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This article is taken from our special print edition Crack Magazine: The Collections, Vol. 1.

Crowned heroes of lockdown, No Signal’s meteoric rise is bringing Black communities together through independent radio. Co-founder David Sonubi tells their story.

As told to: Keziah Wenham-Kenyon

Before everyone knew No Signal as a radio station, we were known as a collective – some of us worked for labels, some in PR, some already DJs. But I’d say No Signal really represents culture as a whole. You speak to the average person nowadays, and they’ve either heard about or locked into No Signal. We’re real, we’re out there.

No Signal was created last year but all we were doing was live streaming parties. We had a party called Recess and a lot of DJs were requesting to play it – it was one of the hottest parties in London. Because we already had a solid structure, it was tough to accommodate a lot of people, so we decided to do another type of party that isn’t really a party – something for music lovers and DJs, similar to Boiler Room. We started streaming parties on the station, followed by a few different motives around the world, like New York and Barbados. That’s kind of how it all started – out of frustration that so many DJs were saying they wanted to DJ at Recess.

© No Signal

Everyone broadcasts from their rooms; we have a secret system in place to make it work. The spirit of clashing was big during the pandemic, so when we did our version of it, we really took off. The reason we became so successful during lockdown is because we don’t have many good radio stations available. I asked my sister, ‘Why don’t you listen to the radio?’ and she said, ‘It becomes repetitive and boring.’ I thought, she’s a young person, she should be listening to the radio. A lot of people have told me that they listen to radio now because they hear people that sound like them and look like them on our station. One thing No Signal stands for is representing Black culture – that’s our biggest thing. Not just in the music we play but in who’s delivering the music.

Every community deserves to have a space where they can feel comfortable being themselves and speak how they want to without anyone questioning them. For example, when Ian Wright was on the station, he was talking like a proper yardman. He said he could never do this at any of the other places he’s been to for promo. He was happy and comfortable to be able to talk like he wanted, and that was very important. For us, that’s history.

Representation is key. You could have a playlist full of Black artists, but if it’s not delivered by the right people, the people who live and breathe this music, it’s just not going to land. With everything that’s happened throughout the pandemic, George Floyd and so many other incidents, young people are not having it. You have to pass the baton. You’re not going to be able to do this forever, do you know what I mean? The next generation are always going to have what’s poppin’ for them. It’s important to train those young ones that have the creative gift from early, so we started No Signal Academy and that’s how we give back.

“You could have a playlist full of Black artists, but if it’s not delivered by the right people, the people who live and breathe this music, it’s just not going to land”

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life where being Black was so important. I feel like we have learned so much about ourselves in lockdown, acknowledging our culture and championing it without worrying if it will fit in mainstream media. A big lesson I have learned is to never be ashamed of your culture. We do Sunday morning gospel shows and it’s full-on Yoruba; you can’t just turn on any radio station and hear that.

There have been a few similarly great moments for No Signal. Every time I see an artist or celebrity randomly tweet about a show they’re listening to, it’s just like, ‘Wow, this is crazy’. I’ve even seen big artists tweet things like ‘I get more excited hearing my song on No Signal than on BBC’. It’s good to see your peers appreciate what you’re doing. Then once we got a voice note from Adele. That was a mad, very weird moment. It was for one of our clashes and she sent a voice note in – we have an email where you can submit them – and she sent one in to rep north London. We were like, ‘Yo, this is fucking Adele’. That was very, very random.

The future is for us to be here, we ain’t going nowhere. A lot of people thought that we were just corona radio, but if you know the people behind it and how long we’ve been doing things in the scene, you’ll know all of this isn’t temporary. We’re here to stay.