How vomit inspired so much about the ABC's rage
Now in its 30th year, rage is the longest continuously run music video program in Australia and, probably, the world.
rage is iconic.
It would be wall-to-wall music and it would be unrelenting.Mark Fitzferald
“It was a process by which share houses existed, it was a process by which people courted,” one ex-ABC Manager said.
Generations of Australians have come home from a night out, only to get stuck watching mesmerising music videos into the early hours. This experience has been dubbed ‘the rage trap’.
But the elements that make up rage’s identity were never meant to last three decades. In fact, they were thrown together in chaos.
And although over the years some have tried to mess with the format, none have succeeded.
In the words of Baz Luhrmann, “rage is a million-dollar collector’s item”.
Rage was initially going to be called Rage Til You Puke.
The name was inspired by comedian and triple j breakfast personality, Lillian Pascoe.
Part of her show was playing an older woman who had an insatiable appetite for hard rock. Her character’s notoriety grew even further when she started doing serious interviews – in full grandma persona – with rock‘n’roll’s biggest names.
Her catchphrase was “rage till you puke”.
Executive Producer Mark Fitzgerald cottoned onto the phrase because he thought it described the experience.
“I decided to make rage as different as possible and emphasise its real differences,” he said. "No compere, no commercials. It would be wall-to-wall music and it would be unrelenting.”
But just before the commissioning meeting his boss rang to say he couldn’t seriously do a presentation about Rage Til You Puke.
So they settled on rage.
Clearly, Mark Fitzgerald was unable to let go of his preferred title.
The reason the logo is that very distinct technicolour is because he wanted it to look like vomit.
It was created in one night by an on-duty staff member.
Try to watch the rage titles objectively and you might realise they are completely insane.
Keith Walker was the sound engineer who helped create them,
“I walked in there and had no idea,” he said. “But one of the great things about ABC is that you had limits. You didn’t have unlimited studio time.”
It was no accident that the music is Iggy Pop’s 1986 cover of Johnny O’Keefe’s ‘Real Wild One’.
“I wanted something that represented contemporary music at the time, but somehow had a connection to the past, and a real strong Australian connection” Fitzgerald said.
The nod to JO’K was two pronged. As well as being one of our first rock‘n’roll stars, Johnny had hosted the pioneering music TV program Six O’Clock Rock in the ‘60s.
We were thinking ‘maybe this would still be around in six weeks’...Keith Walker
The repetitive ‘rage, rage, rage, r-r-rage’ throughout was made possible thanks to a new piece of gear.
“It was called an AMS1580S. It was the first reel delay that allowed real-time sampling” Walker explained. “In other words, sample something and then instantly play it back.
“We took some sounds and we threw them together in a way that we thought was interesting, musical and exciting.”
This burst of creativity was not expected to last 30 years.
“We were thinking ‘maybe this would still be around in six weeks’,” Walker said.
The vision for the titles was shot in three hours. The people mouthing ‘rage’ are random ABC staff members, standing on the roof of the ABC building.
Mark Fitzgerald explains how they took this footage to the next level.
“I had an old piece of Perspex and we put it up against the monitor. Then [the camera operator] shot through the Perspex [to get] the bending of the faces.”
All up the whole thing took about two days and had a budget of $800.
The untouchable rage:
Thirty years is a long time to have the same logo, intro, and format, so it’s not surprising that several ABC managers have tried to ‘refresh’ it over the years.
None have ever succeeded.
In 2017 it seems obvious the rage intro is so distinct (read: weird) that it can be considered timeless. But this wasn’t’ always the case.
I didn’t want to have on my gravestone that I was the guy who fucked up the rage titles.Paul Clarke
Narelle Gee was a producer at rage from 1995 to 2008 and remembers the commotion the idea of changing the intro would cause.
“Whenever this was discussed, word would get around the ABC and I would be approached constantly by people saying, ‘you can’t change that!’” she said.
It became so contentious that the unprecedented editorial decision was made to ask triple j listeners to vote on the matter.
The response was clear.
Paul Clarke is a former ABC TV Entertainment Manager who was caught up in a couple of the pushes, but always managed to get out of it.
“The rage titles are arguably the best titles of all time on any ABC program,” Clarke said.
“They are so iconic, they’re so fun, they’re so bogan.
“I didn’t want to have on my gravestone that I was the guy who fucked up the rage titles. So I had to wrestle those awful [alternative intro] ideas to the ground and just bury them so no one would ever find them.
“Quite seriously, if there was something that came back that was impressive we probably would have been stuffed. But there was nothing that ever came up that was iconic and clever. Most of the ideas were just vomitus”.
Ironic, considering the original concept.
Rage30: The Story of Rage airs on ABC TV at 9.30pm Monday 17 April.