Rinse – which celebrates its 18th birthday this year – has an official FM license, is a widely known brand and operates a successful in-house record label.

It’s helped launch a number of lucrative artist careers and it exerts a huge influence on contemporary dance music and DJ culture not just in London, but all over the globe.

This wasn’t always the case. Back in 2005, Matthew ‘Woebot’ Ingram paid a visit to Rinse HQ on FACT’s behalf to find out more about the trials of running of a pirate station in the 21st century; while he was there, he witnessed the likes of Wiley and Jammer in full flight. This was a time before dubstep had become ubiquitous, a time when Twitter was still something that birds did, and the words UK Funky made one think of Level 42. A time when grime was still Rinse’s primary focus and, seemingly, its future.

The following article was first published in FACT:09, Summer 2005.

In such intimate company, it’s easy to forget what a huge cultural presence Wiley is.

Darren and DJ Glamma pick me up at the tube. We’re en route to Rinse FM, London’s most notorious, high-profile pirate radio station.

On air for over a decade now, Rinse has recently reached a critical momentum, with its Friday night DJ, Logan Sama (the Tim Westwood of grime), being picked up by Kiss FM, and Roll Deep, the station’s biggest resident crew, making a media splash with their debut LP.

The ever-modest Rinse management have kept the ball rolling since the twilight years of jungle. And its continuity of the station’s presence, as much as its skill in manoeuvring within the charged, political atmosphere of grime and their flair for picking up artists, that has been instrumental in its success.

Wiley lets us into the studio. We hasten to the basement, through an unlit area visible only with the light of one’s mobile phone. Inside the sound booth, Tubby governs a scorching set from MCs Bruza and Footsie. The last time I came this close to Wiley was at Eskimo Dance in November 2003, when he and his entourage performed a walk-by, surveying the 1,000-or-so-strong queue. In such intimate company, it’s easy to forget what a huge cultural presence he is. He’s introduced, and cadges a Stella off us.

You’d be wrong to assume there’s any money to be made in pirates.

Darren feels a little defensive about the station’s illegal stature. Certainly we don’t care. The DTI’s stated explanation for shutting down pirates and impounding transmitters (at £400 a pop) is that they interfere with the frequencies reserved for the emergency services. This is quite obviously rubbish. It’s clearly commercial imperatives that motivate the policy to keep real estate on the FM dial clear for license payers. However, you’d be wrong to assume there any money to be made in pirates. Somewhat ruefully, Darren says that at the end of the month, he’s usually out of pocket.

Of course, the radio station is but one part of a min-media empire, operating as a promotional focal point for other more profitable ventures (a Rinse CD is being mooted), but the Rinse management are still saddened to lose Logan Sama to a major station (where he’ll earn good money, better money than Darren does) and frustrated that Radio 1xtra can descent at any time with its chequebook, and re-brand their innovations.

I ask Darren if he ever intends making the pirate legit, but it would be costly and in going off-air for three years (as the DTI stipulates) it would be difficult to maintain momentum. It’s sobering to reflect that the government isn’t Rinse FM’s only problem. The placement of transmitters on certain tower blocks frequently inspires a territorial response from ‘urban’ music fans themselves. Time is often wasted explaining to irate callers that no, the equipment is being moved on their say so. Apparently, for smaller stations this is a persistent problem. Transmitters are also frequently stolen.

Trim, Flow Dan, Syer, Roachie and producer Skepta in turn cram into the tiny room, and the temperature soars.

DJ Glamma fields a call from Dogzilla. Dogzy is pushing a 15-year-old MC from Dagenham. Darren wearily insists that the guy isn’t ready yet, but Wiley, who seems telescopic in stature at times during the evening (you could sweat he was eight foot tall), persists in fighting the case for the unknown white teenager he’s never heard or met. It’s strangely touching, and precisely the reason grime has a future.

D Double arrives sporting a Dirtee Stank t-shirt, some kind of indication that the rumours of him being signed to Dizzee’s own label are true. He looks incredibly focussed, shaking hands before wandering through to the sound booth. Cloudy with sensimillia smoke, and throbbing with the latest dubplates, the skeletal studio consists of little more than two decks and a black & white TV screen, trained on the outside entrance. D Double hits his stride: “more bars than the West End”, as we press against the back wall. He’s so nimble and ferociously angular, it’s breathtaking. The house mobile shows 70-plus missed calls, people registering their delight. It’s interval time, and the adverts roll.

DJs Maximum and Karnage sidle through. In the meantime, other Roll Deep crew file in, appearing first as ghostly figures on the CCTV. Trim, Flow Dan, Syer, Roachie and producer Skepta in turn cram into the tiny room, and the temperature soars. Grime MCs are very much like superheroes in a Marvel Comics vein: put five or more together and their magnificence increases exponentially, each of their special powers complimenting one another. Wiley steps up, and tips the balance. Maximum starts pulling rewinds as he massive ignites like a chorus of drunken pirates, chanting each other’s verse. The vibe begins to reach fever pitch when we’re then thrown a complete wildcard, as none other than Jammer shows up to deliver a hoarsely hilarious set. Shouts of “nekkle” and “shower-face” trigger yet more rewinds.

As Roll Deep and friends slip away into the night, I’m left to reflect what couldn’t have been a more enervating experience, a memory I’ll always treasure.

Matthew Ingram, summer 2005






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