Broadcast Wants You to Stay Inside

Sets and the CD
33 min readApr 23, 2020

There has never been a better time to talk about Broadcast. And we can only hope there never will be.

Many bands have come and gone, who pushed listeners to face boundaries of reality, but few of them managed to innovate and redefine their sound in the process. Was it their charming retro-esque melodic affinity for remotely Bondian space age sounds? The hypnotic quality of Trish Keenan’s beguiling, icy voice? The buzzing synths and layered distortion, creeping in so effortlessly within their songs — that made them all the more haunting?

Was it their ability to understand what the otherworld sounds like?

Trish, penetrating your soul, as per usual.

Maybe. Probably, all of them. But there was something else about Broadcast. To the core, Broadcast, the outsiders of the late 90s Birmingham indie scene, made music for people who felt like outsiders, seeking to understand the world around them through a particularly peculiar frame. The textures of their ever-shifting, mesmerizingly complex sound were always tainted by a faint eeriness. They were made to fill a void and find a comfort that often words and even company couldn’t, and for that, the band chose sound. A Broadcast song is a conversation starter, a think piece, an echo chamber, and oftentimes the trigger to many big, big existential revelations. That’s why now that we are all alone, lamenting the loss of our collective humanity, there is no better time to find it in a song, or even a whole LP. To look at ourselves through the distorted simplicity of this offbeat outfit, and realize what exactly makes it so compelling by tracing their story, cut tragically short under circumstances that feel oddly too familiar. The fateful death of leading lady and frontwoman, singer-songwriter Trish Keenan feels all the more heartbreaking when knowing what the band was capable of, and the places we could have hoped to escape while visiting their world-of-a-kind. It hits all the more forcefully when we remember that she succumbed to complications of H1N1 virus — the swine flu.

In uncertain times of uncomfortable compromises, let’s remember what we can access from the comforts of our homes. Let’s do some social distancing, with Broadcast.

Part One: Moseley, Brum

In the movie I always dreamt of making for Broadcast, the first scene starred a fairy-like floating Trish ascending from heaven and right into a dimly-lit stage. Because the budget is running low, I lack expertise and my quarantine-enhanced free time is limited, we will begin with Brum, the setting of our first act.

Baby Trish smiles for the camera

Trish Keenan was born Patricia Anne Keenan in Winson Green, Birmingham, England. Trish had two older brothers and sisters and was raised by her Irish father, and a mother who was a former prostitute, gifted with an emotional aloofness that Trish would go on to vaguely evoke within her own stage presence. Despite this, Trish’s home in infancy was quite gregarious: she recalls being raised through a folk soundtrack, with her mother performing in bars on and off, and Bob Dylan and Neil Diamond being recurring guests on the stereo. At 8 years old, Trish was encouraged by her parents to prepare a song for a talent competition. “My dad said, ‘why don’t you learn ‘Love Is In The Air’ on your recorder?’ He taught me all the notes and I wrote them all down. A strange thing happened, I wouldn’t go. I must have been nervous though I didn’t feel nervous. My eyes were all red from crying. But I got up and did it.” This incident set the scene for Trish as a run-off-the-mill Birmingham teen, born with a distinct brand of stage fright and a complex relationship with confidence.

At Catholic School, like her fellow contemporaries, Trish was casually exposed to mildly disturbing footage disguised as children’s TV, the likes of Children of the Stones, Sky and The Owl Service. While some of those references might ring unknown to several of you, I’ll take the opportunity to ask you: what do Steve Winwood, the Move, the Moody Blues, Robert Plant, Jeff Lynne, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Slade, Ocean Color Scene, Duran Duran and UB40 have in common? Besides the fact that they all, for lack of a better term, slap hard? If you’re my High School best friend — obsessed with Heitor Villa Lobos, and a notable Anglophile too hipster to move to London — you might conclude they’re all from your number one study destination: Birmingham. It’s not like it wasn’t a pool of musical talent throughout the latter part of the twentieth century. As noted by Billboard in a 2000 front cover piece, “At the end of the 1960s, only Birmingham had the combination of social angst, heavy industry, and reckless fans that could spawn heavy metal.”

The skyline of the remarkable Birmingham, United Kingdom

Despite this, there was always a failure to capitalize on the climate in the city, as reported by former local music aficionado and editor of BRUM BEAT, Steve Morris, who commented, “They’ve never out themselves out there for rock’n roll; there’s no civic sense of this tradition.” The trouble, some speculated, was born out of a particular tendency of dominant British media, frequently London-based, to cut the nation’s music scenes in a distinct yet paradoxically imaginary Northern-Southern border. Manchester and Liverpool headlined the North, while London stood at the South, and the Midlands, Birmingham’s resident territory, went ignored. For the head of indie label Downwards Records, Karl O’Connor, this created a sort of “Inferiority complex, paranoia, rage that’s what drives us, where we get our hunger.” There was also a clear lack of venues large enough to accommodate a decent, tour-stop worthy audience, making the location a little redundant to visit by musicians who had “made it,” so to speak. Birmingham remains the second-to-largest city and economy in the United Kingdom, but few would guess this from looking at the images of the peaceful, relatively crowd-free roads, fresh aired blue skies and plentiful streams. Trish herself said, “I definitely believe in the individual character of cities, and there’s really a down tone in Birmingham. People here definitely underestimate themselves. There’s definitely a lack of confidence, and almost a resignation and defeatism among musicians here.”

To be fair, Trish grew up relatively unscathed. She was a Morrissey fangirl and really into New Romantic Bowie. Despite this unremarkable series of events, infancy and the loss of innocence as a sonic textured exploration is something Trish, and eventually Broadcast, would continue to return to. The hope was to reconcile the sounds of space age that never came, hypnotic childhood limericks, and the lackluster reality of economic instability and working class difficulty. Living somewhere in the middle of these worlds at odds, Trish, worked in catering to make spare money. In the early ’90s, she packed up shop and moved to Moseley, a bohemian suburb of Birmingham known for its Haight-Ashbury-like music scene, and began studying Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. Always a prolific storyteller, Trish was much more willing to bet on her ability to capitalize on her writing rather than her music-making. She couldn’t read sheet music, but always found an endless stream of meaning in a single, seemingly nonsensical verse of prose, using her penchant for the written word to fuel her musical inspiration. Influenced by her love of childhood folk, she formed a short-lived folk duo known as Hayward Winters, performing only two gigs before her fateful encounter with the man who would become her longtime collaborator, bandmate, partner, and what the romantic in me would definitely define a soulmate: James Cargill. Fittingly, their fateful encounter took place in a ‘60s psychedelic revival club, known as Sensateria. I can only imagine what a ‘60s psychedelic club in the ‘90s must have been like, and the jealousy of not having been there stings a little.

The legendary posters of the Sansateria nights. Aren’t you a little jealous, too?

Because James was not particularly fond of folk music, their musical collaboration shifts Trish’s attention to more experimental sonic textures. The two of them form a band called Pan Am Flight Bag. We sadly don’t have any records or footage of them today, but the duo was described by Trish herself as the best in the game at the time — the game being a ‘60s inspired far-out early ‘90s rock sound. The Flight Bag didn’t survive long before the duo decided to reform as Broadcast, in 1995. The reasons behind the name of the band were never explicitly recounted by Trish herself, but she mentions Renaissance folk band Pentangle band’s compilation The Lost Broadcast 1968–1972 as one of her favorite records of all time. Maybe, there goes our mystery. It is at this time that Trish and James join forces with drummer Steve Perkins, guitarist Tim Felton and keyboard player Roj Stevens to properly become a full band and begin recording demos and performing. Billboard, in 2000, speculated that “it can only be a matter of time before at least one musical trend emerges from this melting pot, and who knows, Birmingham may after all get the recognition its residents feel it deserves.” Well, Broadcast was there to finally announce their subdued existence in style, through their mystical radio-waves.

Part Two: Broadcast Goes to Hollywood

By the mid-Nineties, Broadcast began sending out their first demo out to a handful of record companies. A man by the name of Martin Pike saw promise in the band. He worked for the label Duophonic, and was particularly struck by their rudimentary result, influenced by quite the eclectic mix, and recorded in a unique location. It wasn’t long after graduating, in fact, that Trish and the band decided to move their headquarters to somewhere a little more groovy: Birmingham’s booming all-new Custard Factory. Think of it as a mini Brooklyn-Williamsburg in the early ’90s, a modestly sized area that catered to musicians, artists and dancers due to its relatively cheap and accessible housing and studio space, strong colorful community and lucrative, post-ironic themed bars that were perfect for far-out gigs — places like Kitchen or Medicine Bathroom. Interestingly enough, modern Custard is still very much the same as Williamsburg. Now mostly a work destination, it’s known for its workspace rentals, and for being the home of Fused Magazine, ASOS.com, and Rare Studios — effectively funding hipster culture. Back in Broadcast’s basement, as the band detuned their gear to the perfectly odd pitch, they used the ample space to get quite a variety of mixes going. Early Broadcast was known for a more structured and deliberately ‘60s sound, contoured by French songstresses like Francoise Hardy, Zouzou, the occasional noisier Clothilde track, and even the delightfully odd orchestral atmospheric jazzy vocals of Brigitte Fontaine.

A colorful view of the modern Custard Factory
A colorful night at the modern Custard Factory

One comparison, however, seems to be inescapable: Stereolab. If you like baby Broadscast, there’s a statistical 99% probability you also like Stereolab. There’s also a 75% super-statistical probability that you were introduced by someone to both bands at the same time, and a whopping something-percentage probability it was Stereolab that eventually led you to Broacast, be it an early sticky Custard gig, lo-fi pirate college radio show, 8tracks playlist, or sweaty indie boy you were in love with. I am an outlier that stumbled upon Broadcast by herself and had to wait a few years before getting into Stereolab, through a whole other avenue entirely — thank you, Bradforf Cox of Deerhunter. Remember this name, he comes back — but no matter how hard my ego is trying, this story is really not about me or how bored I am at home. The thing is, I could spend ten more minutes comparing Broadcast to Stereolab. They come as a prepackaged, groovetastic, bachelor pad, retro-futuristic two-for-one deal. If your next single happens to feature a Moog synthesizer and someone freelancing at Pitchfork picks it up for review, expect to find reference to the Stereolab/Broadcast sound, exlcusively defined by synthetic synths and space-age catchiness, along with stylishly minimalistic, bouncy record sleeves. Of this tireless comparison, Trish would comment: “In the great scheme of all the music in the world, we are occupying the same ground… I’m sure that if we’d compared record collections, we would see where we link.” It probably didn’t help that Broadcast’s number one fan, our friend Martin Pike, happened to be Stereolab’s manager, and Duophonic is Stereolab’s label. He was enchanted by Trish’s mesmerizing, sweet voice. He hoped to find in it something more endearing, and utterly different from Laetitia Sadier’s, responsible for Stereolab’s composed cool. He took a personal interest in this venture, and now, suddenly, Broadcast had a label.

In 1996, Broadcast emerged with two singles. Accidentals was a vaguely trip-hoppy, dreamy escapade in a sampled utopia that meandered across worlds, while still capping on trendy mid-90s trends. Living Room, on the other hand, was properly groovy experiment, with tickling synths and shimmering rhythms that didn’t feel all that removed from the sound of the ‘Lab. A few months later, a proper record collection followed through The Book Lovers EP, the title track immediately standing out. Some dare say, it stood out so much it grew legs, walking away from the band’s discography and somehow ending up in the soundtrack of the first Austin Powers movie, the centerpiece of the late ‘90s’ ‘60s nostalgia movement. This bout of notoriety and fame prompted a new interest in the affairs of Broadcast. In particular, Rob Mitchell, founder of Warp Records, noticed something else entirely in the early releases of the band. While blockbuster reviewers and movie studios focused on the stringy, loungy ballads — which executed its retro sound a little too faithfully to be a proper Bond theme, but seemed right at home in its cuter spoof — the other tracks of the collection seemed to pave the way for what was to come for Broadcast. In The World Backwards, the textured, reverberating, vibrating electronic synths took center stage and abruptly interrupted the song, showcasing the band’s affinity for meddling with electronic production. Warp — which then only signed mostly IDM or ambient acts, like Aphex Twin, the KLF, and Boards of Canada — understood that Broadcast wasn’t there to be Stereolab’s successor. They drew, instead, from another set of influences. One particular record that Trish seemed to come back to was the only release by the fascinating psychedelic band The United States of America, which foretold the many sonic stories that were eventually going to be explored in experimental records only decades later. It paired traditional noisy rock tracks with delicate analog synths and sci-fi effects, alongside the dreamily girlish vocals of Dorothy Moskowitz. The unlikely union between Broadcast and Warp was an investment and risk for both the record label and the indie rock band, creating a clear line of sonic division between them and Stereolab.

Broadcast and Trish Group Play Voltage in the Black and White Night,

It wouldn’t be long before an actual LP followed. But an actual LP didn’t follow yet. Instead, the group put together Work And Non-Work, a compilation featuring songs from a number of past EPs and B-Sides. I had a hard time coming upon the discovery of this release because, for some reason, critics like to pretend it doesn’t exist. It took me a year to trace it. And I fell in love. James Cargill’s bass thumps harder than a lot of material I’ve heard since, and that was enough to convince my tiny-handed self that I, too, could cut bangs, sing at a higher pitch, and morph into a bizarre bass-playing amalgamation of both Trish and James. The results were catastrophic.

Unlike me, Work and Non-Work was full of promise and talent, and took the band on a number of ventures, including grainy recordings at MTV Live. Despite their dedication to the preparation of a proper debut, it took three more years for Broadcast to fully develop it. Trish herself attributed more importance to this meticulous editing process as part of the band’s recording process, “It’s interesting how much your creative work is really about editing. That somehow the text, the music, the songs you generate… it’s about what you choose out of it that is you. The choices that you make are the important ones.” This led to Broadcast earning their notorious reputation for perfectionism and selectivity in the studio. They took a long time to faithfully get the sound they were looking for. Possibly, this is due to the fact that Trish longed for more firm production direction, commenting “I prefer the producer to go ‘shut the f*** up and play this.’ Then you’ve got one mind pushing the whole thing forward. There’s nothing worse than having five babbling voices all wanting to be the greatest thing.”

In 1999, Echo’s Answer was finally released as the first single off of the new, actually-for-real-this-time debut album, teasing its release with a sound that seemed like a complete departure from the ‘Lab-craftian angles of their previous compilation.

Broadcast perform at MTV in 1999

Part Three: The Experimental Aisle

Broadcast never stopped making pop music. At least, not at the turn of the millennium. But Echo’s Answer was a different response. Trish’s voice stands clear, velvety and painfully haunting, a tragic prophecy in its subdued majesty. It is in the contrast, between this lyrical authenticity and the vaguely crooked synths, that was wobbly enough to complicate the mind with a weird dissonance. It was an effect that stunned because it was so hard to assimilate. A gentle voice, wrapped by ominous mechanical instrumentation and still channeling an elegant, detached humanity. It was woozy, it was unexpected, and it was unsettling enough not to go unnoticed. To this day, if you catch me go for a few weeks without hearing Echo’s Answer, I am guaranteed to shed a tear or two when I listen to it again. There is something atrociously fatal about the premonitions of its winds, Trish’s voice itself the whisper of truth hidden behind an inevitable future, now gone forever and saved only in a record that is too beautiful to be ever fully heard. Also, Michelle Branch blatantly stole this sample for a song in 2002 and no one seems to have noticed this, or cared. Maybe, in a twisted hypocritical bout of nostalgia, it was my own recalling of this theft-in-plain-sound that drew my attention to Broadcast’s music.

Trish in the early ‘00s

In 2000, the band finally managed to release the long-awaited debut album The Noise Made By People in its entirety. There’s something significantly darker about this collection than the groovy tunes of the ‘90s. Something painfully anxious lingered in its atmosphere.The sweet flavor of the vocals, when placed in this mix, was already guaranteed to create its signature contrasted sound. Trish’s voice — alluring, intense, seductive, and yet simple and smooth — remained a comforting presence when heard alongside the industrial, primitive analog synths that echo across the album. In the instrumentals, like the cosmic Minus One a ritual of a song that would see its titular digits increased every time the band lost a member — or Tower of Our Turning, there was a distinct emphasis on rhythmical progress. Can’t you just feel the 1927 Metropolis trailer, playing in ghostly black and white, mirroring the soulless city that progresses along the distance with efficient eeriness? It was innovative and boundless, but slippery without Trish’s grounding, rooted vocals. As put it brilliantly by Seth Cooke on the Bang The Bore blog, “No matter how weird, how strange, how out there the music swirled, her voice was a reassuring presence — come in, you are welcome, and safe, and loved here.”

And it’s never as evident as in the band’s breakout single from the album, Come On Let’s Go, which yielded a gem of a distorted video and a deceptively optimistic set of lyrics. Trish is the gentle guide in Broadcast that keeps us in their lair through welcoming fascination instead of outright rejection. Paper Cuts true to its title — slices through a little more abrasively, but Trish’s timbre is still disarming. The technology and the instrumentation on the track have an air of murkiness, but her tone is as clear as day, and more than that, it is strikingly mannered, encouraging us to explore the different places and people that inhabit Broadcast’s peculiar world. This is what made Trish shrouded in an aura of intriguing mystery that, fundamentally, wasn’t really all that obtrusive or ominous. She stood out like the heroine of the story, the understated, simple anti-diva and everywoman chanteuse that made bleak realities beautiful. And for a while, everyone was under this arresting spell.

The hypnotic music video for “Come On Let’s Go.”

In 2001, Broadcast performed at their very first All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, an experience the band would later confess not having particularly liked, but brought the opportunity to beguile a new audience. The unreleased Cloud Song presented the final link between the band and The United States of America, as well as visionary sexy-psychedelic masters White Noise, with drizzles of Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani’s cosmic western music as well as other Italian library art soundtracks. Radio Broadscast span a long catalog that the band shared with other Birmingham contemporaries at the time, namely Pram and Plum, who all frequented the same video shop where they would rent — and occasionally rip soundtracks of — old, obscure cinema.

I know the quality isn’t good, but the video is. Broadcast perform “Paper Cuts.”

The darker edges of The Noise Made By People were brightened by the friendly chaos of the band’s second record which came out in 2003, and remains their most critically acclaimed to this day: Haha Sound — which, despite the name and time period, has little to do with a mumblecore indie film score. Apparently, parts of this album were recorded in a church hall where Trish had attended a jumble sale. The recording process followed a detached harmony between Trish and James, who by now had lost drummer Steve Perkins and Roj Stevens on keyboards — you can find a chaotic Minus Two instrumental on the band’s next EP. For the demos, Trish put together a few songs on her own, while James collected production ideas for sounds or chord structures and recorded them in a minidisc, which Trish would then do vocals on. The rough takes were then taken to their home studio. Isn’t it strange to think that such a foreign world was imagined, orchestrated, and painted from James’ humble and presumably completely ordinary abode? By this point, the band had given up frequenting the studio in an effort to save time, and money due to financial constraints, which had been taking their toll in the recording process.

Despite this, the sophomore LP made its mark. In Haha Sound, Broadcast used “warped, wobbly, sometimes even grimy electronics to evoke the unreality of the everyday, the loveliness of supposedly artificial sound, the supernatural qualities of circuit-based music,” celebrating a tradition with their signature spark. The most scintillating was the track Before We Begin, released as a first single, the perfect way to identify the more ethereal, quirky and weirdly enough, chirpy breeze to blow through the album production. Trish’s breathy coo was still cute and lovely, but the spookiness dialed down a little in favor of a sunnier Bacharach post-modern direction. It oozed catchy, unassuming lyrics with a timeless, woozy feel. This delicacy followed in Valerie, a song off of this release that paid homage to one of Trish’s favorite releases of all time, the soundtrack to the 1971 artful Czech horror film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, an idiosyncratic tale of, well, Christianity, and getting your first period.

Haha Sound Broadcast, in their absolute prime

And then, as 2003 drew to a close, there was the Pendulum EP. Now, I don’t know why this was, but only a few months after putting out this monster, Broadcast treated their fans to a six-song EP that went in a different a significantly louder direction. The title track remains one of my favorites because, when I first heard it, I was in the passenger seat of my mother’s 2007 Toyota. At the tender age of 14, having lived a sheltered life in Europe, I could tell exactly what Broadcast might have been like live. The song feels like a whole live performance in headphones, complete with rickety synths and warped basslines. Speaking of which, Broadcast was the reason I once attempted to play a bass, and not enough appreciation is paid to the revolutionary work of James Cargill in defining a base. The whole structure for songs that seem so abstract and shapeless with the mystique that the band ended up channeling was due to this solid foundation. In Pendulum, it was unexpected to have distortion, erosion and loud snares come at you all at once. In my young brain, I thought of Heroin, that Heroin, and I naturally came to the conclusion that live Broadcast was an Explosive Plastic Inevitable kind of experience. The music was such a cacophony that the visuals had to be as well. They must have. Trish and James were too meticulously obsessed with crafting their sound experience with every detail to leave that part blank. Strangely enough, I was right.

Trish was a notorious sufferer of stage fright, which contributed to her aloof, shoegazy stage presence, emphasized by her “heavy black fringe and pallor giving her a slightly detached and icy demeanour.” Truth be told, there is a part of me that wishes to inflict, loud musical torture to anyone who thinks of Broadcast as shoegaze — I know pretentious music categorization semantics should not be the cause for violence, but Hawk is the only case I’m willing to hear. Despite this, your typical Broadcast gig had a lot in common with our dispassionate champions of cacophonies. Trish often stood there, bathed in polka-dot projections, sometimes strumming a black guitar, sometimes holding a microphone, yet always speaking through her art like she loved doing. It was all part of her enchanting personality. Of herself, she’d say, “when I walk into a room I like to be unnoticed. I like to slip in. I’m not the kind of person who wants to rule the room with my conversation. I’m a quiet person.” She felt weird about being in focus, and was notably insecure about her subdued lilting, claiming she wasn’t actually much of a singer. “Because I’ll look down and I’ll see a lot of the eyes are on me when I’m singing, so I try not to look down too often… It’s like vertigo and bum notes keep happening… but that’s part of it, you just have to get on with it, get into it.” But you didn’t go to see Broadcast to have a musicianship performance thrown at you. You went to burst your eardrums and the story of a lifetime. And also, forty-five minutes to an hour of pure, unadulterated loudness bliss. See? My torture from before wasn’t even so bad. Us, shoegazers, like noise, and there was a lot more noise on the horizon for Broadcast.

Broadcast perform their classics in paisley

Part Four: I Don’t Know What We Have Done

Broadcast were never confined by their sound. If anything, their desire to make pop music through a distorted lens was what characterized a lot of their music, and a lot of music that came after theirs. Even their main influence, Stereolab themselves could not escape this, just listen to 2004’s La Demuere and that industrial feel that only came after Broadcast. And, while we’re here, no one is ever going to convince me this Joy Zipper synth moment wasn’t heavily inspired by Broadcast. An honorable mention goes to Autolux, who made a debut record off of the pseduo-creep-tronica and soft vocals concept, along with early Electrelane. Piano Magic, too. They were a little doomier and grungier, but oddly familiar. It seems silly for it to be called the “Stereolab-slash-Broadcast” sound, when it is, essentially, something so different that it even tinged fellow artists a different, darker color.

Well, if The Noise Made by People and Haha Sound were darker colors, Tender Buttons, the band’s fourth LP, was black and white. Not even a hint of gray. Released in 2005, a big part of it was written while Trish’s father was in hospice care, dying of cancer in the hospital. If in Color Me In we were urged in sweet, unassuming songs to bring colors to the canvas, in Tender Buttons Trish brought in the best version of her transparent ghost self. In case the title seemed familiar, it’s because Tender Buttons is also the name of Gertrude Stein’s 1914 book of poetic prose which described rooms, food, and objects in loosely structured paragraphs. If you like James Joyce or are enthused by how words fit together to create concepts — and I mean, who isn’t — it’s a pretty interesting read. Jez Winship has written a wonderful essay herself, completely devoted to identifying the influence Stein has had on Trish’s writing.

Trish explores the meaning of life in a record sleeve, for “Tender Buttons.”

By this point, financial constraints had left Broadcast to become a duo: it was only James and Trish, and I think you can hear that in the music — cue a Minus 3 track. The more experimental and verbal cubist the lyrics have become, the less complex the sound. In this piece of indietronic art-rock, we find our vintage synths to have become a series of buzzing, jarring layers, grimy and unstable, eroding the vocal tracks with a composed, quiet ambition. A preoccupation with the sense of identity had always bled through Trish’s lyrics, by subject and by mode of writing, but now the contrast had grown even more jarring, as Trish’s steady voice was completely obliterated by the rough, unruly shrieks of a keyboard, or painfully stark repetitive chords. Her singing reduced to a whisper when it wasn’t a drone, like in the titular Tender Buttons, a song particularly linked back to its motif of harsh “c” sounds, which Winship suggests were where “Trish seems to reflect upon the danger of becoming isolated in a private world of hermetic meaning.”

It is not surprising to note that this schism caused quite a divide in the band’s following. Fans harbored mixed feelings on the tonal shifts of the album, prompting Trish to comment:

“We sure don’t make it easy for anybody, not even ourselves. There is no section for unique music in any record shop, so you end up getting misconstrued and labelled difficult,’ or ‘way-out-weird.’ It feels like we should always end up in the pop rock section but we never end up there. We’re always in the experimental section, which we are not, because we are not this definite thing, people want to find something in it that they’re looking for, for themselves. I don’t know. I’m confused. I don’t know what we’ve done.”

The band was definitely not harboring any financial equity , which added on to its success ambivalence, leading Trish to come to a cynical conclusion. “I don’t know where we stand,” she commented. “We get good reviews but nobody buys it. There is the promo world that exists and there is life in this house. It’s weird that there are these posh photos but I look around my bedroom and it’s a mess.”

There was also Tears In the Typing Pool. I plaid and performed this song many times, but no, don’t worry, I’m not trying to plug myself as a musician here, that would be a real tragedy. But I did name my poor guitar after Trish, so I felt like she deserved a tribute. Stripped down, bare bones, as folk of a ballad as they come made it in a Broadcast record. As we know from her childhood, Trish was quite fond of folk music and James wasn’t. The concession he made in letting Tears in the Typing Pool exist is utterly priceless in placing Broadcast’s musicianship to its most pure essence: absolutely competent and essential, a class act in simplicity that accomplishes a special kind of sophistication. This is the album where the real fun with abstraction began. Where the sound became a medium of memory and feeling, and no longer an element in of itself. Trish also paired video as another medium of experimentation when making the record, writing and directing the video for the song Black Cat herself. According to this youtube comment, the video was filmed at a friend of Trish’s’ house and inspired by her own cat, who makes a cameo in the video.

Trish’s own version of “Black Cat”
I like to think this is true, thanks @ellenmeilee

During the tour, much like the previous one, the band released an instrumental Tour Only compilation, Microtronics, which was only sold during gigs at the time.

In 2006, prolific Broadcast decided to follow through their recent success by releasing yet another compilation of exotic, tweaked B-Sides, The Future Crayon. Trish and James had then moved to Hungerford, in Berkshire, or as we non-English people would call it, ‘the countryside.’ Trish remained active in the Birmingham scene. In 2007, she headed to the Moseley Folk & Arts festival with a camera in her hand to shoot a Super 8 film of festival goers. Once again, this is a rare glimpse into Trish’s personality, one which longed to explore the commonplace and the other, preferring to focus the camera on crowds rather than bands, or even herself. During this time, the bulk of musical activities performed by Broadcast began to focus solely on experimental, improvisational music. James explained that they “were fortunate enough to do some recording and at the same time… some ‘jams.’ It was fascinating to see these musicians from opposite ends of the ‘musical ability’ ladder effectively doing the same thing. We sort of fell in love with that idea. We did a few shows just improvising then we began playing to short films.” This shift into an even more abstract direction was almost inevitable. Probably, in retrospect, it defined Broadcast’s biggest legacy moment in music yet.

Trish’s Super 8 Moseley Festival masterpiece

Part Five: Creative Biology

After two years of improvising along, Broadcast released another full-length LP, a collaboration with Julian House — remember, their record sleeve guy? — who had, by now, been producing wonderfully artsy collage music as The Focus Group. The last album, Broadcast and the Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age emerged in 2009. This time around, the musical turn the project took was so drastic, many refused to acknowledge it as a fully flourished Broadcast album. I know; It took me over five years to discover Work and Non Work, so this one I only welcomed into my life very recently. And by recently, I mean in quarantine. But, like the lesson that Broadcast has taught us, it’s always better late than never. Described as “man-made machinery used to create an aura of the occult, otherworldly music… with factory-assembled tools, like those children’s stories where magic is made even weirder by leaking into the shabby real world,” the album was recorded separately by Trish and James, and then cut up and ‘collaged’ by Julian. Oddly enough, this was the best way to work for Trish and James, who longed for profound artistic direction since the early 2000s, and stated of the collaboration: “We gave him a whole lot of stuff… not all of it he used. It was interesting to see which ones he plucked out and thought were valid for the idea.” Trish yearned to exist as a “disembodied voice that floats across the piece of music without feeling attached to any pulse,” and Julian used her voice as he would an instrument on the record, layering it collage-style and attributing to it the same kind of importance that he gave to the instrumentation.

The ensuing effect was that of a dreamy pastiche. The record was comprised of fast instrumentals and poppier tracks, but never quite delved in what we could call ‘conventional territory’ the others had. It was an avant-garde esoteric blend, with an occult aura and a lush feel that utilized sound riffs and clips to achieve a suburban fairy tale effect, with added sci-fi sounds to reach the uncanny yet familiar. The band sought to open a portal of time travel through psychedelia, relating it not as much to altered states, but memory:

I think the evocation of memory in our music could be seen as the residue of imaginary time travel. When you go back to a previous musical time you’re trying to recall a memory that never happened to you, that is not stored, so it would make sense that you hear a fuzzy dissolving sense of time and place as you call it. When you make music in backwards time travel it’s shadowy or faint impression as though you’re looking back through two clouded lenses, one is the time travel portal the other is a false recollection process.”

To the band, making music was no longer about the pursuit of pleasant sounds, but rather a means to something more magical, which in turn opened up a new series of thought experiments. Trish noticed there was a more crafty purpose to her calling, and commented: “What carries over for me is the idea of psychedelia as a door through to another way of thinking about sound and song. Not a world only reachable by hallucinogens but obtainable by questioning what we think is real and right, by challenging the conventions of form and temper.”

The hauntological in motion in Broadcast and the Focus Group’s “I See, So I See So”

Despite the laborious post-production process, most of the work that was sent to Julian and originally recorded by Broadcast was done under the sole influence of the improvisational bands they spoke of. They emulated, not in terms of a genre or sound, but rather as a mode of production, which changed the resulting music. Unlike the previous long-term, meticulous editing efforts, this was all about a faster pace, quick choices to be made, because “improvisation gives you no time to think or to be yourself. You have to keep holding and releasing sounds from the instrument… what tells you to let go or hold on and for how long and when. Who is making those decisions? Suddenly you’re not yourself, as though you’ve created another you.”

Tiny Mixtapes writer J. Monk described the sonic process as “literally worlds away from rudimentary ideas about ‘sampling’ that defined the reputation of ‘90s electronic music. It was a process of ‘seeding’ memory with associations, creating an alternate past, a space to have imaginative recourse to, like a kind of psychedelic Riviera.” Even lyrically, Trish gave into subconscious ways of channeling her craft. Once a writing major, always a writing major. As recalled by A&R exec Andy Votel, who claimed that she was the only person who hard persuaded him to record a spoken word album, and that her subsequent personal review had made it unequivocally worthwhile. One of her favorite literary indulgences, was the cut-up technique. Cut-up writing is as simple as it sounds: cutting up fragments of a sentence — clauses — and pasting them together to create a new sentence. Originally coined by Tristan Tzara while writing “How To Make A Dadaist Poem,” Broadcast, as you might imagine, were not the first to do it. David Bowie wrote most of his early ‘70s material with these techniques. Thom Yorke revealed he ‘cut-up’ sentences and placed them inside a hat while rehearsing for Kid A as means of writing the lyrics for the album. It was no wonder, then, that the text of Tzara’s poem appeared on the Radiohead website at the time, perhaps as a hint to this. In the song Libra The Mirror’s Minor Self Trish used a cut-up of her horoscope, commenting, “I quite like the caring tone of horoscopes and found shuffling the words around a bit added up to something quite gentle and cryptic” — Oh Trish, just you wait and see what I have coming for you, you astrology nut! Much like an actual astrologer, she attempted to evoke the mysticism of it all, saying “it’s how a seance mirror would speak, luring you to its reflection by a kindly tone but when you look in for an answer, you’re totally confused by what you see.” The videos released for this album were also directed by Julian House, set and filmed in the idyllic English countryside.

Music video for “#1: Witch Cults.” As impressive as it sounds.

For the rest of the year, the duo toured the album, with the mini record Mother Is The Milky Way released as an exclusive alongside it. The band performed in North America, supporting Atlas Sound — stage name of the solo project of Bradford Cox of Deerhunter , remember him too?

In 2010, Familiar Shapes and Noises was released. It was the band’s most experimental effort, a combination of white noise with faint music. Broadcast provided the soundtrack for two of Julian House’s short films after it, Winter Sun Wavelengths and Dream/Ritual, performing them live, with the footage projected over their bodies as they played. In a 2010 interview, Trish explained she had plans to compile all the records done with House in a visual album, comprised of a total of six films. She was also working on a project called “Let’s Write A Song,” where she would have crafted one sentence submissions made by listeners and fans all over the world into a single song. At the time of the interview, two songs had been completed.

Perhaps, this is the most tragic element of the story. Knowing that the radio wave that Broadcast wanted the world to hear was by no means done producing, and yet would have stopped very soon.

Trish’s alternative self comes alive, live.

Part Six: I Found The End…?

After heading to their first-ever Singapore and then Australia tour, towards the end of December 2010, Trish contracted H1N1 virus, the swine flu. Our friend Martin Pike, who was still their manager at the time of the tour recalled a particularly magical night: “The band went off. The audience wanted more but… there were no more songs. So Trish just walked back on her own, and sang to them a cappella. That was Trish,” an experience shared by this Youtube commenter:

People like @PienneP make life worthwhile

Trish’s health, unlike her musicianship, declined quickly with the turn of the new year. She fell very ill and battled pneumonia for two weeks after having returned from the tour. Two weeks into the new year, she was announced to be on life support. A day after, Trish succumbed to her illness and died on January 11, 2011. A link is publicly released, of a mix Trish had made for a friend before heading on tour. It includes folk, world, and psychedelic music.

Broadcast’s last recorded performance, Trish performs “You And Me In Time”

In 2013, James finished the soundtrack he was working on with the late Trish, Barberian Sound Studio, released posthumously. This is the last album, as of 2020, to be credited to Broadcast. “I didn’t want it to to sound like it came off a VHS exactly…more like a collection of themes and sounds that captured that particular grain of scratchy celluloid rather than the feel of a conventional soundtrack album,” James said of the album. The movie that accompanied it tells the story of a man who, in the 1970s, was tasked to make the soundtrack of an album and fell prey upon a spell of madness, unable to tell where the movie began and his life ended. James previously hinted at piecing together some of the many tapes Trish had left, but has not yet commented on the project. Occasionally, he can be found posting easter eggs and extra recordings, or mixes on his Soundcloud account, like this wonderful tape of her reciting Jabberwocky. In 2017, James announced he was forming a brand new band with Julian House and former Broadcast keyboard player Roj Stevens, Children of Alice. So far, only one EP has been released.

A more complete Broadcast contemplates a future that never came.

Music journalist David Stubbs noted that “despite the enormous esteem in which she was held by those who knew her… the story was more about swine flu than it was her. This is surely doubly sad. Broadcast were denizens of a 21st century underworld, increasingly disregarded by the mainstream in a way that previous generations of rock and pop mavericks were not” and almost ten years after Trish’s tragic passing, this remains truer than ever. More than anything, Trish’s career is an exercise in exploring the other through the deeply personal medium of voice, and the the filter of memory. She constantly sought to disappear behind her vocals and erase herself. In her last interview, she commented that “there’s a reason for your album. You’re not just this band talking as yourself as a band. It’s not your music about music, it’s got a purpose, you’ve got this aim and you’re trying to trigger responses in the listener, not just autobiographical music.” Trish Keenan never made music as herself because she never felt the need to. Her project was ‘Broadcast’ because that is exactly what she aimed for: a program, a series of sounds and characters, personas, collages, pastiches and moments that, together, created experiences that no other medium could. On the making of Tender Buttons, she said she was “keen not to say anything.” That she “just wanted to play around with words… to stay free of who I was. When I let go of all the pressure to describe me it became more personal. It’s letting go of everything, being human, being who you are” and similarly, in 2009, she remarked on being “really keen to not be me on these recordings. I was happy to be somehow erased from the context of the recording.

Like she hinted in Color Me In, what we get from her isn’t herself, it is just an idea. We have this mysterious, introverted chanteuse with an enigmatic flair, but those who knew her all confirmed that Trish was very fun loving and pretty playful personally. She didn’t drink or like to get rowdy. She just smoked weed and cigarettes, and really liked the occult. As she matured, her music became less about her experiences and more about the memories she never had, because that’s what reminded her of the complex, abstract understanding she could import onto others, through her own musical ability. Her fascination with memory was as impersonal as it gets, as what she always cared for. It was the collective, the feeling, as evoked by being herself a mirror.

Some people see their memories as truth, and I see that as being tied with nostalgia: being tied to something in the past. What we’ve tried to get at in pretend worlds, in which there’s no real connection to you, but there’s still some kind of gut reaction that makes you seem like it could be yours, but that feeling comes from a kind of… human-ness.”

The handwritten lyrics of “Tears in a Typing Pool”

Trish’s music went on to influence powerful new artists like Toro Y Moi, The Vanishing Twin, Deerhunter, Samara Lubelski, Death and Vanilla, Sparkle Dream… and the list goes on, and will go on forever.

I don’t think there’s an existential lesson that we can learn from Trish’s passing. I don’t think of it as a fateful prophecy or a weirdly fitting haunting given the themes of her and James’ music. I think of it as death: the constant and painful reminder that any moment — be a three-minute lounge pop song, a thirty-second industrial interlude, a languid folk ballad or a live performance of wonderful collage sounds — is eternally fleeting. Even the moments we spend right now, alone in our homes are but an attempt to avoid Trish’s destiny. We have the chance to reflect upon our world, even if in a small, seemingly meaningless way. It will form a speckle of important dust in our collective unconscious. What Broadcast teaches us is that there is always use in remembering: remembering how it felt to miss the outside, remembering the experience of being a child who felt misplaced in our world, remembering the moments that went by wondering what would have come next, because we didn’t have the resources — be they economical, or emotional — to achieve it. This is what it means to be trying to come along anyway, even if it means taking years to edit ourselves into a happy medium. We can all learn a lesson of constance through Broadcast’s endless creative efforts, and like Trish’s lilting, I find comfort in that. In knowing that no voice, no sample, no matter how eroded, is ever truly lost. That, in our tape, she will not stop singing. She lives on, lending us a hand, and being a gentle guide in this unfamiliar reality, even a decade after her passing.

Congratulations, Trish, you will be making new memories, forever.

Where I like to think Trish is, forever.

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Sets and the CD

Musings exploring the more mystic side of music and art.