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Radio review: A History of Hate, Slow Radio, The Adam Buxton Podcast

14 June 2019


IT IS on the playlist of white supremacists and terrorists everywhere, and was blasting out as an Australian man sprayed bullets into the Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, earlier this year: “Serbia Strong” is a nationalist song celebrating the historic struggle of Western culture against the incursions of the Muslim. That it underwent such dramatic cultural and geographical translation tells us much about the potency of the Balkan struggle in narrative.

It also explains why Allan Little’s new series A History of Hate (Radio 4, weekdays) began with the Bosnian-Serb conflict of the 1990s. The descent of Tito’s Yugoslavia into genocidal hatred can be chronicled step by depressing step, as Serbian society — its local politicians, teachers, and administrators — gradually bought into the myth of a Serbian destiny that required of them a stubborn defence of nationalist and religious values. As one witness put it, hatred was “seeping into the groundwater”.

The case studies provided in the series all followed a slightly different template, although all of them involved some kind of manipulation and exploitation of history. Most shocking still are the events in Rwanda 25 years ago, in so far as the Hutu massacre of Tutsis was such a democratic atrocity. Throughout, Little maintains a steady gaze, despite having been a reporter on several of these events. You need a strong constitution for this programme, but it is necessary listening.

As a curative to the violence and stress, Slow Radio (Radio 3, Thursday of last week) provides soundscapes exotic and banal, which are intended to immerse the listener in alien sonic worlds. Last week, we heard nature redeem human belligerence, through an aural field-trip around Orford Ness, in Suffolk.

As the site of a former weapons factory that worked on the development of a nuclear bomb, Orford Ness is a bizarre combination of East Anglian wilderness and industrial complex. Since1993, it has been owned by the National Trust, which has left nature to reclaim the spaces. The result, in Iain Chambers’s sonic journey, is a music of metallic echoes and gull cry. The human voice is almost entirely absent from this 30-minute meditation.

If, on the other hand, you prefer to relax in the company of people wittering on about nothing much, then there are acres of podcast out there for you to choose. I was drawn to The Adam Buxton Podcast, mostly because Buxton used to do a great television show with Joe Cornish. And it was a relief to discover that not only has Buxton retained his endearing, puerile wit, but he is capable of effortlessly shifting gear into more serious territory. And so the most touching moment of his latest was his recollection of the words of his dying father: “I’m irrelevant” — words which all of us might usefully bear in mind.

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