I started listening to London Pirate Radio while I was at school and it was probably the single biggest influence on how my life unfolded as an adult. Pirate Radio was a gateway into a world that I was otherwise too young to have any contact with. It sparked an interest, lit a fire and set me on a path that I continue to tread. As a young listener it had a mysticism about it. The music played, the cryptic slang chanted by the MCs and DJs and its seemingly unseen world was alien and exciting. An older friend introduced me to Chilin’ FM around 1990 and I was immediately hooked on the vibe. From there I discovered Weekend Rush and Kool FM. I knew they were local as they’d often be sending shouts out to ‘The Stokey Crew’ or ‘The Claptonites’ and the experience of hearing this while sitting in my bedroom in Stoke Newington intensified my interest and obsession. Something was happening right around me and I absolutely had to find out more.
The sense of community and localised activity is instrumental in the growth of Jungle music in the UK and beyond. Simon Reynolds says in ‘Energy Flash’ that “…the pirate station keeps alive the idea of the macro-massive as a virtual presence, a latent potential, thereby shoring up the community’s belief in its own existence during the fallow, dead-time intervals before and after the rave.” I would add that Pirate Radio didn’t just provide a soundtrack for resting ravers, it brought underground music out of the rave, onto the streets and into the veins of everyday life, deepening its roots and injecting its DNA into future generations. Audience participation was encouraged via the phone line – or “0860” – in the form of shouts, dedications and requests. This created a constant feedback loop galvanising the collective consciousness of the ‘Massive and Crew’ and mobilising the sound of UK ‘Ardcore.
The deeper I look into my own genetic make-up as an artist, the more I can see the hereditary traits of the Jungle Pirate Radio stations. The crunchy and distorted aesthetics of a slightly out-of-tune station, the creation of a self-sufficient world with its own language, the inherently DIY nature of the whole thing, the connection to a local area and of course the manic and chopped up breakbeats. My tune selection and mixing style as a DJ was informed by hours of listening to pirates and even some of the phrases and terminology have become commonplace in my vocabulary – much the same as one has a dialect or accent. I later came to realise it’s not just me and it’s not just London. Manchester producer Chimpo’s ‘On The Dial’ EP on my label, Astrophonica, is an ode to his local stations, Buzz FM and LUV NRG, and suggests he was having very similar experiences. In early 90s Bristol, Jungle legend DJ Die was playing on local pirate Power FM and it’s clear to me that any city with a strong Pirate Radio subculture has had a profound effect on its local community and the wider growth of this music.
The lineage of UK pirate radio has now gone on to be worldwide. The internet station NTS is a great example of a continuation of the Pirate’s DIY and grass roots attitude, with founder Femi Adeyemi saying that the first studio had a table built from bits of wood picked up from a skip and multiple shaky internet connections in order to keep broadcasting if one went down – much like the Pirates who used multiple home-made transmitter rigs to be back on air within hours of getting taken down by the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry). The small NTS studio in Dalston also provided a meeting space for DJs and the wider community – I’ve spent many afternoons hanging out outside the studio during Tim Parker’s show discussing music and the local area with others that have dropped by. These meeting points and information centres are crucial for underground music scenes, providing an ongoing social commentary and feeding the hive mind / organism / collective consciousness. Stations like Balamii, Threads and Reprezent share a similar lineage and provide the same functions while the pirate-come-legal station Rinse FM continues to be a key figure in the development of genres rooted in UK music broadcasting beyond the FM dial and worldwide via the internet. Early stateside Dubstep adopter Joe Nice famously used the chat room on internet stations like, Sub FM, Breaks FM or Gourmet Beats for audience participation with his now legendary ‘5 for the reload’ call out, prompting listeners to type a feverish constant flow of ‘55555555’ if they wanted the reload, creating a non geographic but local assemblage. The idea of a small studio broadcasting out to a rapidly increasing listenership is still, to this day, so visceral and exciting that I can only imagine how it must have felt transmitting live from a pirate station in the early 90s. My time came at the turn of the millennium on Rude FM 88.2 and it felt incredibly special – I’d gone from listening to Pirates on my small bedroom radio to sharing my own music from a grubby studio on the 18th floor of a condemned tower block in North London. I played some of my first ever productions on Rude, inspired by the music I’d first heard on Pirates 10 years previously and just as I’d heard legendary voices like MC Det or Skibbadee call out to the listeners when I was a kid, I found myself reading out shouts and requests that had been texted in, thus completing my own feedback loop.
This project is not intended to be a definitive or final commentary on the history of Pirate Radio, it’s a chronicle of the part that I experienced and my reaction to its lineage. The people, music and aesthetics that form this lineage have given me and many others an amazing community to draw inspiration from and this is my chance to say thank you and to do my part in highlighting their hard work and perpetuating the feedback loop by ‘passing the information and extending the knowledge’. The album title “0860” refers specifically to the classic Kool FM phone line number 0860 395 262 which I would occasionally and nervously call from my parent’s landline to ask for shouts and requests. The music is fragmented and hazy and can be seen to represent my memories of both listening to fuzzy Jungle stations and then going on to broadcast my own signals across the airwaves. As the album progressed and the music started to take shape, it became clear that I wanted to hear from others involved in Pirate Radio and discuss their own experiences and stories in depth. I got to speak with legends and listeners including V Recordings boss Bryan G about his time on Kool FM and how he took that sound to Brazil and back. I spoke to Rinse FM legend ScratchaDVA aka Scratchclart about his involvement and found out that radio has always been a part of his everyday life – growing up his mum would have the radio on all day on Sundays no matter what else was happening in his house. I was particularly excited to speak with DJ Flight who had a big impact on my direction as a DJ and it was fascinating to hear about her journey from Pirate Radio to BBC host to British Podcast Award nominee. The audience and listeners were such an integral part to Pirate Radio and it was incredibly touching to hear from artist and long time Kool FM listener Eddie Peake about why he wanted to include Kool FM in his works at The Royal Academy and The White Cube gallery. Speaking with the younger, post-pirate era, generation was also incredibly important and speaking with Reprezent Radio alumni Sherelle and Naina provided a real insight into their understanding and respect. I feel incredibly privileged to have been able to complete this project and owe a huge thank you to Eastman and Bluesy Gee at Kool FM, Fugee at Rude FM, Bryan Gee, Eddie Peake and anyone involved in London Pirate Radio.