If my early-1990s hardcore-rave cassettes dubbed by the esteemed music critic Simon Reynolds are any indication, English pirate radio stations customarily fling the listener into a hothouse atmosphere of radical underground sounds, hosted by evangelical DJs who frequently big up the music and their mates as they slightly mute the tunes. To this American's ears, it seemed like one of the most thrilling audio experiences one could have. These bold individuals were caning (to use the common British lingo) tracks that more established outlets ignored or didn't even know about, creating a maelstrom of newness that shocked and awed.
Local musicians Sage Redman (Seattleite) and Joe Gillick (transplanted Brit) want to transport that excitement and communal vibe of London pirate radio to Seattle. This recently married couple—who also form the electronic-dance-pop band FKL—are hoping to turn Capitol Hill arts space LoveCityLove into a hub of musical eclecticism and networking through Orphan Radio, which will launch Saturday, June 10, with a free party featuring their own group, Vancouver left-field house musician Local Artist, Stranger Genius Award nominee OCnotes, and two major DJs from Seattle's TUF crew, CCL and T.Wan.
About five years before Redman and Gillick moved to Seattle in 2016, they met while enrolled in Goldsmiths' popular-music program at the University of London. They've been creating music together ever since. While in London, FKL worked with several labels while also doing their own club nights, which included guest DJ appearances by renowned film composer Mica Levi and DFA/Mo' Wax operative Tim Goldsworthy. Redman loved the scene there so much, she enrolled in a master's program to extend her visa. In that milieu, the couple caught the pirate-radio bug through involvement with stations like NTS, Rinse, and Radar.
When asked to describe London pirate radio to the uninitiated, Gillick says: "Pirate radio nullifies the pedestal of the artist. You'll see global stars like Jamie xx or Four Tet [broadcasting] in this little shack. Then you'll be at Radar Radio and see people from the [grime label/collective] Boy Better Know, like Skepta, and it's like they're just another person doing radio, like you."
"And they're super-visible, as well," Redman adds. "It's one of the reasons we like [LoveCityLove]. It's not like something you hear out of your computer speakers; it's something you can go to and engage with as a listener, with the people running it and the artists."
While some London stations do possess similarities, Gillick says, "each has its own flavor and feel. But the common denominator is that they're so inclusive. You go there and it's like a party atmosphere. Our label [Orphan Records] has a show on NTS, a station in London, and it's incredible. [The studio] is like this little shack in an East London square."
"The back of a chicken shop," Redman says, laughing.
"And when we were playing," Gillick picks up, "there were about 10 homeless people chilling, drinking beers outside, being really nice and asking us what songs we were playing. There were about 20 tourists drinking beer. This was like at 1 a.m. and outdoors, and it wasn't even hot out. It's that inclusive aspect."
Redman elaborates, praising a Peckham-based station called Balamii. "They all have a common thread of reflecting their community so well, the diversity that exists in all the little pockets of London. The music community in London is tight-knit, but every area and every borough has its own kind of sound."
Redman acknowledges Seattle's own "rich and eclectic" scenes, but she laments their members' tendency to seldom cross-pollinate. "People who like punk don't go to techno nights, and vice versa. We're trying to dissuade people from staying in their lane—to welcome people to listen to all kinds of stuff. Electronic music is kind of a DJ format, but that comes in so many sounds. People can prerecord mixes if they don't DJ live or don't feel comfortable doing that. It's very open-ended."
The Orphan Radio booth will be located in the back corner of LoveCityLove's no-frills rectangle and will feature a basic setup: a small table, speakers, CDJs, and a mixer, with a PA added for parties. (Listeners can access the station at orphanrecords.co.uk.)
Redman says, "We want to activate the space like [LoveCityLove does] for so many other art installations. In the summer, we'll have the door open and people can come in and hang out and listen to the sets and talk to the artists. Labels are going to bring records down to sell at the space. We'll have different activations that reflect the artist or organization that's playing a set."
Gillick notes that they've "had interesting and productive conversations with people at completely different ends of the spectrum," including indie-rock powerhouse Hardly Art and cassette-centric, underground-electronic label Budget Cuts. "I love the idea of taking away this segregation between different genres that might be prevalent in the city at the moment, from an outsider's perspective," he says.
While Redman and Gillick are partial to the deep house that's been blowing up South London clubs lately, they will strive to represent many different styles on their show. They also seek to link up with Seattle's subterranean techno cliques, whose strength they accurately compare to that of Berlin. So while they hope to showcase artists like Aos and Raica, they also want to air genres that haven't quite caught on here, like grime and UK garage. Catching a recent packed Skepta show at Neumos has encouraged them on this front.
Orphan Radio is also partnering with the playful, hiphop-/R&B-oriented Night Shift crew. "A lot of the radio stations in London style off the grime thing, MCs jumping on the mic," Gillick says. "To expand that hiphop thing out of Seattle would be interesting as well."
For the first couple of months, Orphan Radio will operate on Saturdays and Sundays, from 5 p.m. to midnight; parties will extend to 2 a.m. They eventually hope to branch out to Mondays and Tuesdays. "But the dream is to go 24/7, forever," Redman says, as they both laugh.
Redman and Gillick want to create a coterie of artists who can frequent Orphan Radio and "feel welcome, safe, and excited, like they have something to offer and something to take from it."
"There's so much segregation going on at the moment," Gillick observes. "We don't need it in the music community."