local acts."
Another factor in Rage reaching the 30-year milestone is the diverse audience it attracts for the ABC.
"When it first started they didn't do ratings overnight," Gee said. "The ABC thought no one was watching so they put a message on the screen saying, 'Are you enjoying Rage? Call this number' - which they regretted as the phones ran hot. It was a shock to everyone there was this late-night audience who were hungry for music videos."
Speaking of late-night audiences, the idea that stoners are using Rage to soundtrack their munchies is a real thing.
"That is certainly one of the demographics," Gee joked.
Koh says now ratings are steady.
"Friday night we get a lot of viewers for the first few hours, then it drops off as people start to pass out. A lot of people watch the Top 50 charts on a Saturday morning. We've had some tribute shows over the past few years and they do monumentally well."
In the event of untimely deaths of artists - such as Michael Jackson, Prince, George Michael and David Bowie - Rage is quick to raid the archives for bespoke specials that air as quickly as possible.
"It's a real priority for us," Koh said. "We understand those specials have become an opportunity for Australians to collectively grieve these artists that meant so much to them."
While there may be less outlets for music videos on TV, the art form has had a rebirth in the online age.
Artists who control their own YouTube channel can make money every time a clip is watched - a big deal if you're a Taylor Swift getting billions of views.
"It was inevitable in the digital age that TV would get completely overshadowed by video sharing sites," Gee said.
"They've come to the fore and music TV has faded into the background. Michael Stipe of REM announced in 2007 that music video was dead, but it's very much alive and well - it's just changed its context from TV to YouTube and Vimeo and Vevo, which have massive numbers of viewing."
"It's not just cat videos people watch online. Gotye's Somebody That I Used to Know video is a classic example of what a massive impact you can still have with an inventive video. Music video has gone through periods of change, periods of relative decline, but it's a resilient form and it adapts and changes."
Koh said with music magazines and physical formats declining, music videos now give artists an avenue to outline their visual aesthetic.
"Because music has turned away from being a tangible product, the music video is the only way for an artist to be able to engage with their audience, stamp their artist intent and show their personalities. If anything, the music video is more important than ever as a promotional tool for musicians. That's one reason our show has survived."
Gee, who has written an academic thesis on Rage for QUT, and published the book Real Wild Child in 2010, said Rage has become part of the furniture of Australian popular culture, if in a low-key manner.
"Janet English from Spiderbait said Rage is like the labrador in the corner at your home," Gee said. "It's really well loved but not always taken much notice of. Whenever there's an anniversary, it reminds people that Rage is still around."
A new documentary Rage 30: The Story of Rage airs 9.30pm Monday April 17, a Rage 30 3CD album is out next Friday. A one-off Rage magazine is released on April 20, Rage 30: Stories on the Red Couch airs 11pm on April 21 (hosted by Kate Ceberano), Rage on Saturday April 15 and 22 will feature viewer playlists.
TOP 10 MOST REQUESTED VIDEOS BY RAGE GUEST PROGRAMMERS
- Beastie Boys - Sabotage
- Joy Division - Love Will Tear Us Apart
- Peter Gabriel - Sledgehammer
- The Saints - (I'm) Stranded
- Massive Attack - Unfinished Sympathy
- Fatboy Slim - Praise You
- Aphex Twin - Windowlicker
- The Boys Next Door - Shivers
- The Stone Roses - Fools Gold
- UNKLE - Rabbit in Your Headlights
MOST COMPLAINED ABOUT VIDEOS
Narelle Gee: "Every time we played REM's Losing My Religion we got complaint letters. There was a group who'd write letters every time something was deemed sacrilegious. There was an avalanche of complaints after Madonna's Justify My Love video was aired - it was banned everywhere else because of the sexual footage. I was shocked we didn't get more complaints with the Prodigy's Smack My Bitch Up, but maybe because you see it's a woman on the rampage. I think the world, and Australia especially, have become harder to shock after The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Girls.
THE ONE THAT REALLY RUBBED PEOPLE THE WRONG WAY
That'd be Nine Inch Nails' Closer, for both lyrics and visuals.
Gee: "Every single time we played Closer people complained. But what an amazing video. It's very easy to defend that on artistic merit
Tyson Koh: "We had several classifiers look at it, we wrote a definitive response to that video being broadcast which we just fire off if someone complains."
THE VIDEOS EVEN RAGE BANNED
As well as cutting out product placement and blurring brands, nothing can be more racy than an MA for overnight viewing. Here's ones that didn't make it
Nine Inch Nails - Happiness in Slavery
Gee: "I think they made that to be banned. Nobody could put that to air. It was X rated, very extreme.
Air - Cherry Blossom Girl
Koh: "The unedited version has a porn star in it, it's quite explicit."
Is Tropical - Dancing Anymore
Koh: "It was rated R. It has some pretty explicit sex with animated characters."
RAGE'S PAY FOR PAY CRISIS
In 1995 a feud between record companies and the ABC over how much they should pay to air the videos resulted in a showdown. Rage pulled all major label videos (nothing has changed, Foxtel and Universal had a similar stand off last year).
"I'd just started at Rage and was told I could only play independent videos," Gee said. "The audience didn't seem to notice that much, although some people were cranky we couldn't play the Top 50 because most of them were acts on major labels. So there was a lot of Nick Cave and other indie videos for two and a half months."
JOHN SAFRAN AND HIS DOG INFILTRATE RAGE
In 2002 John Safran's Music Jamboree noticed that the democratic approach to Rage's programming meant almost any video could get played. So Safran tied a video camera to a dog to make a video - which indeed wound up on Rage. Spoiler - Rage were in on the joke. "They called us and asked for the Rage logo, we thought it was funny," Gee said.
"That was a strength and a weakness back in the day, Rage would literally play anything. It was like YouTube before YouTube was invented. It's a lot more strict now."
MOST DRAMATIC GUEST PROGRAMMER
You guessed it. Courtney Love was five hours late to Hole's Rage programming slot in 1999.
Gee: "She was one of the more difficult customers. It was excruciating and dramatic at the time but afterwards you walk away thinking how good the footage is. She was five hours late but it was worth waiting for because of all the in your face drama. Smashing Pumpkins argued their way through the entire programming, we weren't sure they were going to finish the whole thing. They were screaming at each other, we were expecting them to walk out at any second. The Jesus and Mary Chain had an argument with each other over whether something was "shite" or not. Malcolm McClaren said 'I hate every music video, I hate all musicians'. So we asked him to pick music videos he hated and told us why he hated them. He was fine once it got rolling. The difficult customers were always worth the pain."
LEAST DRAMATIC GUEST PROGRAMMERS
The Courtney Love era is sadly gone. Who's been so boring they couldn't go to air?
Koh: "There's been a couple, I can't name names, but a few didn't go to air. I don't think they know that. Some acts I've been really keen on have come back with really lacklustre video choices. I say no to people all the time, we only have so many slots per year and I try and get a diverse range of programmers from different genders and genres."
Courtney Love demanded her own lighting crew but she's been one upped
Koh: "Everyone's usually really good but Jason Derulo came in and we had to book a special room so he could have his own make up artist come in and touch him up before we filmed. But he wasn't even doing a full guest programmer slot, it was literally just to say 'Hi, I'm Jason Derulo and you're watching Rage' for an ID!