WORDS

Online radio’s ability to form communities and deliver selections with a personal touch has been especially prominent in 2016.

From the beaming Polaroids of DJs that adorn the walls of Balamii’s Peckham studio to the excitable NTS and Berlin Community Radio chat rooms – people are coming together more than ever through independent broadcasting. As platforms have expanded and multiplied, emergent DJs have been given more space to develop and room to breathe – establishing a voice and an audience that they weren’t previously afforded on the same scale. 

Berlin Community Radio was especially diligent in recruiting new voices, establishing their Incubator programme in the spring. It was started with the aim of highlighting marginalised artists’ voices in Berlin. One of the winners, Bonaventure, has now gone on to have a show on NTS and play with PAN in London.

The programme demonstrated a refreshing and proactive approach. Among its prizes were a BCR residency, Ableton Live 9, a PR campaign as well as mastering, remixing and releasing the artist’s own music. It was a perfect example of how platforms such as BCR are now able to build substantial platforms beyond the airwaves for people who wouldn’t previously have had access and funds off their own back.

The way that we experience the format has also changed in the past year due to the growing prevalence of live streaming on social media. Some stations have taken to streaming independently through Facebook live, allowing people to comment and participate in real time and shape how the route of the shows. Red Light’s temporary relocation to from the red light district to The Amsterdamse Bos for Dekmantel was a highlight of their programming this year. Beaming music and conversation from a pop-up hut in the centre of the event, the station archived hours and hours of footage taken from the heart of the site. A marriage of two pillars of the new Amsterdam.

The charming confines of The Lot – a reclaimed shipping container near Greenpoint, Brooklyn – have become one of the most recognisable studios to appear on the newsfeed. One of their most successful shows is with Discwoman – who’ve brought in female-identified guests such as DJ Haram and Aurora Halal down to the intimate studio, which also serves as a coffee shop.

Intimate studios in unconventional spaces have proved successful across the globe this year, with Balamii being based in a room less than 10ft wide tucked away in the middle of a shopping arcade in Peckham. Both The Lot and Balamii are independently run operations and we’re seeing independent/student-run stations hold more influence in radio, propelling people to DJ gigs and peak-time slots faster than ever.

NTS has continued to blossom across the year. Having launched their weekly Manchester station in late November 2015, it set the tone for a landmark year. The London station made its way onto DAB radio this summer, allowing drivers to lock in to Lee Gamble or Covco without scrambling for the aux. But recent developments have seen them reaching further height still – across the Atlantic with a newly established station based in Los Angeles’ Highland Park. As COO Sean McAuliffe told us last month, “Rather than waiting for US artists to come to London for live NTS shows, we figured let’s go to them. There’s dope scenes happening all over the US, but for us LA was the right place to go first.”

When it comes to shows from more established DJs, the Hessle Rinse show has gone from strength to strength. Despite a dizzying tour schedule this year, Ben UFO has been on the airwaves most weeks this year along with a varying array of guests, with Pearson Sound occasionally stepping in. Two guests mixes from Vancouver’s Yu Su and San Francisco techno detective Jack Murphy particularly stood out. The former dealt in bruised, trickling ambient while the latter played with shimmering house and tough breakbeat.

One of the more saddening developments in radio this year was that Toronto based radio station TRP was put on an indefinite hiatus, shutting down due to financial difficulty. While some stations crowd fund to stay afloat – as Berlin Community Radio successfully did in 2014 – not all platforms can make it through the economic strain. Work In Progress, one of its most regular shows hosted by DJ and promoter powerhouse Cindy Li (who DJs under the name CL), had been building momentum with guest sessions from Lena Willikens and Dark Entries’ Bill Converse in its final episodes on air. Thankfully, Cindy’s show lives on through Li’s own channels though as she puts out episodes that she had already scheduled to be on TRP.

Despite some setbacks, audiences are beginning to the tackle the format with more variety and nuance. NTS’ transatlantic expansion is emblematic of a culture that will continue to develop and move forward. 2017 looks set to be an even more exciting year for truly independent radio at home and abroad.

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