Ben Ward

Eclectic Brews


San Francisco

Lately I’ve had the immense pleasure of co-hosting a radio show with my good friend Simon Batistoni. Since December of 2013 he’s been running a show on BFF.FM named Eclectic Kettle. It has, thus far, been a quite wonderful experience.

I consider myself extremely fortunate in this whole affair: This was Simon’s show, which he ran for an hour on Saturday mornings, but he was kind and interested enough to have me on as a co-host on a few occasions. We had so much fun that when a longer Tuesday evening slot opened up we jumped at the chance. A tiny little chance to play at being our British radio idols of youth, an illustrious time slot .

We don’t have a great blurb, but in short we play a borderline-acceptable definition of eclectic music on Tuesday evenings, from 8pm ‘til 10pm. You can listen live at, or via a handful of internet radio apps (such as TuneIn, which I rather like.) If 8pm pacific doesn’t work for you, you can also find our show archived on Mixcloud. Naturally we’re on Twitter too: @bffkettle, and Facebook if you must.

Besides the show being a good deal of fun in and of itself, and really enjoyable to do something different from my day job, it’s made for a challenging, invigorating shift in how I approach music the rest of the time.

Are Friends Eclectic?

One last note about the show itself: When I say a “borderline-acceptable” definition what I really mean is that we muddle together a show that spans a good number of the accessible genres. How eclectic is that? Well, we don’t really play any jazz. I’m not really comfortable with describing myself as “eclectic” when it comes to music; there’s just so much that it feels quite dishonest (and a little pretentious.) But, it’s also good to be aspirational. It’s nice to have the name there, pressuring you in little ways to pick different tracks every week, dig deeper into a band’s archive, or pull things from collaborations and side projects instead of the obvious big hit. Then play them up against someone else’s big hit.

Thus far we’ve never repeated a song, and between us we’ve never picked the same song for the same show, so it’s going pretty well. Of course, the show is only weekly, so it shouldn’t be that that hard. You’d think.

Pillaging Music

When this started, when I just did a guest spot a couple of times, it almost seemed easy. The show tries to play new music, and I’d listened to enough stuff in the previous 12 months to put together a 30 minute playlist. It’s amazing how limited you find yourself two weeks in. You’ve suddenly played something from every album you’ve bought that year, and while you can always play different songs from those albums (I do), two weeks is not long to start feeling derivative.

The keywords above are “album” and “bought.” That’s music listening to me. That’s how I like music to be. In fact, Tom and I discussed it on the show last week. For me, for the longest time, the album has been how I listen to music (ideally on vinyl.) I dearly appreciate not only the run of music in an order, but the rarer album that cares about how those smaller sets of music sound on each side of the record. (Queens of the Stone Age’s “…Like Clockwork” record does a very fine job with each of its four sides, and Jack White’s gimmick-laden release of Lazaretto ends the first side with a stonking crash and locked groove.)

The quick lesson in planning a weekly radio show is that you rapidly have to adopt different listening patterns. Simon and I both prepare about 45 minutes of music each, then we alternate and make up the final playlist on the spot. (The remaining 30 minutes of the show is us talking shit. Also, 45 minutes.) For me, though still listening to full records too, this new process requires something that feels like pillaging. A raid across the web where before I’d be checking in far less frequently otherwise. Between the BBC’s excellent, weekly updated 6Music playlists and recommendations, and some other Spotify lists that dedicatedly stalk particular DJs (I’m a fan of Tom Ravenscroft’s taste, even though I’m rarely able to listen to his actual show) I find myself skimming to keep up. Things that are great end up starred, or their whole album/EP throw into another playlist for further research. (I do try not to just 1:1 poach tracks from the BBC, though I’m pretty sure I could get away with it.)

Also good are the playlists from labels: Warp are periodically pushing cuts from new releases, Domino records have a Spotify app, and so forth. Drowned in Sound do a nice job of highlighting their favourites too.

Oh, and I’ve found some real gems from friends on This is my Jam too. (Thanks, David Emery.)

The intensity is a thrill, but it’s also a bit weird for me. It’s a new, scattered listening style that I’m not entirely comfortable with. A lot of the songs I’ve played on Kettle (and the albums containing them) are still queued up on my “Incoming” playlist, and I just don’t know when I’ll have the moment to play them in full and really, really listen. At its worst it feels like a utilitarian relationship with music and its mediums, which isn’t terribly well aligned with what I enjoy about it. At its best it’s exhilarating, you hear so much new and different music, and by keeping active you get the occasional thrill of playing new records to people mere days after it drops onto the web, hopefully to some who’ve never heard it before. That’s fun.

As much as anything though, it’s healthy to mix things up. Whether you’re just trying different sources or completely upending your listening habits. Music is as brilliant as it’s always been. If you’d like to hear my version of that, I look forward to you Tweeting to us during the show on Tuesdays. 8pm, BFF.FM.

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