So what’s the triple j “sound” anyway?

EDWARD SHARP-PAUL goes in search of that elusive triple j sound.

Heard about the triple j thing? You’ve probably heard about the triple j thing. Bands have to change their sound to get airplay. No they don’t. Well why did you ignore my stuff? Et cetera.

In among all the accusations and counter-accusations, though, no one has yet been kind enough to enunciate exactly what the mythical “triple j sound” really is. A lot of the discussion has come from disgruntled former listeners and musicians who feel marginalised by the station. Much as I have sympathy for the views of both parties – being as I’ve belonged to both at various points – it’s worth considering that these are not regular listeners, and that they might be focussing their anger on an unrepresentative caricature; the fear-mongering triple j-is-breeding-a-nation-of-hipsters narrative that invariably seems to focus on San Cisco, Cloud Control and their ilk, with a lashing of skip-hop for balance.

Any sustained listen, though, reveals that triple j is a genre clusterfuck. Some genres are favoured over others, no doubt, but over an hour or two, a heap of ground gets covered. Loads of indie pop, yes, but also hip-hop; grunge; garage rock; wispy female singer-songwriter fare; earthy, male singer-songwriter fare; indie dance; psych; and the moist, lush, dubsteppy electronica that doesn’t really have a proper name yet;

A dominant mood and format, rather than a dominant sound

But regardless of genre, what really strikes the ear when listening to triple j is that almost everything played fits a prevailing mood: positive, propulsive and sincere, the sort of versatile, malleable happy-sad mood that can be applied to most life situations. No long intros, no slow-burners, all hook-driven and immediate. Lyrics are of the vague, wistful variety: nothing too depressing, not Ke$ha dumb, but not Drones-smart, either. Nothing overtly political, and make sure you wrap it up in three to four minutes, maximum.

Across all genres, these general principles apply, which is really no different to any other radio station ever, and not massively different to how triple j used to operate in its dark, distant halcyon days – only the genre mix has changed. Detractors argue that as a publicly-funded concern, however, it has a responsibility to provide exposure to acts that don’t fit the restrictive template of the commercial stations, rather than providing a marginally less restrictive template of their own. But that’s an argument for another time.

Within the major Triple J genres – guitar pop, indie dance, aussie hip hop, sensitive singer-songwriter fare and electronica – though, things get pretty specific. If you’re altering your sound to get that sweet, sweet j play, make sure you heed the following guidelines:

Genre: Guitar pop

(Archetypes: early Vampire Weekend, The Holidays)

Must have: Plinky guitars

The jangle is out, the strum is out, and fiddly little melodic riffs with no distortion are where it’s at.

Must be: Breathy or bust

Got a rich, baritone croon? An operatic soprano? Put it away. Think pillow-talk volume, or saying-something-rude-about-the-person-sitting-opposite-you-on-public-transport volume.

Must have: A beat that goes “boom…BA!-boom-BA”

Also known as a rhumba beat.

Must have: Anthemic choruses

Genre: Indie dance

(Archetypes – Cut Copy, Rüfüs)

Must: Arpeggiate!

All things chiming and vaguely hypnotic are very in right now.

Must have: Pulsing synth bass

Ditto big analogue synth bass.

Must not have: Pointy bits

It’s important that adjectives like “icy”, “breezy” and “blissful” are applicable. Singing must be sleek and Auto-Tuned, and the sonic palette must be soft, hazy, and without any abrasive edges.

Must have: Anthemic choruses

Genre: Aussie hip hop

(Archetypes – Hilltop Hoods, Bliss N’ Eso)

Must: Bellow

This is the only way Australians are allowed to rap.

Rags-to-riches stories are encouraged

Even if you never wore rags, and haven’t yet obtained riches.

Must: Get a sensitive singer-songwriter to sing the hook

Salty ‘n’ sweet. Classic combo.

Must have: Anthemic choruses

Genre: Sensitive singer-songwriter

(Archetypes – Sarah Blasko, Angus and Julia Stone)

Must: Choke your syllables

You are a Sensitive Artist®. Sound like it.

Must have: Falsetto

I don’t think I need to explain why a swoon-worthy, Corby-esque falsetto is a good idea.

Banjos are optional, but encouraged

Pairs well with nostalgic lyrics.

Must have: Anthemic choruses:

Genre: electronica

(Archetypes – Flume)

Must have: Pitch-shifted vocals
Because your own average voice is boring.

Must have: Sub-bass

Because no-one “listens” to bass any more – they feel it.

Must have: Glitchy rhythms

Start. Stop. Start again. Lurching beats, loads of wide open spaces.

Must have: Anthemic choruses

Genre: Hardcore, metalcore, metal, hard rock, etc.

(Archetype – Karnivool, Parkway Drive)

Must: Hang in there

You could become Triple j’s go-to heavy mascot band at any moment, without warning. It happened to Northlane, and it could happen to you. Beware, though: there can be only one. Be patient.

The golden rule:

Don’t be Airbourne.