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RINSE FM is – quite simply – the most important British radio station of the last 15 years. On Friday, they’ll be celebrating their birthday at Matter. Here’s our guide to the most influential pirate in the world.
1. It started out as a jungle station
Invading the airwaves from more modest surroundings than it does today, Rinse first hit the airwaves as competition to jungle stations like Don, Face and Kool. Early studios included the flat of a drunk that station founder GEENEUS paid to return to Ireland so they could broadcast without disturbance. At another base a crackhead – thought to have been hired by a rival station whose equipment was ‘borrowed’ by Rinse – lodged a knife in Geeneus’ throat. As the Wildlife on One-style voiceover on ads for their 15th birthday bash this week says, it really was much grimier in the early days.
2. It was integral to the creation of grime and dubstep
From dubstep don HATCHA and grime god SLIMZEE right up to UK funky godfather MARCUS NASTY, Rinse has always been ahead of the curve. But before either of these genres were even named (Youngsta in 2004 challenged listeners to text in and name what they were hearing), Rinse was playing tracks like Musical Mob’s Pulse X, Wiley’s Eskimo, Loefah’s Horrorshow and Digital Mystikz’ Pathways that helped these one-time sister-scenes take shape. Rinse also helped launch the careers of artists like Dizzee Rascal who first sent an audition tape to the station hoping to be a drum and bass DJ and producers like Skream whose Stella Sessions show proved a launchpad to festivals and ‘big-room’ bookings previously unimaginable for a dubstep DJ. Without Rinse, it’s doubtful these sounds would have been given the platform to develop like they have done, or arguably even exist in the first place. More recently, it’s pushed funky and to a lesser degree, wonky, in much the same way.
3. The music comes directly from the artist
Most of Rinse’s output is sourced directly from producers. Tracks are played as soon as possible, often without anyone but the DJ and producer knowing the credits and dropped before they risk becoming stale or come close to getting a release. As funky crew Circle said in response to someone asking for one particular track to be identified on an internet forum: “Tracklist? You’ll be lucky”. It can be a daunting experience for newcomers, but if you’re interested in seeing how and where Dizzee, Wiley, Kode9, Benga and countless others made their mark, it’s vital.
4. It’s a global brand now
Its roots might lie in east London but Rinse has gone further than any pirate before or since. Most pirates now have web presence, whether through streaming internet radio or podcasts, something Rinse has been quick in providing (another site beat it to the punch in 2006 but Rinse requested it remove all its shows soon after). Ofcom estimates nearly 20% of Londoners tune into the pirates, but Rinse has a global listenership in places that would have previously been unthinkable just a few years ago – though hearing shout-outs to Bow and Brazil in the same breath is still surreal. The musical policy has also expanded to include northern bassline, dancehall and underground hip-hop but the ambition doesn’t stop there – there’s affiliated club nights like FWD (it used to host a regular FWD show but now broadcasts live from the club each Sunday) and Rumba and 10 volumes of a mix-CD series on its own label, which last year also released the first funky album proper, Geeneus’ Volumes: One.
5. It’s a tightly run ship
Rinse has become a more professional operation since 2007. Security guards man the secret station, DJs and MCs have to show passes to gain entry, guests have to be cleared in advance, leaving the station in a mess is a no-no, and evidence of smoking papers or illicit substances is strictly off limits so chances of there being more photos like this are probably slim. Those routinely late can get a stern telling off and in some cases, even have their whole scene banned for bad behaviour. In September 2007, after several grime-related incidents including MCs turning up to shows with up to 20 hangers-on, GOD’S GIFT assaulting WILEY live on air after the latter gave him a dressing-down and Slew Dem’s DJ SPOOKY reportedly kicking a door down when he was refused re-entry after a show, Rinse barred MCs from the station and banned DJs from playing grime, temporarily leaving the scene stranded without its main radio outlet. “I won’t stop spittin’ ’til Geeneus kicks me off Rinse…” – as the SKEPTA line goes – indeed.
6. Sometimes it still drops off the air
It might cut a more respectable, broadsheets-endorsed pose these days, but like any pirate, Rinse still occasionally drops off the FM dial. As recently as 2005, Slimzee was given an “unprecedented” ASBO and banned for five years from the roof of any building in Tower Hamlets with more than four storeys, after being caught on a towerblock by CCTV cameras before a show on Rinse, following a year-long hunt by media regulator Ofcom and the borough. In the same year, Rinse was taken off air 13 times, and Geeneus was forced to fork out a not-inconsiderable £6,000 on aerials, to replace those seized by Ofcom.
7. It gives back to the community
Rinse co-manager and head of Ammunition – the umbrella organisation that spans the station – Sarah ‘Soulja’ Lockhart recently wrote to Boris Johnson recommending he use the station to target the capital’s youth more effectively. Boris seems to have declined so far, but the station has taken matters into its own hands, starting the Rinse Youngas projects that have so far included a night at Stratford Circus for under-18s with PAs from Boy Better Know’s Skepta and funky songstress Princess Nyah in May as well as an upcoming workshop for around 20 aspiring under-16 producers and deejays taught by Rinse heavy-hitters including Skream, Benga, Vectra and Crazy Cousins. Similar workshops are planned for other boroughs in London, providing the first one runs smoothly.
8. It’s hoping to go legit
Though Rinse insist there’s no plans for it to sound like a commercial station, it has been applying for a legal broadcasting license since 2007. Dreams of the station becoming this generation’s Kiss might have to wait, though, as, Ofcom has yet to relent, insisting that the FM dial doesn’t have enough room for the station.
9. “Moving forwards and never backwards”
There’s generally little room for sentimentality at Rinse, reflected in the ever-changing line-up. In fear of complacency, the DJ roster gets a regular overhaul, ensuring things stay bang up to the minute. And as scenes and sounds move on, older names often reappear in new guises. Geeneus himself has gone from techy grime architect to short-lived dubsteppa and now full-on funky champion, making the jump to the grime+house hybrid early. Anticipating and leading the changes – much to grime and dubstep fans’ horror – Rinse traded the bulk of its grime/dubstep timetable in for house in 2006, mirroring its audience’s new clubbing habits and pointing the way to funky’s evolution from a sub-scene to a sound all of its own. But while this dabbling and apparent ship-jumping can seem fickle to outsiders (and insiders – on recent shows Geeneus has taken light-hearted digs at the station’s grime DJs dabbling in “old dusty funky” instead of putting all their energies into grime), it’s this Darwinian turnover that keeps things fresh and ensures Rinse’s future relevence.
10. The doors are always open
Pirates have always been fertile breeding grounds for legal stations, and DJs like 1xtra’s Target and Kiss FM’s Hatcha and Logan Sama all earned their stripes on Rinse. Some have even returned. When Plastician’s slot was cancelled on Radio 1, he just went straight back to his old stomping grounds. Similarly, grime producer Wonder has now reappeared playing minimal techno and house, Bossman of South London grime crew Essentials has undergone a funky makeover as Perempay, while even Dizzee still turns up from time to time (though usually only when a single’s about to be released). Rinse is no stranger to drafting in DJs itself – Marcus Nasty was brought in from rival pirate Deja earlier this year but indicative of Rinse’s status, sees no reason to move on to the legals.
11. No other station has discussions on old children’s TV using grime slang
You never quite know what’s going to happen at Rinse – where else are you going to hear dubstep DJs like Benga singing along to Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean in between the latest wobblers? And waiting for DJs to turn up can sometimes make for an oddly, happily suspenseful experience. When DJ Zimbon didn’t turn up for his show one night in 2005 (“what a joker, that’s still a bus and train ride away” was the response when they finally tracked him down), it just meant there was more time to discuss old British TV. “I’m not going to lie, Fraggle Rock was big”.
Sunil came up with a list of ten essential songs by Rinse FM DJs and MCs, which is itself testament to the station’s reach and importance. You can also read our interview with Rinse MC’s Newham Generals.