Wednesday, October 3, 2018

pirates RIP (so sez NYT)

A piece at the New York Times reports that London's terrestial-broadcast pirate radio stations are on the way out, killed by a/ the internet, and b/ legalisation (or at least the issuing of licenses to those prepared to go through all the bureaucratic hoops)

Well, that's a bit old-news in this parish, I'm sure, but still - cool that the Paper of Record would, er, record their having once been vital, albeit not at the actual time they were vital (although they probably get a passing mention in the jungle feature i did for them backintheday now I think about it)  

In all honesty I am surprised that there are even fifty of them still left. 

The writer Annalisa Quinn notes:

"Now that Rinse is a licensed station, the contrast with Kool, a former competitor, is stark. Kool operates out of a grim warehouse with flickering bulbs and patchy black paint, but Rinse has leather couches, its own record label, and corporate partners like Smirnoff"

The Nuum was not built on leather couches and vodka sponsorships, that's for sure! 

I tried listening to Rinse online the other month.. but found it completely dispiriting...  literally, all the energy and interest in my bodymind seemed to just drain away as I clicked through the site, checking in on this, looking in on that...   The format, or platform, or site structure, or user-interface - whatever the right word is, I'm not sure -  so so enervating. And the shows themselves: vibeless... airless.  Even Uncle Dugs doing the old vintage hardcore, playing classic anthem after classic anthem, doing his best to make it hype -  it  just seemed to be going out into the void. The nonspace of the net.  And when I put on the Mark Radford show it felt like I had become that void. 

Here's a comment on an old thread at Dissensus (an Autopsy for the Hardcore Continuum) where I get into some structural analysis of how the pirates worked and what got lost when they started to fade:

"f there was a single pulse that you could track as the life-line, the vital sign [for the flourishing of the hardcore nuum] , i'd argue that it's the vibrancy and the essential role of the pirates

there is something about real-time terrestrial broadcast to a geographically restricted audience that creates community and a sense of synchronisation - everyone within the same forward-surging temporality

as soon as it became about the internet and netradio, you are leaving behind analogue culture - you are into geographically scattered audiences whose identity is primarily through identification with genre (whereas with jungle, UKG, grime et al - the identity came from the genre-identification but also a host of social and racial factors). 

you are also into desynchronisation - the ability to listen to shows when you feel like, when it's convenient, as podcasts or archived shows

this is just my experience, but living in NYC and then in LA i could never bring myself to listen to netradio of nuum-type music - it just felt wrong - i was listening too far away from the source, and at the wrong time of day

i think hardcore continuum is fundamentally an analogue-era culture - you can see that with the way it stuck with vinyl and with the dubplate long after other kinds of music had abandoned those for digital modes (there were still really shitty-sounding bassline 12 inches you could buy in 2008 - a phenomenon of persistence completely different from the vinyl revival going on elsewhere, which was the musical equivalent of artisanal cheese - almost literally, given that you could buy 40 dollar vinyl albums in Whole Foods here)

also feel like the broadcast nature of pirates contributed to a certain (delusional?) grandiosity - the DJs and MCs could actually say and feel, "this one goes out to the London massive" or whatever - the music is addressed to a whole city and its population (in potential, at least) - a lot more people were aware of the pirates than actually liked them (indeed they found them a nuisance)

in that sense it was a public culture

internet is narrowcast

Bonus bit - a piece by Ben Murphy for Red Bull on the best pirate radio documentaries on YouTube etc


Spiro said...

Are you aware of the UK television show ‘People Just Do Nothing’? If not - it’s an incredibly well-observed sitcom about a group of lads in their late 20s/early 30s who run a pirate radio station in the London suburbs. The other day I was watching it and thinking how it’s pretty much a show about the final, last, desperate days of the ‘nuum - they play mostly garage, jungle, and grime

(there’s a great quote where one of the DJs reads out a veritable cornucopia of ‘nuum subgenres “We will be bringing you vocal garage, speed garage, garage, dark side garage, grime, jungle, drum & bass, and some various hardcore choons but only ones that [the station boss] likes*“ …impressive for a mainstream BBC show!)

- but, and here’s the point, while the show is set in the present day, they only play music that’s old (as one states “We don’t even like new music!”) and, crucially, only on vinyl. And they only broadcast using a terrestrial transmitter. So it’s interesting you say that the ‘nuum is fundamentally an analogue-era culture, which I totally agree with - that idea is illustrated beautifully and accurately by this show!

But what is even more interesting is that you mention a ‘certain deluded grandiosity’ that pirate DJs and MCs might have. The central joke of the show is that the Kurrupt FM gang (and in particular their leader MC Grindah), are utterly, utterly convinced of their own significance and importance in regards to music, which again, accurately captures this aspect of ‘nuum involvement. Obviously the tone of the show is that we are meant to laugh at the Kurrupt FM boys… but for me I’ve always found watching it to be somewhat of a bittersweet experience - in the eyes of society these not-quite-young anymore lads are just ‘doing nothing’ by dedicating their lives to pirate radio, but for them this is the sole reason for their existence, they are so heavily invested in this culture, that to do anything else is worthless. And again, this reminds me of the pirate radio chapter in Energy Flash where you speak about gnosis - this esoteric, spiritual knowledge of what this culture means can never be comprehended by outsiders.

*even this was a nice subtle touch - the almost begrudging recognition of hardcore as a ‘nuum related genre while still sidelining it, acknowledging the fact that hardcore branched off the ‘nuum some time ago (as long as they’re talking about UK/happy hardcore as opposed to breakbeat ‘ardkore of course)


hi Spiro, belated reply - i didn't know of the TV show, but i have seen some Kurrupt FM clips on youtube i think. or at least, some kind of parody of grime and UKG culture. maybe it's something different completely! that sounds pretty cool and bizarrely accurate.

in terms of TV acknowledgements of pirate radio culture, there were some characters on Eastenders who ran a pirate from their living room, if i recall right. And one time Ricky is having a party round their house and Bianca says, "wot you playing? hardcore n jungle yeah?"