Welcome to Radio Shed… Part Two: The Room Service

One of the latest additions to the online station SHED Radio is a new show called The Room Service, hosted by Marc Spicer. The show revolves around the theme of the night, or more specifically, listening to music at night. Not necessarily in a dancing in the dark type of way, or even dancing in the moonlight – because the night belongs to lovers. Although, not on the night they drove old Dixie down… ahem. I asked Marc more about his show:

So you’re hosting a new show on SHED Radio called The Room Service. Why the night theme?

Yeah, The Room Service is going to be a celebration of ‘night-time’ music and of listening to music at night – I’ve always really loved listening to music at night. Even music you’re really familiar with can sound so different if you take the time when things are a bit quieter and darker to really listen –  things like space and dynamics are more apparent as well as melody and lyrics. So I’m hoping to put together an hour of tracks that reward with a close listen. I think I might have tried to sell it in with the phrase ‘headphone moments’ or something like that.

What kind of music can we expect to hear?

Hopefully a bit of everything! Even though I’m using the term ‘night-time music’ – for lack of an equally concise but better description –  it’s not an ambient show. There’ll be recent bits I’ve been enjoying but generally the tracks are just pulled from my music collection based on what works rather than new, old, genre etc. Where it hopefully comes together is a night-time theme I’ll dedicate some of each show to – for instance the first show will have a ‘moon’ theme which pops up in a lot of the song choices.

What made you want to get involved with SHED Radio?

I’ve found myself listening to small radio shows more and more as a way of finding new music – I enjoy trusting someone’s curatorial eye/ear sometimes rather than wading through blogs. I’m always trying to share music I’m listening to and enjoying, and SHED seemed like a great chance to have a crack at doing that a bit more formally – they’ve been really helpful and enthusiastic with my ideas and it’s clearly a great opportunity for anyone to get a foot in doing something like this. It’s a geeky indulgence really, getting to sit down and plan out an hour of themed music.

What do you think makes a great radio show?

Competitions, live phone-ins, jingles – otherwise it’s just like a Spotify playlist isn’t it? I don’t have any of these planned for the first show but if I’m invited back I’ll up my game. Other than that I just like to be surprised and hopefully hear something I haven’t heard before. I genuinely want to get some jingles done, by the way. And actually in the future I’d like to speak to other people about what their interpretation of ‘night-time music’ is, maybe get people in to pick a few tracks or play some music.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Oh there’s been tons of great stuff this year… Polar Bear, Liars, Cloud Nothings, Avey Tare and Hauschka – these records are all getting heavy play. I think my favourite records this year are Large Electric Ensemble by Ex Easter Island Head on Low Point, and Wawayanda Patent by Black Dirt Oak on MIE. In both cases I listened with no idea what to expect and they totally grabbed my attention and excited me, and they still do on repeat listens, a few months in. Aside from new stuff, I only recently discovered Like Hearts Swelling by Polmo Polpo and have been absolutely rinsing it for a while now.

Listen to Marc’s ‘moon’ themed show here – featuring Arthur Russell, Dirty Three and a delightful bed time story from Tom Waits.

@room_svc

Welcome to Radio Shed… Part One

I first became aware of SHED Radio back in 2012, when I was approached (despite no prior experience) to host a show. Having found that Kingston University didn’t have a radio station, two students – Chris O’Grady and Luke Moran-Morris – decided to set up their own, providing a platform for anyone with a keen interest in a particular genre or subject to host a show. The online station, which was initially broadcast from inside Chris’ garden shed, has since produced a selection of diverse and original radio programmes. Whilst some shows focus on a particular genre, as in The Art of Grime or Celtic Craic, others revolve more around a theme or idea, such as Seaward and one of my personal favourites, The Piano Club. This show is all about live music, and features recordings taken on dictaphones from around the country and beyond, from buskers and street performers to spontaneous sing-songs and live bands at small festivals, gigs and open-air performances. The result is a show that always captures the magic and (often slightly tipsy) merriment of live performances, and unsurprisingly, never fails to deliver something you’ve never heard before. The music itself is often a great mix of various forms of folk and traditional music, which is juxtaposed with melodies from smoky sounding jazz bars, and even choral music. Listen here to a great episode of the Piano Club.

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What appeals about SHED Radio is the variety and originality of the shows, the unpolished, DIY sound (this perhaps partly comes from the improvised pair-of-tights-stretched-over-a-microphone setup) and of course, the fact that it is completely free from advertising and playlists. I chatted to Chris O’Grady, one of the co-founders of SHED radio, about the station:

How was SHED radio born? Why did you decide to go into independent radio?
My dad used to be a record shop owner in a small town up north. I was growing up with speakers and records surrounding me, and music has always been my foremost passion. The thing about music, or sound in general, is it can be a very individual thing, something that is close to one’s heart – and people get very precious over it. Luke and I found that popular radio didn’t provide much room for sound to be experimented with, or displayed in interesting ways. As commercial stations are primarily businesses, they always need to think about where the money is coming from. SHED Radio wasn’t so much a definitive formula, but more something we felt we could give back to the many people we knew who had ideas about how they could do a radio show – and we wanted to facilitate it.

What makes it different? What does SHED offer that mainstream radio does not?
We provide a platform for the ideas that come our way, and develop them. We have nothing holding us back – it’s pure experimentation and a ‘let’s see what happens’ mentality. We give anyone the possibility to create a completely different type of show – there is no right or wrong answer.

Did you find it easy to recruit people to do shows?
At first it was very easy – people just kept coming with their ideas, and we just said yes! You’d be surprised at how many people just want to openly share. There are some that you may not think are ‘radio voices’, but that isn’t the point – you have to take it at face value, and remember that all these presenters are just like anyone else – there is no celebritism – just people simply talking about their passion.

What do you think makes a great radio show?
I know what makes a good ‘text book’ radio show, but to be honest after a while they get repetitive and boring. For me, a great show is one that has a completely unique idea with a really interesting premise as to why it has been made into a show. Something I would never think to listen to – but I love it.

Which shows are you particularly pleased with?
I’m really pleased with Celtic Craic (Ross Davidson) as you actually never really hear celtic music – especially not modern celtic music. His drive is to get people listening to it, and I have honestly found it really great to listen to. Another would be Seaward (Lilly & Emma) – they are quite an odd pair, but their love for the sea – I don’t know how they do it, they manage to get music and conversations about the sea in every time! I would also say Four on the Floor, as I love the music, and it’s always something I’ve never heard before. [I honestly didn’t bribe Chris to say this]

Do you think that DIY/independent stations are the future for radio?
Yes, I think independent, small radio stations are definitely becoming more popular, because they don’t play the same number one hit six times a day. I also think people are more adventurous, and with social media being a large part of our lives, people are exposed to more, and are giving new things a chance.

lily margen one

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Check out the SHED Radio website and follow them on Soundcloud.

@SHED_radio

SHED Radio on Facebook

Freak Out: The Craft of the Disc Jockey

jock·ey

/ˈjäkē/

verb

  1. 1.

struggle by every available means to gain or achieve something.

Much has been written recently about the art of DJing, and the suggestion that this art is being ‘killed’ by a variety of factors. In Mixmag last September, Tim Sheridan explored the three main supposed threats to the DJ: firstly the idea that digital DJing is ‘ruining the craft’ of mixing; secondly, that easy accessibility to the most popular current tunes is making DJs lazy; and lastly, that spectacle and performance is now often taking primacy over what the DJ is actually playing.

He makes some good points, ultimately suggesting that DJing should be about substance and not style. To some extent, he does also counter the digital haters:

It does a great disservice to the DJ and our craft if you boil what we do down to technology – or even just to mixing. To say a DJ is only as good as what occurs in the minutes he blends the tracks together is basically saying that we are some kind of flesh jukebox.

– Tim Sheridan, Mixmag, September 2013

Yet despite this, he still goes on to criticise ‘anyone who uses the sync button in public’. Of course. The ‘sync’ function often employed by the digital DJ has long been characterised as the devil in button form, despite the fact that it is simply a tool – a tool which helps to alter the tempo, or to synchronise beats to mix two records together. Sheridan actually accepts that condemning it is a bit like a driver criticising another for using an automatic car, or a cake maker getting grumpy when other bakers whip out an electric blender, instead of using good old-fashioned elbow grease. It just doesn’t seem right to specifically blame new technology, or its users – especially as, let’s face it, it ain’t going anywhere. In fact, it seems a bit ridiculous.

Crucially, what Sheridan does not accept in his ruthless generalisation of digital ‘sync’ users is that – you know what? Digital DJing is often the cheapest, quickest way to learn the basics, and to get out there and play. As a learner DJ myself (though I’m still pretty much a beginner in terms of technical ability, I’ve had paid gigs and I’m actually doing it out of a genuine love of the music) I think it’s unfair that an elitist attitude continues to immediately write off all digital DJs as fakes, phoneys or cheats. A poor student when I started (and now an even poorer graduate), I contest the idea that I should not be able to play, purely because I’m not using the correct kit. This is not to say that I don’t respect those who mix using vinyl and their ears, or that I don’t intend to learn myself – when I can afford to. Good quality turntables, CDJs, mixers and speakers certainly don’t come cheap. The fact that I was able to acquire some decent software for free (that might not have been legal, but, er, see the definition of ‘jockey’ above) to use on my ageing but portable laptop, and pick up a cheap midi controller deck from Cash Converters illustrates how democratic DJing can now be, despite the high cost of the best technology – if you’re keen enough.

Of course, what the whole sync-button-bee-in-the-DJ’s-bonnet issue comes down to is mixing. On the one hand, in his article Sheridan acknowledges that there is currently too much emphasis on mixing in DJ culture. Yet on the other, he simultaneously attacks those who use any means (including the bloody sync button) to live up to the expectations and pressures on them to mix – even if they are beginners, starting out on digital technology. By claiming that any sync user should have their finger cut off, Sheridan ultimately suggests that mixing should only be done ‘properly’ i.e. basically, only by those who can afford quality decks. He therefore ironically reinforces the general emphasis on mixing that he claimed to be problematic in the first place.

… a scary number of kids think it’s just about technical skills and access to the most upfront tunes… The other great misunderstanding is the obsession with mixing. Today’s styles place an unhealthy emphasis on the mechanical side of things, and most of the best DJs do have impressive technical abilities. But don’t let this overshadow their more fundamental talents – for discovering music and for playing exactly the right record at the right moment… Some of the world’s greatest DJs have been pretty ropey mixers.

– Frank Broughton and Bill Brewster

The rage aimed at the ‘plastic DJs’ in Sheridan’s article is justifiable – he is certainly right to criticise those who think they are the biz for playing a dull, predictable set comprised of the Beatport top 20. But their crime here as DJs is not in the technology they use – it is that they are merely regurgitating, and not innovating. They are not music hunter-gatherers, but instead supermarket sweepers, choosing to play the biggest Coca Cola tracks in ‘EDM’- even the term is clinical, shiny and boring – rather than demonstrating a genuine personality through the music they play.

I’m of the opinion that as a DJ you must always play what you love and ignore what’s “trendy” because true passion always eclipses what’s fashionable. Quality is always fashionable.

– Boy George  

As it is now possible for anyone and everyone to be a form of DJ, in the sense that it is so easy to make and share playlists, to be a music ‘selector’ no longer seems as unique or special. But as Broughton and Brewster simply put it: ‘Music is what motivates the finest DJs: they love it, they live for it.’ It is worth remembering that the word ‘discotheque’ translates as ‘record library’. The DJ’s role is to do with knowledge, specialism, and educating – opening up ears and minds to sounds they have put effort into sourcing.

In his book Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco, Peter Shapiro investigates the origins of the disc jockey, and his findings come as a revelation. The very first DJs were not those such as Terry Noel, who was the first person to mix two records at the New York club Arthur in the 1960s, or even the disc jockeys who played rock n roll at ‘record hops’ in the 1950s. Shapiro locates the first DJs even earlier: within the youth movements rebelling against Hitler – both the ‘Swing Kids’ in Germany, and ‘Les Zazous’ in Nazi-occupied Paris. He describes the parties that often took place underground to avoid discovery by the Gestapo, in which young Europeans could dance wildly to American swing records. Significantly, the music would be chosen by an individual from his own collection, and played out on a portable gramophone:

While people had been dancing to recorded music for years at American bars and roadhouses that had jukeboxes or, even earlier, piano rolls, both jukeboxes and piano rolls were serviced by distribution companies that chose the music themselves. The gatherings of the Swing Kids mark the first instance that a ‘disc jockey’ played music of his own choosing, and not necessarily what was in the hit parade.

– Peter Shapiro, Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco

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The main point I’m trying to make here is that all the fuss and hullabaloo about the sync button and digital technology stem from an attitude that frequently singles out mixing as the DJ’s primary skill – and that the vital connoisseur element to the craft is often overlooked. Sheridan rightly states: ‘Being a DJ is about being an authority.’ The tools a DJ uses to acquire and play their music should not be particularly important- so long as they are doing it with a genuine curiosity and a desire to explore, acquiring knowledge and an appreciation for various sounds that comes through in their individual record collection, and their sets.

This brings me neatly to my last point – one which Sheridan also discusses in his article – which is the elevation of the DJ to a position in which certain prefixes such as ‘superstar’, ‘super-fly’ or other irritating terms often appear. Because the DJ has entered the glossy world of showbiz, that vital afore mentioned nerdiness that characterises the best disc jockeys is once more pushed to the side, in favour of some attention-seeking moron who likes to fist-punch the air and has probably decided to take up DJing because of the supposedly ‘glamorous’ lifestyle, or a desire to be popular. Or of course, if your name is Paris Hilton, as yet another PR stunt to add to your career of varying PR stunts. As a female DJ myself, I would love to say: “Great- good for you Paris!”– except that Paris’ DJ move reeks so strongly of everything that is wrong with our celebrity and image obsessed culture – those glittery diamond headphones say it all. If there was anyone with the time and money to really dedicate to acquiring records and learning to DJ ‘properly’, it is surely Paris – but then this would involve graft and dedication to something other than coming up with a name for a new perfume. Money, spectacle and ego – the reason the brilliant ‘DJs complaining’ blog and twitter page exist – these are the factors that are overshadowing the real disc jockey’s craftsmanship, rather than digital technology or the internet.

When I started, DJs weren’t in the media, electronic music wasn’t in the sales charts and a DJ was the freak in the corner who provided the music while other people had fun. So to do it, you must have been a freak and a music lover. And I still am: this is still the engine which drives me.

– Paul Van Dyk, DJmag 

As the dictionary definition of ‘jockey’ suggests – the DJ’s craft is one that demonstrates hard work, and it doesn’t simply come down to mixing. The ability to mix is great, because it enables the DJ to maintain a level of energy, a rhythm, a groove – but also to create something new in those moments in which different records overlap. But – a passion for delving into music, for learning the craft of selection, for being creative and unafraid to play lesser known records within a set, and an unquenchable need to be continuously learning, discovering and sharing those audio gems – these are the qualities that separate the true DJ wheat from the (diamond encrusted) chaff.

So kids, to be a great DJ is to be a great nerd. Take it from one of the coolest freaks around- Theo Parrish – whose disc jockey philosophy features on Kid Fonque’s smooth ‘2Sides’: