Pirate Radio was one of the last defining eras of British music, shaping genres as we know them.
Whether it was Déjà Vu, Rinse, Kool FM or KISS and Choice in their pre- mainstream years; pirate radio has played an integral part of our music experience in the UK, and created a hub for passionate music lovers and innovative creators. Cassette tapes, missed call requests and flaky reception was the vibe of a generation.
To celebrate its contributions to our music culture we chose to sit back in the listener’s seat and hear the bouncing flavours of those that experienced the variety of phases of London’s bubbling pirate radio scene. “Pirate Radio is something that is truly ours. It’s out of the reach of the law, of the music industry, of the playlists and bullshit trends. It’s strictly for the lovers, not the fronters,” producer and Hoxton FM’s Shy One states. “For me, it’s the ultimate demonstration of love for DJing and sharing the music you’re passionate about. You pay to play, that’s dedication.”
Every single interviewee’s story began with their first visit to a smelly flat in the middle of nowhere. Hyperdub producer and Rinse FM regular Scratcha DVA recalls his first experience at an Essex station in Hornchurch. “We got to the station which was in a block of flats, inside the living room there was, I think, one technic 1210 and one Sound Lab belt drive deck and two beat up speakers which you had to keep really low because of the neighbours. The house was pretty trampy. I remember there was a studio guy sitting in the corner looking cracked out playing some computer game. It was probably his flat. Every pirate radio had a studio guy back then and they were always looking completely fucked.”
DVA gave us all a wake up call when he hosted Rinse FM’s grimey breakfast show. He supplied my first experience of the London pirates, regularly inviting me down for a bacon sandwich between 8 and 11am in a hidden basement near the Blackwall Tunnel. His show was a beautiful showcase of energy, debate and good vibes. While discussing his first day at radio he described an awkward moment; “My mum had given me a packed lunch, so I broke out my apple pie, sandwiches and orange mid set. I must have looked like such a dick.”
Pay As You Go veteran Maxwell D’s pirate radio journey began on Rinse FM in the mid nineties. In his own words he explains how it was far from the professional East London studio the station now calls its HQ. “I remember walking in and they had old school pioneer decks on a desk, bare man like Wiley and Pepsi (God’s Gift) were in the room, and the place was nasty and really cold. It was like a squat. Everyone was talking into the microphone basically in someone’s bedroom.” It was only after stepping outside and listening back to the buzzing jungle set he had just played a part in that he realised that this was a real life radio station with listeners. Sitting down with Maxwell was like unlocking a safe full of stories and experiences that I could only come close to by listening to his sets, alongside Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, which were passed down to me months after they had aired.
“The best sets were always at Christmas,” he answers after I quiz him on his top three moments. “We were all in different crews and as collectives each of us had our own slot times, but at Christmas everyone would link up at radio, have a drink
up and like 20 man would jump on set. It really was a community.”