Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Saturday, August 13, 2011
"I think London pirate radio is generally pretty boring now, tbh. there's still some great DJs and MCs, of course, but bland house and minimal has really taken over, with DJs seeming to see it all as a stepping stone to Pacha or wherever.
There's a lack of energy to most pirate shows now. It's nothing compared to the vibe of 5 or 10 years ago. you now have to be quite careful to pick out a few shows to get anything worth listening to - you used to be able to just switch on the radio at random."
-- Simon Silver Dollar Circle
In a short Dissensus discussion of the role of London’s pirate radio stations during the London riots, this quote from early grime blogger Simon made me think about pirate radio.
The question “is London pirate radio less healthy now than it was 5 years ago?” breaks into two components. Firstly you have to factor in your subjective judgment on how you feel about house. Not UK funky but the kind of international trad house that currently dominates a lot of the pirate shows. Because if you’re not into its sophistication and/or - depending on your viewpoint - blandness, it would stand to reason that you were happier in ’05 when grime was more dominant.
But the other component is the real question here: is the medium – not just the type of music it’s carrying – more or less healthy?
Now I should flag here that obviously I’m a massive pirate radio fan, playing Rinse is the highlight of my month and I’ve been tuning in to Rinse and stations like it (Deja, Raw Mission, Kool, Heat...) for over a decade. But like other medium’s I love, vinyl for example, I know its reach and role is not fixed over time.
I spend quite a lot of time thinking about technology, probably a lot more than this blog lets on, and my base position it is fairly simple: great technology should do a job best. Some people are so into tech and online that they believe in technology for its own sake - but I don’t buy it. If an online version of something works better than a physical version, then I’m in. If it doesn’t, count me out.
So what “job” does pirate radio “do best?” Well, in the last 30 or 40 years, what it’s done is empowered people to get heard who couldn’t get the chance to broadcast via traditional media companies. Mainstream UK broadcasting calls itself “broadcasting” but outside of the BBC, in the music sphere it mostly narrowcasts, using the old model of building a large audience [for advertisers] using the mediocre middle ground. Pirate radio is far more long tail, with large numbers of pirates broadcasting to (in relative terms) a smaller, though not insignificant audience. It was User Generated Content (UGC) broadcasting, long before the term “UGC” was invented. So to answer the question what “job” does pirate radio “do best?,” it gives or indeed gave people a voice when they had few other alternatives.
The thing is, in 2011 people have never had more ways to express themselves, especially musically. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, blogs, Sound Cloud, iPhone apps, BB Messenger, file sharing, podcasting, self digital music distribution (Tunecore etc), software for music production – there’s so many this list is incomplete.
I think a good example of this is road rap, south London's variant of hip hop that is like a cousin of grime and has emerged since social media became ubiquitous. Demographically it's exactly like grime and other hardcore continuum variants, except as far as I can see it has no significant club infrastructure nor pirate radio backing.
People take the path of least resistance, especially when it comes to getting heard, so for road rap that's YouTube hood videos or mixtape free downloads on www.ukrapmusic.com. In 2005 the path of least resistance for many people that probably was still pirate radio when it comes to music. But buying and sticking up a transmitter is expensive, hard work, not to mention illegal, and so in 2011 I don’t think pirate radio has a monopoly on self expression with those excluded from mainstream broadcasting anymore. And that’s cool - most medium’s have had their monopolies broken by the internet: ask TV stations, newspapers or book publishers – that’s just how things are in 2011.
Despite all the choices, I still listen to more Rinse podcasts as hours per month of music than anything else. It’s that pirate mentality but broadcast in a 2011 way.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
-- Photos of the Totenham Riots by Nico Hogg, full set of shots here.
Nico on taking these shots...
"Most of these were taken up the front, in the no mans land between the mass and the police line protecting Tottenham Police Station, bottles and missiles going everywhere.
It was a very tense environment, a lot of hostility was expressed to people with cameras. Got tangled in a trample of men lashing out against a professional photographer - 15 or so plus some bystanders jeering them on, but others trying to calm it. I had mine snatched from round my neck but managed to get it back... had friends there, don't think a non-local would have been so lucky. to be honest that put me off for a while.
It's pretty difficult to convey exactly how it feels to watch the place you grew up in getting trashed and torced. Still can't really believe it, every time the reality of it sets in another bit of news comes up - those Croydon aerial shots in the news earlier made my jaw fall to the floor. So much tinder in London at the moment."
-- Read more about Nico Hogg's photo's here, here, here and most recently here.
So what do I think about the riots? I can't condone the actions and don't think much positive of it will come about for the communities involved. I feel for the home and shop owners having their posessions randomly destroyed. What did they do to deserve it?
But as for the underlying causes of the anger and tensions, I honestly have thought to myself it's unsurprising it's not happened more often. From my vantage point these riots seem to be about a blend of opportunism and inequality. The former you can never mitigate but I still can't accept why some parts of London have ever been allowed to fall so far. And when people hit rock bottom, there's a bang.
Oris Jay 2002
Kode 9 2007
Marcus Nasty 2009
Ben UFO 2011
On the 20th of August at a secret east London location, Rinse FM will be commemorating FWD>>’s tenth birthday. To celebrate, they’re telling the story of the music they have championed through the DJs who have made entire years their own. Eleven influential Rinse DJs will play a selection that takes the assembled headz back in time.
Every DJ on the line up, in one form or another, owes a debt not just to the UK garage scene but to its demise and subsequent fragmentation. And no track had more of a catalytic effect on garage than DJ Zinc’s breakbeat anthem “138 Trek.” It’s tearing breaks upped the ante and energy levels from the warm swing of UKG, opening the floodgates for a torrent of new mutations.
Another pioneer to ride the wave from UKG’s flex to breakbeat garage’s power moves was original FWD>> resident Oris Jay aka producer Darqwan. As the darker side of garage began to develop momentum and a sense of identity at the Velvet Rooms, his anthems like “Confused” and “Said the Spider” upped the levels.
By 2003 dubstep, as it was soon to be named, was adrift from the UKG mothership, its own, distinct entity, an no other DJ in any other year can claim more influence or credit on dubstep than Hatcha in ’03. With an unrepeatable exclusive ownership of dubstep’s A-list producers (Artwork, Skream, Benga, Loefah, Mala and Coki), his dubplate-driven sets at FWD>> are the foundation the entire genre is built upon.
The way original dubsteppers pay the utmost respect for Hatcha, so grime – another dark garage fragment – looks to Slimzee, the grime dubplate don. At raves like Sidewinder or as part of the foundational Pay As U Go Kartel or his SuperSunday sets on Rinse, he’d unleash exclusive 8bar dubs and in part by association, break the freshest MC talent. Ask Dizzee.
If Hatcha laid the foundations for dubstep, by 2005 Youngsta began reengineering its DNA, cutting out unwanted base pairs until it was left raw and skeletal. Through his sets, full of Loefah, Skream and D1 dubs, came the dark halfstep backbone that would become the scene’s default rhythmic template.
From the darkness comes light and 2006 was the year the colour came flooding back into dubstep and with it for the first time large audiences. And no other dubstep track had ever touched so many people nor made so many new fans as Skream’s Youngsta-broken anthem “Midnight Request Line.”
As dubstep began to gain popularity so it’s diversity began to narrow. Long since determined to swim against the tide, FWD’s warm-up-DJ-turned-sonic-and-A&R-visionary, Kode9, would begin to plot a new course. Many would later come to know him as he who found Burial, but his journey was long since underway.
2008 N-Type sets are in many ways the culmination of dubstep’s transformative process that began with Hatcha’s flailing bongos in ’03, Youngsta’s dread halfstep in ’04 and went to new energy extremes with N-Type’s jump up b-lines. The stage was set for the scene’s global domination.
As grime shifted from bubbling MC-hosted dark garage raves to a sonically shocking, artist-dominated performances, the aggression and lyrical assault proved a bridge too far for some, who turned to revival UKG and US house for a sense of groove. From that sprung UK funky and its leading proponent, Marcus NASTY.
Dubstep coalescing around wobbly jump-up basslines had a divisive effect on the scene and soon a part of its fanbase had its head turned by UK funky. A new hybrid began to emerge and with that, a new pioneer. Oneman may have made his name with breathtaking blends of UK garage and ’06 dubstep classics but by 2010 he was looking forwards not backwards.
Taking a parallel path, Ben UFO was also inspired by mid era dubstep, coming to prominence via the Hessle Audio label. But this year his sets have shown the influence that has dominated so much of the current creative thinking: house and its newest variants. Blending new and old vinyl, Ben UFO makes it unclear what decade we’re in. Ultimately past becomes future, the end the beginning in this London musical continuum.