Radio has found a new life through the internet. Emma Finamore meets the stations redefining the listening experience.
Forget established stations and music journalists; if you want to keep your finger on the pulse of music and the creative underground, online is the place to go. DJs and presenters on internet radio are often part of a network of local artists and music creative – many even are artists themselves – with access to new and interesting music, free from playlists and pluggers. Internet stations are global in one sense by existing the web, but they are very much rooted in their communities and cities, operating in a DIY space (often in make-shift studios in public spaces) depending on team-work and local know-how to function – giving listeners a genuine flavour of the place from which they transmit.
Most stations are always giving something back to the local community, whether that’s through parties, championing local artists and scenes, producing zines and even being part of youth and community work in the direct vicinity.
But above all it’s a passion for and knowledge of underground music that makes internet radio stations a must for listeners.
Presented entirely by people under 25, Reprezent is renowned for its quality musical output – grime, UK rap and hip-hop, electronic and bass, house and alternative music – but also for its championing of youth culture. Originally borne out of a project tackling youth violence in South London (and based in a shipping container in Brixton) it now provides a platform for young people to showcase their talents but also to discuss social issues, challenge youth stereotypes and help young people better represent themselves in society.
The success of this pioneering station resulted in a royal visit from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in early 2018, to celebrate its training programme and how the station uses music, media and radio to have a positive impact it has on young creatives.
But Reprezent is far from a youth project, it’s written into the station’s licence to play music rarely heard on mainstream: if you want to get stuff before anyone else, Reprezent is the place to go. It’s got an international rep too: past presenters include Novelist, Stormzy, Lady Leshurr, Lady Lykez, Section Boys, Jamz Supernova, Mim Shaikh and Kenny Allstar, and the station’s regular collaborations (with artists like the xx, Young Turks and Gorillaz) have resulted in shows being produced with Ray Blk, Kurupt FM , Warpaint, Basement Jaxx, J Hus and jungle legend Goldie.
In 2016, UK garage dons So Solid Crew had residency with ‘So Solid Sundays’, harking back to their late 90s / early 2000s pirate radio days on South West London’s Delight station, when they had a live caller show on Sundays, playing out early grime and garage track’s to the city’s young listeners.
Among the station’s current line-up of shows are young talents like Lil C – south London’s self-described “Dancehall Queen” – and MC Pinty with his ‘Second To None’ show, playing garage, hip-hop, house and jazz. gal-dem – a South London creative collective of women and non-binary people of colour – host a guest chat show alongside tunes from the both established and breaking artists like M.I.C Antifa, Lizzo, Anais, Tom Misch and Drake.
"We don’t really specify a genre or sound, it’s a sound that’s just really reflective of London’s youth culture"
Station manager Adrian Newman says what makes internet radio unique is the sense of camaraderie between stations, rather than competition. “We’re all really aware of what each other do,” he explains. “There are shows that have been on Reprezent that have gone to Balamii for example, that have absolutely fit. What Balamii is doing, what Worldwide is doing…we’re all respectful of each others’ audiences. Everyone’s really wide-eyed and just excited to be doing creative stuff.
“It’s a really positive vibe. Everyone’s trying to make it, but the only way to do that is to support each other.”
He talks about the “character” of each station being unique, and says that this is what makes it worth tuning in for; with Reprezent occupying a particularly interesting and important space in London. “We don’t really specify a genre or sound, it’s a sound that’s just really reflective of London’s youth culture,” he explains.
“You’re just as likely to hear a really leftfield show as you are a hip-hop show or an electronic show: it’s dictated by London’s youth population, that’s our thing. You’re as likely to hear a conversation on Windrush as you are about the Chicken Cottage Ramadan special.”
Listen to Reprezent at reprezent.org.uk
Operating out of a Wiliamsburg shipping container, the goal when The Lot was founded in 2016 was to give NYC and visiting artists, musicians, and music-lovers the best online platform possible to share their love and passion of music. With an emphasis on electronic music, disco and soul at its core, the station also created an‘IRL’ musical hub by installing a café/bar – somewhere for music fans to gather and share experiences.
“Our radio station is open to the public all day every day,” says founder Francois Vaxelaire, inspired by European online radios like Red Light Radio and NTS. “We transformed an old abandoned lot into a vibrant hub of the neighbourhood. And I wanted the project to be 100% independent and self-funded – this is why we’re running the ‘Kiosk’ at our station.”
Independence and freedom is vital to The Lot, especially in a city so fast-paced and (sometimes at least) seemingly hinged on capital gains rather than artistic integrity. “We give all our energy to create the best platform possible, both online and offline, both for the audience and the artists,” says Francois. “NYC can be a tough city, in every aspect. We think music is one of the last things in our world that is somehow sacred and we wanted to created of venue, both online and offline for the people who feel the same. And it is extraordinary to see who many people feel the same, no matter the country, the background, the genre of music. Music brings us together: it deserves a place that is 100% independent and 100% aimed at making it flourish.”
Shows like the soul and disco-funk infused Love Injection from DJs Barbie and Paul reflect this DIY-ethic and commitment to real-life experience fostered by radio: as well as a show, the creators also produce a music fanzine (available in print and digital formats) featuring interviews with people like Kamasi Washington, and special tribute issues to house pioneer Frankie Knuckles.
"The Lot radio is a place where two DJs from completely different scenes who might have never met are now meeting before or after their shows and talking potential collaborations."
French electronic artist, producer, DJ, re-mixer and label-owner (Tigersushi, Crowdspacer), Joakim plays everything from what he calls “electro – real electro”, “Afro-not-Afro – music inspired by Africa made by non-African musicians”, new electronic music (plenty of it European) and has performed sessions accompanied by live musicians outside of The Lot’s shipping container to celebrate World Synth Day. His show gives a flavour of the station’s commitment to bringing interesting, experimental electronic music to its listeners.
“I hope and I think The Lot radio gave the platform young music lovers of NYC needed. It also gave them a real place to meet and get to know each other outside of a party or concert venue,” says Francois. “A daytime place where two DJs from completely different scenes who might have never met are now meeting before or after their shows and talking potential collaborations.
“Online, I hope we are giving the audience a little island of music where they can always come back to. They know we are behind it, bringing them the most interesting and passionate people we know and have the pleasure to meet.”
The global reach of internet radio is something he finds exciting, and helps The Lot take its near-biblical love of music to as many listeners as possible: “It is incredible because it has the potential to link the extra-local [The Lot’s ‘IRL’ world in Williamsburg, Brooklyn] to the global, especially a station focusing on music. Allowing young people from all over the globe to connect via music, the most sacred medium of all!”
Listen to The Lot Radio at thelotradio.com
This East London based station truly does what it says on the tin. Founded by DJ and label-owner Gilles Peterson in September 2016, Worldwide focuses on underground music, culture and stories from around the globe, with off-shoots in Berlin, Kyoto, Los Angeles, Paris, Rio and Tokyo.
The music on offer is consistently eclectic and of high quality. Take HAAi’s ‘Coconut Beats’ show, for example, exploring psychedelic sounds from around the globe with each episode focusing on a specific country or region (as the presenter does with her Coconut Beats party series) and she spotlights upcoming artists from each place. HAAi bags impressive guests for these too, for example the episode focusing on the sounds of Japan with Japanese noise rock band Bo Ningen and Awesome Tapes from Africa lending a hand on an instalment exploring music from mid to North Africa in the 1970s.
London’s Channel One – one of the most the most iconic dub crews and influential sound systems in the world – have had a monthly residency with two hours of solid dub and roots classics, and each week listeners are treated to the ‘Classic Album Sundays’ show, delving deep into records by everyone from Lauryn Hill , Björk and D’Angelo, to Bob Marley, The Strokes and Nick Cave.
Worldwide also celebrates local London talent by championing artists, DJs and producers like Henry Wu, Bradley Zero, Al Dobson Jnr and Mo Kolours.
Music journalist, broadcaster and DJ, Kate Hutchinson (pictured above), hosts a regular show that demonstrates the spirit of Worldwide, combing chat with great tracks, featuring a wide variety of guests and an equally wide variety of musical genres. She counts Kojey Radical, Kelly Lee Owens, Stewart Lee, Ikonika and Seun Kuti among past guests, as well as producing specials – such as a women in pirate radio show to coincide with International Women’s Day – and spinning everything from Afro-disco to kuduro-pop, Balearic acoustica and rave.
“Live radio has such a magic to it, and I really enjoy the idea that anything could happen,” she says. There’s a freedom and adventure with internet radio over mainstream stations, too: “Being free of play-listing, the freedom that gives you musically – I can play whatever I want, and that feels wonderful.”
"The stories I can tell that aren’t being told...that’s what’s always driving me as a writer, and in the same way I want that to drive me as a broadcaster"
Kate talks about the same sense of family that Adrian Newman at Reprezent emphasised, and how internet radio stations have become more like clubs than simply stations, building an identity through music in a way that mainstream stations are unable to.
“The community you get, there’s a real camaraderie, family vibe to it that I don’t think you get with star-led stations,” she explains. “When you’re inked by music. Location, or culturally in some way, it has that community, family, like-minded vibe that I really love.”
Kate’s approach to her show is organic, stemming from her long-nurtured industry contacts – in the club, DJ and live music world – and a deep knowledge (and of course, love) of music. She grabs interviewees who are passing through London, makes selections based on releases she knows are coming out, and builds specials around what’s topical – for example, International Women’s Day – using her keen journalistic nose for a story. “The stories I can tell that aren’t being told,” she explains. “That’s what’s always driving me as a writer, and in the same way I want that to drive me as a broadcaster.”
He talks about the importance of getting stories from her guests that people haven’t already heard, through unpredictable mechanics, such as asking Stewart Lee for tracks that remind him of places he’s been like English Midland towns likc Sollihull and Stoke-on-Trent.
For Kate, internet radio has grown into something vital to music discovery and underground culture. “In many ways, internet radio has replaced blogs,” she explains. “Years ago when you wanted to hear about new music you, would just go on a blog, and now I think in many ways internet radio has replaced that space for new music.
“If you’re trying to get a sense of a place – and a sense of its underground culture – it’s the best place to get a sense of a city. Things are a bit undone and a bit raw. Most established radio stations are slick to the point of not being engaging. With online radio and its underground mentality, the idea that anything could happen – like how at NTS someone could literally walk into the booth, or start shouting outside – all of those things make it a more enriching listening experience.”
Listen to Worldwide FM at worldwidefm.net
Seattle’s KEXP is on a mission to “enrich lives championing music and discovery”, through a wide variety of genre-based specials and giving DJ/presenters total freedom. For example, ‘El Sonido’ – a trip around the diverse world of Latin music and culture from South, Central and North America, as well as Spain and the rest of the globe. Its focus is on new music and the growing Latin alternative scene, but traditional styles, both old and new are also regularly spotlighted: hip-hop, nu-cumbia, indie-rock, reggaeton and dance punk, to indie-folk, tropical bass, reggae and funk. It also takes in traditional styles, like bachata, tango, salsa, flamenco and norteño.
‘Wo' Pop’ airs all current musical genres through engaging in the sounds and vibe of a specific city or region: African Kwaito, Bhangra and Bollywood from Bombay and London, Mbalax from Senegal, Ragga Dub from Brixton and Tokyo. Then there’s KEXP’s special ‘Stray Dogs from Every Village: Seattle Underground Music 1978-1988’ made with Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) and its extensive vault of oral histories, brings listeners first-hand stories from the people who lived through a seminal moment in musical history.
“We exist to introduce new music to our community, to break bands and champion artists,” explains Kevin Cole, the station’s Chief Content Officer, as well as one of its DJs and resident hardcore enthusiast. “We introduce new music by playing it alongside the great music that inspired it—Patti Smith, Public Enemy, the Stooges, the Sonics, Nina Simone, Aphex Twin, Prince, A Tribe Called Quest, Fela Kuti, Bjork, the list could go on and on. We place new music in the context of great influences, to tell a story, to lead listeners on a journey across genres, to find joy and meaning in their lives.”
"Engage, react, respond and weave together a soundtrack to our lives curating in real time, creating connections, context, and telling stories through the music mix"
Originally founded by four university students in 1972 – broadcasting via a 10-watt transmitter from the University of Washington campus – KEXP prides itself on giving DJs and curators total freedom, and programming “music experiences” that promote artistic diversity and connect people. “It’s a powerful and beautiful thing—sharing music – and that’s what our DJs do every day,” says Kevin. “Engage, react, respond and weave together a soundtrack to our lives curating in real time, creating connections, context, and telling stories through the music mix, and in doing so, harnessing the emotional power of music and art to build a vibrant community, helping make the world a smaller more connected place.”
KEXP’s ‘Streetsounds’ is Seattle's longest running mixshow, playing a massive variety of hip-hop as well as hosting guests like Devin The Dude, Acealone, Talib Kweli, Rhymefest, Pharoah Monche Tech N9Ne, Paul Wall, Dyme Def, Parker Brothaz, D-Black, Grynch, and Redskin.
‘Streetsounds’ presenter Stas THEE Boss likens radio to courtship. “I want to impress the listeners with my taste. I like to discover new things with them, by playing songs I haven't listened to thoroughly,” she explains. “I like to keep people coming back by exploring the vast hip-hop universe. It's a romantic experience.
“I'm into playing underground jams, under the radar gems, women identified artists, local legends. I love to put folks onto new artists. You never know who's capable of making jams, so I try my hardest to listen to everything that is sent to me. It's very important that I support folks who are talented by giving them a spin on the international airwaves.”
The host, rapper, producer, and DJ has been an integral figure in Seattle’s hip-hop scene for years and has also worked with the Black Constellations collective (which includes Shabazz Palaces, JusMoni, OC Notes, and more) using radical art and music to build community and push boundaries, as well as being part of hip-hop duo, THEESatisfaction. “It's all related, and I'm so happy that it works out that way,” she says, of how her artistic life outside of the show informs its playlist.
“I'm able to play unreleased music that I've been hoarding from some of my collaborators over the years. I love bringing what I've collected from performing into the DJ and hosting realm.”
As well as Seattle being a central part of her show, Stas embraces the global reach that an internet station gives her: “I truly enjoy the listener feedback and request that come in. It gives me a pulse for how far hip-hop has gone. Getting a request for Young Thug from a listener in Brazil or a French listener who's obsessed with boom bap, gives me great joy.”
Listen to KEXP at kexp.org
This central-London station plays every genre, from soul to Japanese grime, rockabilly to the psychedelic, and the location’s long-standing association with London’s creative scene attracts the crem-de-la crème of musical talent.
Take for instance, ‘Dub on Air’ with dub hero Dennis Bovell: a seminal artist, sound engineer and producer who founded Jah Sufferer sound system, was a key figure in key figure in the early days of lovers rock, played in Matumbi – the top British reggae band of the 1970s and early 1980s – and has produced for artists including Fela Kuti, The Slits, Orange Juice and Madness.
Soho Radio appeals to listeners of all ages and tastes, though. ‘4 To The Floor’ began in the clubs of East London from a desire to connect the dots throughout the history of dance music. Appealing to versatile and open-minded dance floors their sound is a unique blend of 4/4 beats from house, techno, disco, garage, disco to jazz and everything that makes sense in between.
Eddieboi, Kengo, djsoulprovyder and Jay Carder hailing with roots in South Africa, Japan, Jamaica and London respectively treat ‘4 To The Floor’ as a forum for world music, whether it’s German techno, Angolan kuduro, Thai disco or Chicago house.
The range of presenters on offer to listeners is impressive too, with Soho counting Simone Butler, bass guitar player for Primal Scream, and prominent music journalist Pete Paphides (who’s worked for the Times, Guardian, Mojo, Q, Melody Maker and Time Out, as well as making documentaries for BBC Radio 4 and the ‘Vinyl Revival’ series for BBC 6 Music) on its roster.
"We’re not regulated by Offcom, so we can do what we want really...the BBC are listening to us, Balamii, NTS..."
Adrian Meehan founder and director agrees with Kate Hutchinson of Worldwide FM and Arian Newman of Reprezent that the internet radio world fosters a different atmosphere to mainstream stations. “It’s a community,” he says. “It’s a great thing. Internet radio is in a brilliant place.”
He sees his own station specifically as continuing the tradition of creativity and artistic freedom in a part of London that has seen massive change in recent years. “It’s getting pretty sterile in Soho,” Arian explains. “And I feel quite happy that we are looked upon as someone who’s been there a while. We’re an independent outfit – there are just three of us who run the station.”
Soho Radio definitely has a strong “IRL” existence that has embedded it firmly into Soho life, and Adrian talks about the space at the café/event space at the front of their site on Great Windmill Street that that they lend out for residencies, as well as supporting other creative in the area. The radio station also incorporates a designated performance area with a bespoke vinyl lathe, hand crafted explicitly for pressing recordings of live sessions.
Each intimate live performance is cut directly to vinyl, and filmed in 360 Virtual Reality to create an exclusive package, producing a unique physical and virtual representation of the live session.
These added extras keep Soho Radio an IRL as well as listening experience, and Adrian knows that their offer is something unique – enabled by the freedom given to internet stations. “We’re not regulated by Offcom, so we can do what we want really,” he explains. “And I know that all the other radio stations do listen to each other. The BBC are listening to us, Balamii, and NTS, for example.” He’s confident that internet radio stations will continue to offer something more and to stand out from the crowd.
Listen to Soho Radio at sohoradiolondon.com
A hand-built studio set-up, made with the help of local people in a workshop around the corner from the space it now shares with local creatives, south London’s Balamii – operating out of an arcade in Peckham – is a shining example of how a DIY internet radio station can go global, while remaining truly embedded in its local community.
Station founder, owner and manager James Browning built his studio equipment with the help of friends, and self-taught from scratch everything he needs to keep the station operational: everything from code, using all the relevantprogrammes, building a website, as well as the skills to operate the physical studio.
Balamii went live in 2015, and since then has established itself at the heart of south London’s music scene, as well as putting on regular high profile events, taking its DJs to festivals, and setting up a branch in New York (which went live in 2017). When Kate Hutchinson of Worldwide FM talks about internet radio being the place to learn about a city’s underground culture, she could well be talking about Balamii and south London.
The station brings its listeners shows from local MCs, DJs and musicians in genres as wide-spanning as drill, grime, hip-hop and UK garage to Brazilian funk, dancehall, Afro-house, techno and psych. Young South London rap collective Ammi Boys – who have been dubbed ‘alternative grime’ – bring the freshest sounds to their regular show because they are what’s fresh and new in London; drummer and multi-instrumentalist Kwake Bass (who’s played onstage for the likes of Kate Tempest, Roots, Questlove and even MF Doom) brings alternative chat alongside tunes and live sessions on his ‘Kwake and Friends’ show; Jamo Beatz (who’s toured with Rejjie Snow) plays tunes by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Kaytranada and Anderson Paak, while Eliza Rose spins funk, soul and disco.
Balamii is a great example of combining bigger names with local spirit: South London songwriter and instrumentalist (and founding member of Ammi Boyz) Cosmo Pyke (pictured above) has his own show, as does local grime MC and producer Novelist. Local Peckham record stores YAM Records and Rye Wax have regular slots, as does Peckham Cuts – a local record-cutting service who’ve worked for the likes of Henry Wu and Z Lovecraft of Rhythm Section (another Peckham music institution) with the ‘Peckham Cuts Duplates’ show.
“It’s about giving people the freedom and the space to talk about subject matters that aren’t really given that much airtime"
The station provides more than just a platform for a huge variety of music and local talent, though: Balamii very much has an ‘IRL’ life too. Putting on regular parties at local venues, it also organises annual event ‘The Run Out’ – a celebration of DIY culture, coinciding with Record Store Day. Free for all around the corner from the studio in Peckham, it’s an all-day record fair and live music event, hosting talks, documentary screenings and workshops.
BBZ – a creative collective prioritising the experiences of queer women, trans and non binary people of colour – have a regular show on Balamii, playing hip-hop, dance, electronic and a range of other genres alongside. Their show is an important part of a whole movement of events, residencies and DJ sets that this London-based collective are spearheading.
Tia Simon-Campbell, co-founder of BBZ, says: “It’s about highlighting and spotlighting other queer, trans and non binary people of colour who are creative – having conversations that I suppose you don’t get to hear on the radio and having a space to be quite honest and open with each other, which is basically what we like to do with our club-nights and other events that we throw.
“It’s about creating space and giving people a platform to be heard. That’s the main ethos – giving people the freedom and the space to talk about subject matters that aren’t really given that much airtime.”
Internet radio gives BBZ the freedom they need to play the music they want and speak in the way that they want, says Tia. For example, it means DJs can play as much curse-word-filled ballroom music as they want – a genre of house music, associated with vogueing and queer-friendly, often black, clubs, with its roots in New York soul/disco and 80s/90s drag queen/diva house. “There are no limits to how people express themselves,” she explains.
“Our show is cross-genre and features so many different opinions and genres of music that I think makes it super interesting, and the fact that we are spotlighting queer, brown bodies. Even just black and brown bodies in general.
“I can’t say that I know of many other shows that are specifically looking at that community and I think it’s really important that we have somewhere to congregate and that things are archived, which is exactly what Balamii allows us to do, and internet radio in general allows us to do.”
Listen to Balamii at player.balamii.com
Berlin Community Radio (BCR) – which has been live since 2013 – is home to over 100 shows covering everything from arts, music and culture, to relationships, queer politics, literature, feminism and gender issues, such as ‘Hystereo’ – a bi-weekly radio show run by the feminist collective Fem Coven, exploring politics, art and literature through a series of readings, panel discussions and lively discourse, bringing listeners a rolling platform of writers, artists, activists, academics, filmmakers, techies, and musicians to explore the effects and affects of gender in the greater world. BCR’s stated aim is to “bring together the continually evolving communities of the city and to establish a modern platform for cultural exchange”.
There’s an especially rich musical offering on the station, whether that’s Bassgang collective (DJs Minoto, Gofi, Tuan:Anh, Ostblokkk and J.Cloudwith) and their regular slot, flying the flag for Berlin bass culture, or Wilted Woman, playin goise / industrial and “graveyard soundscapes”.
Many of BCR’s music shows have a socially or culturally curious under-pinning, making them uniquely interesting and explorative. Lamin Fofana , for example, uses his regular electronic slot to unpick “questions of movement, migration, alienation, and belonging” via ethereal sets of tripped-out ambient, field recordings, techno and house, plus beats and bumps from other places and times.
Another show – ‘Yalla!’– revolves around music hailing from or inspired by the Middle East, with host Abu Ashley covering a wide genre spectrum, from underground house and techno by Middle Eastern artists and Lebanese R&B, to classic Egyptian ballads. The program isn't made up exclusively of Middle Eastern music, also featuring tracks from Abu's vinyl label, Parka, and discussing issues around Middle Eastern art and culture.
"High definition and high quality come from having resources, money, the state, and often from men – very conservative structures”
Anastazja Moser is co-founder and director of the station, which she started as a way of capturing and interviewing the huge range of talented, interesting artists passing through the city: she says that she saw that they were coming to Berlin, performing and then leaving without anyone talking to them or documenting conversations and thoughts, so she decided to do something about it.
“From the beginning, I wanted to work with people who were up and coming, and over the years it’s been really nice to see people come to us and grow and start supporting themselves, making careers in music,” Anastazja said at an event celebrating Europe’s diverse DIY music scenes in 2017, of the creative community the station has built. The station doesn’t use post-production, giving the shows an organic, DIY edge that offers listeners something truly unique, an approach that Anastazja emphasised is “in defence of poor quality”. For BCR, putting “imperfect” or “unfinished” material out into the world isn’t just an aesthetic choice: it’s a political statement.
“High definition and high quality come from having resources, money, the state, and often from men – very conservative structures,” Anastazja said at the DIY event. “I think moving away from that, creating things with a rougher aesthetic, connects with the DIY movements of the 1970s, and there’s a real beauty to that.”
The BCR team are all self-taught in managing the tech side of radio too (and in turn, they teach their volunteers), such as setting up make-shift stations with very little kit, DJing and repairing equipment The station also produces a BCR zine, and runs its own incubator program: a residency focused on giving under-represented and marginalised artists a regular platform in the form of a residency, as well as access to production software, a mentorship program, a professional photoshoot and other resources.
Producer, Bonaventure (pictured above) – real name Soraya Lutangu – of the station’s ‘Raise Your Own Flag’ show, was one of the incubator participants. She’s now gone onto release music on NON – a global crew of producers from the African diaspora – and gain international attention for her use of club music, fusing Afrobeat and rap, to confront systemic racism. She’s the perfect example of BCR’s unique way of fusing cultural and social exploration with ground-breaking new music.
Listen to Berlin Community Radio at berlincommunityradio.com