It’s no exaggeration to say that, in London at least, most if not all of the most iconic moments in underground dance music grew directly up and out of radio.
When jungle and drum n bass first gripped the capital in the early ‘90s, it was via local pirate stations Weekend Rush and Kool FM.
Later, when UK garage mutated into grime and dubstep - and then into UK funky - it was at the hands of the crews linked to Déjà Vu, Kiss and Rinse FM.
Crucially, it was not just that these stations represented the city’s underground artists. Rather, they were run by and for the underground. They provided an epicentre for the music to develop around: an outlet that producers would write beats for, and a platform that MCs and DJs would strive to earn their stripes on.
Nowadays, between Rinse, NTS and Radar, radio continues to play an important role in the capital’s dance music communities – providing an important testing space for new music, a reliable outlet for fans to discover new sounds, and a physical space for artists to get together and collaborate.
Surprisingly, this isn’t – and arguably never really was - the case in Bristol: a city that, by all other measures, holds claim to the most vibrant and creative dance music community of any city in the UK.
It’s not that the South West didn’t harbour its fair share of pirates. Like most cities in the UK, the 80s and 90s saw a fairly constant turnaround of illegal stations in Bristol, including BAD, FTP, Emergency and Black FM. While it’s true that these stations contributed to the local soundsystems and free-parties in meaningful ways, they were ultimately plagued by frequent technical hitches and raids, meaning that most closed within just a year or two of launching.
Of course, there were success stories - most notably Passion and (later) Galaxy, who for a while became the spiritual homes of the booming South West jungle scene, with fixtures like Size and Krust’s Full Cycle Show gaining UK-wide attention via the established distribution route of bootleg cassette recordings.
On the whole, though, the city lacked a consistent specialist dance music station, with those that did specialise tending to fold in on themselves before they could ever gain the momentum of their contemporaries in the capital.
Since then, the closest Bristol has come to securing a long-term home for its underground scene is local institution Passion Radio Bristol – a mixed-bag of an online station that, over the years, has hosted a handful of the city’s best loved selectors: Dubkasm’s DJ Stryda; Idle Hands owner Chris Farrell; Happy Skull bossmen The Kelly Twins; and Jay L, Andy Mac and Typesun of the Falling Up crew. But despite these fixtures, it’d be wrong to say that Passion ever provided a focal point for the local community in the way that Rinse or NTS have so successfully in London.
Luckily, a number of DIY stations have appeared in the last few years that go some way towards addressing the glaring gap in Bristol’s airwaves.
Noods Radio, which launched in 2015 as a series of one-off live-streams, has grown rapidly in size and stature to become a regular online fixture - broadcasting a handful of shows each night from whichever pub, club or kitchen will host their talented team of up-and-coming selectors.
Discerning music policy aside, the Noods crew have demonstrated a keen eye for design, a great head for creative self-promo, and a proper knack for throwing a decent party – all features that contribute to the hope that we might just have a young NTS in the making.
Also on the rise is 10 Twenty Radio - a young onliner with an eclectic roster comprised primarily of residents and reps from local clubnights and collectives, including Sinewave, Psychotherapy Sessions, Rough Draft and Chop Shop. The station broadcasts for 5 hours each evening, and does an excellent job of representing the grassroots of the Bristol underground.
Lastly, the uber-talented Young Echo crew have been known to band together for their own one-off live-streams, which they broadcast directly from their studio in central Bristol. Family and friends come together for these eclectic airings of dub, grime, noise and avant garde electronics, with past guests ranging from Appleblim to Ekoplekz. The shows are weird, wonderful, and distinctly Bristolian – a taster course for the creativity and innovation at work in this city, and a glaring reminder of the gap in our airwaves that is yet to be properly filled.
Collectively, these DIY efforts stand as clear evidence of the fact that Bristol’s underground wants, needs and deserves its own full-time station.
And in May this year, we came dangerously close to getting exactly what we want with the launch of SWU FM: a pop-up station dedicated to representing the full length and breadth of the Bristol sound.
The trial run lasted for 28 days, and featured residents and reps from practically every collective, label and club-night in the South West. New-schoolers Lamont, Lurka, Kahn and Neek rubbed shoulders with veritable legends like Pinch, Die, Jakes and RSD, and the bill was topped by Size and Krust, who brought their legendary Full Cycle Show back into rotation for a whole new generation of listeners.
Following the success of the trial, the team have been invited to apply for a full FM license - but have been asked to justify their application with an answer to the question: “Does Bristol need another radio station?”
To me and everyone involved, the answer seems frustratingly clear. Radio is of huge cultural importance to any dance music community, and Bristol’s vibrant scene has gone without for far too long.
But in order to ensure that this message is heard loud and clear, SWU’s organisers are asking members of the public to pledge their support via a short online survey, found at www.swu.fm/survey
The survey takes a minute to fill out, so please get involved before the deadline of Friday 16th December. Bristol deserves a new radio station, and it’s up to us to make sure it happens.
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