25 years of rage: “We just want to show clips that are really entertaining”

As rage celebrates 25 years of being on the air, Carriageworks, the ABC and the Vivid Sydney Festival team have collaborated to bring Sydneysiders a unique audio-visual experience to celebrate this momentous milestone, cementing the program as the longest-running music video program of all time. FL spoke with Tyson Koh, rage’s producer and programmer, about the legacy and the impact that rage has held in its time on Australian television.

Does rage have a mission statement or a goal to work towards each week?

It’s hard to say. We don’t have a mission statement as such, but we do try and cover a lot of bases because we’ve got such a huge viewership. We want to keep everyone happy: we’ve got stuff that’s on the charts, we’ve got metal clips, we’ve got dance bands, indie bands. We just want to show clips that are really entertaining, that visually engaging, that are clever or funny. Ultimately, it’s to entertain and expose viewers to new and exciting music.

How many videos does rage get sent each week?

It’s really hard to tell, it changes from week to week. We like to give clips that we’re really passionate about more of a run, but there’s always new stuff that we have to juggle and try to fit into the show. Each week, we get sent anywhere between thirty and sixty clips. They come from major labels as well as independent sources. It’s difficult to fit all of it in. We have to work as curators, in a way, in order to play the clips we really love for a few weeks as well as all the new things that we get sent in. It’s quite a difficult task, really.

How much thought process goes into the order of the videos played, both visually and musically?

Quite a lot. We tend to have the videos that came in that week that we really love pushed towards the start of the show, but then we tend to really consider the flow of the show: who’s watching at the various times, and how things are flowing visually and musically. I really come at it from a music programmer’s perspective, because that’s what I was working on professionally before I actually got to rage. Having almost that DJ mentality is what I bring personally to the show. Some people might be watching for up to nine hours straight, so it’s a huge consideration for us.

If a terrible song has a great video – and vice versa – will it still get played on rage?

Absolutely. The clips that we show have to have something redeeming about it; it needs to have at least one box that we’re able to tick. If a song itself isn’t so great or original but its video clip is funny or engaging. Sometimes it could be really big budget, or something really charming that was done on a slight budget. There’s no set criteria in terms of what we show, but there definitely has to be something entertaining about it.

Why do you think that rage has lasted so long, especially with the rise of the internet and particularly YouTube?

I think it’s because it’s quite unique. We’ve always offered a space for really alternative and boundary-pushing videos, and we’ve always reflected what’s popular of the day. We also try and direct where the trends in which music video making are headed. While a lot of music video programs have come and gone, I think that rage has really stuck to its guns in a lot of ways. A lot of our older audience members really respect that, and a lot of our younger audience members are wowed by that.

There’s a couple of components that have contributed to the longevity of rage. There’s the guest programmers every Saturday, which are quite unique; and the Friday program, in which we put forward what we think are the best clips that are coming out at that time. With a lot of the independent local groups that might not necessarily have a large promotional budget, rage has always supported those kind of groups and given them an avenue to become a little more public. It’s become an icon in itself – coming home and watching rage late at night; or maybe you’re just stuck at home watching it. That’s a pretty good deal, if you ask me! [laughs] We’ve always put together a program that has really engaged people, and I guess the proof is in the pudding: We’re still on the air, and we’re planning to be for quite awhile longer.

It’s one of those shows that works really well with parallel viewing, so being able to watch it and be online, on Facebook or whatever, at the same time. It’s a kind of show that you don’t have to be 100% involved in order to enjoy it.

I think it’s one of those shows where you can either choose to watch it either actively or passively. At the same time, there’ll be some things that you see on the program that you won’t know about or that you wouldn’t have thought to look up. Even though, with the age of the internet, we have the capacity to look up any media that is available, you still need to know about it in the first place. If you’re not reading the right blogs or following the right things in your social media feed, then I think that rage is really great at showing things that you might not normally have seen or heard of.

How important do you think rage is to the Australian music scene?

I think it’s hugely important. I don’t think that’s lost any value. We offer a space for a lot more alternative bands and videos, as well as genres of music – stuff that more commercial outlets won’t touch. Bands that want to express themselves fully with how they put together either their music or their videos… we don’t shy away from showing that. I think that’s a really valuable thing. We don’t edit out the creativity that a band wants to express. Also, we give everyone a go: We consider a major-label commercial video on the same level that we would to someone that’s just put together a really small budget clip. Considering it’s a publicly-funded national broadcast, I think it’s a really great thing. It hasn’t lost its value.

Can you name any bands that really gained popularity through having their video shown on rage?

I can answer that more within the context of bands being guest programmers on rage. Because rage has had quite a long history, we’ve had guest programmers from Cyndi Lauper and Alice Cooper to the Smashing Pumpkins. When we show a local up-and-coming band as guest programmers, I think that really elevates their status to our viewers. They become quite prominent in their eyes. Whether that’s a band like Operator Please or a band like Dappled Cities, having on local indie bands as guest programmers really helps their careers along.

Have there been any guest programmers where you’ve been shocked by their bad taste in music videos?

[Laughs] A few artists have come on the show and picked clips that I normally wouldn’t have picked myself. I won’t name any bands, but it certainly is a bit of an insight into who they are as musicians when they pick something popular and obvious, yet still manage to make great music of their own despite that. I think that in itself is quite interesting.

Do you try and convince the guest programmers to avoid the obvious or overplayed classics?

We pretty much let them all do what they want. I think that’s really important. Even if it is a video that’s been played quite a few times, if it’s really important to them then I don’t think it’s really our job to really edit that out as producers of the show. We tend to let them have free license over what they choose to play.

rage: Celebrating 25 Years is at Carriageworks until the 17th of June. Entry is free, and it runs between 10am and 6pm.