Published on November 22, 2012 | by Josh Ford


Pirate Radio

Tuning in to hear your favourite DJ [Flickr]

So you are tuning into your favourite radio station one evening to listen to the news when you are met with a distorted unfamiliar voice in your favourite presenters’ usual spot, talking in a lingo that you cannot quite make out. You think to yourself who in their right mind would listen to this gibberish and what is the world coming to?

You can’t even listen to your radio station anymore without some hoodlum trying to take it over. You switch off the radio and think no more of it. But in a small, dingy, poorly-lit room somewhere there stands five or more musicians who do this for a living. They live, eat, and breathe music. This is not gibberish to them, this is pirate radio.

Some of the popular UK pirate radio stations are, Rinse FM, Déjà Vu and Freeze 97.2. These were the main catalyst behind the rise and on-going success and popularity of the urban music scene in the UK, along with BBC 1Xtra DJ Tim Westwood, who started out on pirate station London Weekend Radio back in the 70s and 80s.

New generation of radio

Rinse FM began broadcasting as a pirate radio station 17 years ago and is based in Tower Hamlets, east London. It started off in the kitchen of an 18th floor flat with the mixer and decks balancing between a sink and a cooker. It was only last year, after 16 years, that Rinse FM was given a community license on 17th June 2010. This community license means that it has a duty to help the community and as a result Rinse Academy has been set up to help up-and-coming MCs and DJs.

Founder Geeneus, 32, set up Rinse with a group of his friends – including the ‘godfather of grime’ Wiley and DJ Slimzee due to other pirate radio stations saying they were too young to be on air. Rinse FM is still rated one of the best pirate radio stations and is held in high esteem by those that know about it.

Déjà Vu FM have been around for over 14 years and are mainly responsible for paving the way for a succession of top DJs, producers and artists to see mainstream success, such as Wiley, Skepta, Lethal B, and Teddy Music. Regarded as London’s leading underground music station, Déjà Vu has come a long way from crowded rooms to streaming online to a worldwide audience.

Clash culture

The ‘clashing’ factor, started on Déjà Vu and clashing is when MC’s put their skills to the test against each other in an attempt to see who can outdo the other and come out on top.

It helped a lot of artists make their names in the scene such as Dizzee Rascal – who was involved in the clash that made history when he battled Titch – Wiley even missed the Roll Deep cover shoot because he was on the station. These times it was not about who you knew, as there was no easy way to success.

MCs, DJs and producers did music for the love and passion of it. Rapper Sean Holdsworth (Grief) said: “There can never be as much passion in music as there was when pirate radio first hit the scene. It was all about the microphone, the love, 10 or more mcs in cramped room, it was sweaty, it was hot, and you didn’t hear any of them complain once.”

As a direct result of Déjà Vu and clashing, Lord Of The Mics (LOTM) spawned as a platform for MCs to settle any quarrels by competing against each other in a clash, which was filmed and later released on DVD. LOTM, set up in 2004 by Jammer (Merkleman) from grime crew Boy Better Know and Esco, saw the likes of popular artists; Kano, Skepta, Tinchy, Wiley and many more going head to head for bragging rights and mic supremacy.

LOTM and pirate radio stations have been an important factor in the success of grime music and all go hand in hand. Without pirate radio, grime would not be as popular as it is today. However saying that, were it not for grime then pirate radio would not be where it is today and LOTM would not have received the acclaim that it has.

This was a point supported by the rapper Dre Edwards (Leader) who says: “Its funny to think that the success of grime music and pirate radio go hand in hand and without the success of one the success of the other wouldn’t be as great. Both owe a big part of their success to each other.”

“It provides a stage in which non established artists can begin to find their foundations and hone in on their strengths and weaknesses” Kayo Wilson

Clashing, or ‘battle-rapping’ as the Americans call it, has always been a key component in the urban scene. It began way back in the 70s on street corners amongst a crowd of people who would determine who is the more skilled of the two MCs.

However since LOTM2, grime has suffered in terms of progression and gone down more of a pop route. Mainly based around a catchy hook, it has come under criticism from many of the old school grime fans and criticised for lacking substance.

Rapper and Producer, Luke Frater-Roberts (Bizz) gave his opinion in saying: “Nowadays music doesn’t have anywhere near as much passion as it used to, it’s all money orientated.

The fact that stations such as Street FM, Axe FM and Urban FM are still around allows the passionate artists and producers to keep doing what they love.” While this may be true, it could be argued that grime may have lost that raw passion that it once had.

Mainstream exposure

Yet, in recent years, urban music on the radio has become more accepted in the UK and is played on more mainstream stations such as BBC 1xtra and KISS by several DJs, including Tim Westwood and Trevor Nelson.

A new series of LOTM also renewed faith in the scene and the newer pirate radios such as Urban FM and Street FM provide a platform for up and coming MCs to establish themselves. But with the originality factor of grime on pirate radio being played out it won’t be as easy to make their name.

There are still the odd few stations going strong, paving the way for budding MCs to get noticed and get their foot in the door, as agreed by Rapper and Producer Kayo Wilson.

When asked for his opinion, he said: “It provides a stage in which non established artists can begin to find their foundations and hone in on their strengths and weaknesses, master those strengths and turn the weaknesses into strengths.” So, although it may look like pirate radio is down, it is certainly far from out.


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