I used to listen to this radio show on the CBC called Brave New Waves. It was started in 1984 and was cancelled in 2007. The idea behind the show was to explore every facet of independent/underground music and the culture that went along with it. The show came on every weeknight at 12:05 AM after a brief news summary with a weather report and ran until 4:00 AM. For the first year, the show was hosted by Augusta La Paix. Brent Bambury took over for the next decade. Then in 1995, Patti Schmidt became the third and final host of Brave New Waves. This is when I started listening and who I associate as the host of the show.
"You have to protect art that has no commercial, or potentially has no commercial validation. It is ideological to support that. It is art without any of the standard visions of success as culture at large would measure it to have a place, and I need to argue for it."
Here's the thing that was so amazing about Brave New Waves. It was on the CBC, which meant it was heard all across Canada and any fringe town along the border. During the rest of the day, the CBC would play safe music like classical and jazz. However, once midnight hit, they turned things over to the kids. When I say that Brave New Waves explored every facet of independent and underground music culture, I mean every facet. This meant punk, post-punk, no wave, noise, new wave, indie rock, post-rock, electronic, avant garde composers, spoken word, sound collages, electro acoustic and whatever else. Obscure things that never had a chance of being on the radio, were being played.
Since the CBC is government funded, there were no commercials. This means there were no advertisers to please, which left the show in a position to focus purely on the art. There were no rotations, no playlists and no real censorship. It was how radio can or should be. Obviously Canada's broadcasting rule of including a percentage of Canadian artists applied, but there is a lot of great underground music being made in the Great White North, so that was a moot point. The original crew that did the show even had a six month anniversary episode because they were surprised they lasted that long. They knew what they were getting away with.
"The show is really almost a reflection of how chaotic my own record collection is. It makes no sense to most people who come over. And I know lots of people who are like serious, serious record collectors. I tried for a while. I got robbed. But, it’s too obsessive. I can’t. So, it’s kind of this splatter of things that I have with no real focus or continuity to it. But I like it that way because that is how I am. That is how life is."
The general format of BNW for the years I listened, started with Patti introducing the show and playing some short, occasionally weird little song. I remember hearing "Death" by Dan Friel in the opening slot one night and thinking this happy mix of fuzzed out guitars and cheap keyboard beats was the most awesome thing ever.
The next hour of the show would be devoted to new songs from current artists. It would always be two songs in a row by two different bands. The songs were often similar to give a sense of continuity to the program. Between each song, Patti would provided a detailed explanation that included the name of the band, song, album and record label with some relevant background information. This was probably the most important thing because if you liked something, you then had the information to track the band down. Just like every other hardcore listener, I had a notepad to write down the name of anything that caught my ear. I still have a notepad where I cleaned up a bunch of notes I had taken into a manageable list. Looking over the list, it's impressive how many of these bands I eventually checked out. There's still a few I'm looking for.
After a sampling of new releases, there would be a profile or an interview with a band or artist. These were usually based on established bands with a new album out. The profiles ran through a band's entire discography and would include side projects or previous groups. For example, a Steve Albini profile had songs by Shellac, Big Black and Rapeman. Profiles would last about forty minutes to one hour.
Following a profile, the focus of the program would shift slightly to exploring multiple tracks from a couple of artists. This would include longer songs and often where the avant garde compositions were played. I got to learn about prepared guitar, musique concrète, electro acoustic and all that good stuff. Sometimes this would be difficult listening, but at no point did you ever feel like turning the radio off because it was still compelling and the unusual nature of the material kept it interesting.
The final hour was always for playing a single album/compilation or as much of it as would fit in the alloted time. Again these were usually the more experimental compositions, but not necessarily. It's nice to give the listener the experience of hearing an album in its entirety without any annoying interruptions. The final hour was also usually something that would send you off to sleep. Not always, but usually. When the show turned twenty, they set up a phone number with voice mail so you could leave a birthday wish. The message on the machine was Patti telling you to either leave a birthday greeting or yell at us for playing something disturbing that you woke up screaming to in the middle of the night.
My Listening Habits
"I recognized, when I started working there, just how crucial an outlet and vehicle the program could be, and even though it’s late at night it doesn’t matter. I love that it’s late at night."
By virtue of BNW being on late at night and focusing on obscure music, it felt like you were part of a secret club. You had to put in a little effort to find the show and then stay up listening, especially if you had a normal 9 to 5 schedule. All of this is made it more of a tangible experience.
The show almost always sounded good to me, even if I didn't necessarily like it or get it right off the bat. This was probably more true when I first started listening. Some of the more experimental stuff takes a few tries before it begins to make sense. Sometimes it never clicks, but you can start to build an appreciation so in the future when you see a band where the guitarist is jamming a file under the guitar's strings or a guy is playing a dozen guitar effects pedals and a tape recorder, you have a reference point to understand what and why that is happening.
When I was in college and grad school, I'd tune in as many nights as possible to 94.1 FM, the CBC station out of Toronto, when I was home on breaks from classes. It always sounded best in the summer, a season that lends itself late nights much better than the others. Sometimes the reception wouldn't be the greatest, but it usually got better as the night went on. I sat there drawing and/or reading skateboard magazines while listening and writing down the info for any band that sounded appealing. Occasionally I'd pop in a tape and record the show. I saved all the tapes and have been listening to them recently at the day job after I bought a new tape player. After I finished college, I worked at the local newspaper as a photographer. My schedule was a variable mix of days and nights so I never had to be in bed too early. I made it a point to at least catch the first hour of the show no matter what, often more, sometimes less.
I know I tried sharing the show with my friends. I don't think any of them really got into BNW. Usually this was on the drive home from a concert in Buffalo. I don't think a lot of them realized how incredible what they were being forced to listen to was. I know they weren't stoked on the weird stuff like I was. Wait, you mean there's something wrong with enjoying epic bouts of guitar feedback or minimal electronic soundscapes? Oh, well. Their loss.
"An obsessive curiosity. A need to know what other people are doing, what’s on their minds, how people are combining all of the crazy elements of life into song, and probably an unhealthy evangelical element towards playing [music] for other people. I’m kind of batty within my house. I’ve said this to my friends several times, that if they don’t tell me to stop I will narrate every single concert we ever go to. I really have to consciously stop myself from talking. But I just want people to hear it. When people come over to my house I’m usually like, “Aah – hear this song! Have you heard this song? Do you want to hear this song?” and I try to make them their own personal playlist of what I think they will like. I don’t want to scare them – “I know who you are. I think I’ve got some music that would fit into your life.”"
Keep in mind that prior to the late 1990s, the internet existed in a crude form that was being developed and you couldn't just Google a band. You had to put in a degree of actual research to find things through a combination of radio and print, plus going to record stores and shows. Talking to people. Or at least listening. So when you did find something new, it mattered a lot more. It felt you accomplished something, even if in the grand scheme of things you only bought a CD. That's what made Brave New Waves so special. You got to hear a huge variety of sounds that you might never have heard otherwise and never even known to look for. Once the internet became more developed so bands and record labels were using it for promotion, it was much easier to track down the music you heard.
Brave New Waves turned twenty in 2004. At that point it seemed like the show would be around in some format for forever, even factoring in the uncommercial nature of the content. However, this was not the case. With the emergence of satellite radio and the internet, the CBC started restructuring their programming schedule. Several of the more "youth oriented" programs were moved online or cancelled. Patti hosted what would be the final show on May 27, 2006. All of the songs were about the radio and the final selection of music was from William Basinski's The Disintegration Loops. BNW went into repeats for the summer. Then in the fall of 2006, a slightly different version was on the air. The first hour of the show featured a variety of hosts playing new music and then the last three hours would consist of material from the archives. Finally, it was announced in early 2007 that the last Brave New Waves would air on Friday, March 17. This was a repeat of the show from May 2006 with a thank you from Patti added at the beginning. That was it. It was about the saddest thing ever when I tuned into 94.1 on the next Monday to make sure it actually was over and Brave New Waves was gone.
"Things definitely change and you never get that again. I also don’t do that thing where I get a record and listen to it 30 times. In three days. I don’t do that anymore, mostly because I don’t have time. I’m not searching through music or trying to understand music that way anymore. I feel that I have listened to so much over the years that I have ... I kind of understand what is going on in a way that I didn’t when I was listening to things so thoroughly. But I still listen thoroughly."
Patti has one of the best radio voices ever. She would make little mistakes when she hosted, but it made the show much more real, especially since it was late at night. She came across as a fan first and foremost, which is what she is. I think that made a big difference because you were hearing selections of music that she felt needed to be put out in the world, instead of the popular tracks of the day. So much of my philosophy on music and even art came from Brave New Waves. The show helped shape and expand my musical preferences. It truly was one the best things ever. Even though Brave New Waves is gone, I feel I learned what I needed to from it and know that there is whole world of underground music happening out there.
Thank you, Patti Schmidt.
1. The various quotes are from a 2004 interview with Discorder Magazine. The interview doesn't seem to be online any more.
2. In 2008, Schmidt earned her Masters in communications and art history from McGill University in Montreal. She played bass and sang with Pest 5000. She still works for the CBC on the show Inside The Music.
3. The photo of Patti is from the Paraethos' website.
4. I'm sorry I used some old photo I dug up off the internet.
A searchable archive of BNW's Playlists:
Interviews with Patti Schmidt:
Pest 5000 interview
Patti Schmidt and Jeff Waye interview