There’s good television, and there’s great music – and then there’s Rage.
Since 1987, the ABC has played host to one of the most eclectic, engaging, and enchanting concepts in all of television: giving diehard music fans the chance to enjoy an uninterrupted stream of music videos from late night until the earliest hours of the morning.
This article was originally published June 5, 2020.
Read up on all the latest features and columns here.
As iconic as the program may be for Australian audiences, however, I’ve always felt that Rage has never received the respect it deserves. While adored by core audiences, it’s often passed off by the layman as fodder for stoners to pack cones to (this is true) or a platform for cooked indie bands to get their weird music videos aired on telly (this is also true).
For me, Rage is, and has always, represented everything that a good music show should do: it stands for the artisans of the world, the bohemians, the ones unafraid to leave the television on past 3am just to see what’s waiting for them on the other end. In fact, I’d even go as far as arguing that it’s the greatest program of all time – here’s why.
It’s one of the longest running shows of its kind…
Since first being broadcast on Friday April 17 in 1987, Rage has been a mainstay of ABC’s weekly programming, and as the data shows, it’s never dropped off. Each week, it receives a steady stream of both consistent and casual viewers alike, and as the years have passed, its legacy has only grown bolder.
It should come to no surprise, then, that Rage is now the longest running music television program of its kind: now that shows like Video Hits and Soul Train (we won’t even mention MTV) have ceased production, Rage is a lone survivor of an era where music television ruled supreme.
Plus, there’s no ads whatsoever – which brings me to my next point.
…and runs on practically no budget
Possibly the main reason that Rage has managed to stay on the air for as long as it has is due to the fact it literally functions on a shoestring budget.
Obviously, the ABC won’t allow advertising, which saps that potential income stream, but even back when the concept of Rage came about in 1987 (under the working title Rage ’till you puke, nonetheless), the producers made sure everything was done as cheaply as possible: opting for music videos sent directly be record companies and adopting a punk ethos that seemed to fit in nicely with the grunge era looming over the horizon.
Unlike other shows of its kind, Rage has no host, and the set is about as minimal as it gets – there’s a red couch, a neon sign, a few records and that’s about that.
Despite decades of ABC budget cuts and countless other shows of its kind being axed or falling victim to the woes of the worldwide web, Rage, in all its ragged glory, has survived.
It’s easily Australia’s best platform for discovering new music
This is a fact. Rage have always had their finger on the pulse. From the heyday of alternative rock and the golden era of hip-hop, all the way through to the best contemporary electronic, indie and underground local bands, Rage has been the number one destination for discovering new music.
They play the ARIA Charts each Saturday morning to ensure keen ears keep on top of all the best pop hits, and make sure to spotlight some of the more abstract releases from Australian experimental acts or scenes often overlooked by the biggest blogs of today.
Even today in the age of Spotify and Apple Music, Rage keeps breaking some of the best music to the masses – albeit if it is at four in the morning.
They’ve always promoted diversity in the music industry…
More facts!!! Since allocating the first Guest Programmer slot to Andrew Denton in 1990, Rage have ensured that as many musicians, actors, comedians, authors, and even politicians of different backgrounds could be welcomed onto the show.
They’ve always opted for inclusivity and have supported diversity in the music industry since their earliest days, with their Guest Programmer list revealing a wide variety of female, non-white and LGBQTI artists, as well as legacy artists and independent acts.
…and have consistently championed Australian music
Even though a lot of their programming features inclusions from international groups, Rage has always stuck true to its roots.
Unless there’s a specific themed show or an artist special, you can almost certainly guarantee that Rage will play several new videos from Australian artists on each show, ranging from lo-fi bedroom pop and raucous garage punk to psych-rock and neo-soul.
They’ve also consistently broadcast footage from festivals around Australia, get behind NAIDOC Week each year, and tirelessly work to make sure deserving artists get their airtime when it’s due.
They’ve never compromised their integrity
Obviously, it’s important for Rage to fit into the ABC’s advertorial and editorial charter, and as such, this means no advertising or branding whatsoever. Over the years, Rage have blurred out logos or removed videos that feature blatant advertising, and they ceased airing the ARIA Chart’s Top 50 program in 2006 when they partnered with Telstra to present the countdown.
However, sticking to their grunge roots, they’ve always maintained a staunch opposition to some of the more ridiculous censorship that plagues the industry – for instance, Rage chose to broadcast the uncensored version of Crazy Frog’s ‘Axel F’ video (you know, the one with the cartoon frog penis) when many others deemed it to be offensive.
Basically, unless you’re engaging in some super hardcore sex shit or harming anyone else, your video will probably be guaranteed a spin on Rage.
The interim theme song is actually King Crimson
Rage has always been renowned for its iconic theme music – whether it’s Iggy Pop’s ‘Real Wild Child’ to kick off the program or ‘Speed Your Love To Me’ by Simple Minds to end it, the sound of Rage’s frenetic theme music is an important aspect of what’s considered the Australian experience.
However, if there’s one song that’s always captivated Australians, it’s that cheesy-as-hell slap bass song that the program airs in the interim between guest programmers or segments. As it turns out, that song’s actually a remix of by legendary prog-rockers King Crimson’s track ‘Sleepless’, with someone just mashing a sampler loaded with the word ‘rage!’ a million times over the top of it.
Now there’s some hot trivia to unleash the next time you’re down at the pub.
A dog once managed to make an appearance on-air
Although they’re yet to actually let an animal guest program an episode (to the best of my knowledge), Rage did air a music video shot by and featuring a dog.
In response to the amount of underground acts played on-air, John Saffron once claimed that “even a dog could feature on Rage”, a claim which he successfully backed up on his Music Jamboree show by attaching a video camera to a dog and editing the ensuing footage into a music video with a bunch of loops playing in the background.
Come on – stop playing with Rage and give them the respect they deserve. What other music show would let that shit slide? None. Above all, it’s refreshing for a music show to finally recognise the artistry animals offer within the music industry.
It upholds the power of the music video as an art-form
Since 1987, Rage has proudly hoisted the flag high for the humble music video, and have never compromised their stance on the medium as a form of artistic expression.
Nothing is too weird for Rage, nothing is too plain for Rage: it’s the perfect intersection for musicians, producers, filmmakers, photographers, and writers to exist in. Rage reflects us.
It holds a mirror up to our community and what we uphold as being important, and delivers it in a way that’s easy for us to consume over a bowl (of breakfast cereal or otherwise) in the wee hours of the morning – uninterrupted by advertising, with minimal dialogue and with zero agenda other than to broadcast the best music in the world today.
The red couch
Other than the couch from The Simpsons, there is no piece of furniture more iconic than the red Rage sofa. Sure, Tom Cruise jumping up on Oprah’s couch was a pretty unique moment in TV history, and I suppose you could make an argument that the Iron Throne in Game Of Thrones was pretty cool before Season 8 went down.
The Cosby Show? Absolutely not. Friends? Fuck Friends. None of those couches are anywhere near as red and pokey as our beloved Rage couch.
I’d like to imagine that if there was ever a fire tearing through the ABC’s Ultimo building, the red couch would be one of the first items to be rescued, and I can guarantee that there’s a million stoner share houses around Australia that have snagged a red couch from the op-shop to live out their Rage guest programming fantasies.
It’s a dream all of us have had at some point, and who knows: for some, it might even become a reality. But for now, I’m sure we’ll all still tune in on Saturday night and scheme our own playlist in our heads as we watch whatever weird shit Rage throws at us.
Explore Rage’s archives and check out who’s on the couch this weekend on their website.