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Mark Russell and Robert Sandall
Mixing It is "an attempt to try to reclaim a lot of extraordinary music that doesn't get played"
 real 28k

Robert Sandall
On how Mixing It is celebrating its 10th birthday
 real 28k

Mark Russell and Robert Sandall
"I don't think the music we play is that difficult"
 real 28k

Mark Russell and Robert Sandall
On why the programme has succeeded and what they plan for the future
 real 28k

Saturday, 28 October, 2000, 18:26 GMT 19:26 UK
Mixing it up a storm
Mark Russell and Robert Sandall
Mixing It's presenters: Mark Russell and Robert Sandall
By BBC News Online's Jatinder Sidhu

One of British music's best kept secrets - BBC Radio 3's Mixing It - celebrates its 10th anniversary this weekend with the first in a series of monthly concerts.

The sessions, at Dingwalls in Camden, North London, are open to the public with the first show recorded for a special edition birthday programme broadcast on Saturday 28 October.

As part of their birthday celebrations the show went to Chicago to explore the city's alternative music-making, including a rare interview with rock producer Steve Albini - best known for working with Nirvana.

Presented by musician Mark Russell and music critic Robert Sandall, the programme has long been celebrated as a bastion of experimental music radio.

Many listeners may be surprised to hear non-classical music on BBC Radio 3, but as Sandall explains, the network has a much more diverse remit.

"Radio 3 is not a classical music station but a high cultural station. It was set up to make available culture - such as classical music - that is now (or was then) difficult to get hold of," he says.

Avant-garde

Covering a wide range of musical styles, including modern classical, jazz, rock and world music, Mixing It was originally set up to play "crossover" - innovative music which blurred genre boundaries.

Robert Sandall
Robert Sandall: Music critic formerly with Q magazine, now at The Sunday Times
"It was an attempt to try to reclaim for radio a lot of extraordinary music that wasn't being played," says Sandall.

With no formula or playlist, the two presenters played their own record collections, passionately arguing over music they loved.

"It was an experiment when we started out. We had no role model. We just made it up as we went along," explains Russell.

"I thought we'd do this for a year, but just kept being recommissioned," he says.

Unusually cooked

And what does the show sound like? Is the music difficult or easy listening?

"We play music that is rare, beautiful, unusually cooked, never less than interesting, but frequently breathtaking," Sandall says.

DJ Food
Deconstructing hip-hop: DJ Food performs in Mixing It's birthday session
The presentation style involves getting a conversation going around music as you might have a chat in a pub, Sandall explains.

"This normalises music a lot of people might think is too weird."

Listening sessions attended by the presenters and producers serve as a quality-control mechanism to ensure only good music gets on air.

"There's going to be something that will snag your curiosity at the very least," says Sandall.

"We never set out that someone's going to love everything. It's great if someone hates something - a strong reaction is better than nothing," Russell says.

Open ear policy

But might the very fact that the programme has labels like "experimental" attached to it turn people off?

"Experimental music is being made in all areas. It's not that challenging. You just have to have open ears," Russell says.

All music starts as crossover and eventually becomes familiar according to Sandall.

"I take heart from complexity being appreciated in pop with the new Radiohead album and the continuing popularity of people like Björk," he says.

The pair sometimes see themselves as fighting an uphill battle, but they are committed to broadening the programme's audience.

"It's getting harder to find the sort of stuff we play anywhere else on the radio or in the media. It's a travesty that lots of great music doesn't get played," says Sandall.

"But we just keep listening, looking and trying to find new things. The point at which you're jaded and cynical is the point at which you shouldn't be doing a programme like Mixing It," he says.

"It's an important job that needs to be done. We're ministering to people's souls in a way."

Mixing It's birthday special is on BBC Radio 3 at 2145BST - 2330BST on Saturday.

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