FACT talks to Geeneus, station boss at legendary London pirate Rinse FM, about Grime, Dubstep, the future sounds of London, and the forthcoming Rinse mixtape series.
In the London pirate radio scene, one station towers above the rest: East London’s Rinse FM. For over a decade, Rinse (100.40 FM) has been at the cutting edge of each twist in the sound of London, bringing the next wave of talent through with each progression. Countless artists have cut their teeth on Rinse. Here, in 2002, was where UK Garage began to evolve into Grime, a new style forged in furiously intense late night radio sets by the likes of Wiley, Maxwell D, and -of course- Dizzee Rascal (who still occasionally appears on the station for special surprise sets). A few years later, Rinse became Dubstep’s natural home on the FM dial, with a tightly knit group of producers and DJs such as Kode 9, Skream and Youngsta broadcasting the birth of the new sound as it happened. Without Rinse, Grime and Dubstep would be very different: indeed, it’s fair to say that they might not even exist at all. In the past year or so, Rinse has moved forward again, showcasing underground UK House. Rinse’s focus on this music is both confirmation of its cultural weight, and also a sign that, pretty soon, the sound is going to become a whole lot bigger, such is the impact of Rinse‘s patronage of emerging genres.
While Rinse’s popularity and longevity (which is remarkable, in an environment where most pirate stations last two or three years at most) is certainly grounded in their restless search for the best and most innovative artists and sounds, the station’ s professionalism and willingness to reach out to their audience has also played a large part in making Rinse the London pirate. They were one of the first pirate radio stations to broadcast on an internet stream (and a reliable one at that, which you can hear at the rinse.fm website), introducing thousands of listeners around the world to music that, previously, had been almost impossible to hear outside the M25. Rinse’s sister club, FWD, a place for Dubstep artists and fans alike to check the very latest dub plates, has grown so popular that it is now a weekly affair at Plastic People, becoming one of the central pillars of London’s clubbing scene. And now, Rinse is branching out to releasing CD compilations on a monthly basis; the mixtapes are to be widely available documents of the sounds that are ruling London at the particular time of their release, from Grime to Funky House. The first compilation in the series, mixed by label boss Geeneus, is out this month: FACT caught up with him at the Rinse offices to chat about the history and future of the station.
Could you talk a bit about the history of the station? When did you first start broadcasting as Rinse?
We started Rinse 13 years ago, on Carnival weekend. We’d just left school; me, Slimzee, Wiley, Target, TNT, and a few other people who aren’t about anymore. Before that, me and Slim were on a station called Pressure FM, and Wiley and Target were on Chillin FM, both jungle stations. And a few politics things happened and so we got kicked off Pressure. We was only young, so we couldn’t get on another station; so we decided to do our own, which was Rinse. When I started, I didn’t think I’d be still doing the station 13 years later. It was never planned. It’s only now that I’m starting to plan ahead with the station.
So you started out in Jungle?
Yeah, we were all in Jungle. And Drum n Bass and Jungle had a big influence on us when we were young. It was the reason we started in music. We’ve come away from that now, but it’s still in us. Drum ‘n’ Bass is as important to UK music as anything else, but it’s not our main focus anymore, because it’s not new.
How many of the original people who set up Rinse 13 years ago are still involved with the station?
Most of them are still involved some how. Slimzee got caught by the police setting up radio equipment, and he got banned from being on rooftops around where the station is based. So he can’t really do much with the station right now, which is a shame because he likes doing the station a lot. He cared about the station more than anything else. He had bookings all over the country at one stage and he’d rather go on radio than get a £500 booking. It’s a big loss to him that he can’t do it. And DJ Target’s on 1Extra now, but he was there on the first day of Rinse. I think he might be back with Rinse sometime though…the station belongs to all of us. So it’s never like people just leave the station completely. It still means a lot to them
Now, Rinse is the biggest pirate station in London; when did it start getting that big?
The thing with Rinse is, when we started it we didn’t really have a clue. And then about two years into it we got quite a big name through being more MC based than the other pirates. Rinse was always quite focused on MCs. Back then, we had like 40 or 50 MCs and only 11 DJs. So when we were a jungle station, with the MCs, we got quite big. The only problem we had with Jungle was that Kool FM was the biggest station, and every time someone got really big on our station, they would end up going to Kool FM. It was kinda like we were a stepping stone for Kool. Then a few of us switched to Garage, and that’s kind of when we took over the radio station thing, ‘cos it was like we kind of created our own sound . There were other Garage stations back then, like Freak FM, but because we had that jungle influence, it was more like a darker side of Garage that we played, than the happy garage that was about then. We kind of converted the scene, into a darker sound.
So this was like El-B and Horsepower Production stuff?
Yeah, or even like early Grime stuff, like Pay As You Go Cartel and all that. And we were playing Zinc tunes, Drum ‘n’ Bass tunes, but playing them on the wrong tempo and slowing them down. And the MCs were going on them; for us, it was more about playing music for the MCs to go on. When we were doing that, there weren’t no one else doing that, so it was like we were the leaders of that sound, and then from there we progressed and started getting into all different kinds of music. And now it’s like Rinse is always the next step ahead. The waiting list for DJs to come on Rinse now is stupid, it’s massive.
How do you decide which DJs to have on the station? Do you still try to work with people you know, or who are from the same part of London as you?
It’s never about who we’re friends with now. It’s about what’s good. If someone’s close to me, it doesn’t matter. The station’s always been big because it doesn’t work on friendship, although it started on friendship, but also we were all good at what we did.
Because Grime started in East London, some of the MCs, when they did shows they were just trying to entertain East. And we were like ‘It’s bigger than this now, you’ve got to fix up’. Some of them couldn’t, and so they had to go. Rinse has had about five or six generations of different people come through, with the whole station changing around completely.
There doesn’t seem to be as many MCs on Rinse as there were a few years ago; is that a deliberate move?
There were a lot of MCs on Rinse a few years back, in 2003-2005, but then before that there was a stage when there wasn’t, and then before that, there was, so may be in the future there will be again. It’s just the ups and downs of whatever’s going on with the development of the music. A lot of the MCs from when Dizzee was on the station regularly have moved on now and do different stuff- like God‘s Gift and Maxwell D are doing different things with their lives now- but there’s quite a lot of MCs from Dizzee’s time still on Rinse: Skepta’s still on, JME’s still on, Wiley’s still on. Even Dizzee still goes on sometimes, with Newham Generals. Right now, it’s the big MCs that are on Rinse, rather than loads of whoever’s going to be the next big MCs. Also, there ain’t as much space on Rinse as there was. There’s only a certain amount of hours in the day and now we’re trying to cater for a lot of different kinds of things, rather than just Grime and MCs. And the Dubstep thing’s not really MC based, so if we didn’t have that, there’d probably be more MCs on. And neither’s the House thing at the moment.
With Rinse featuring much more House than previously, do you see that sound as the next progression in the music?
Yeah; we watch things and see what’s new that’s coming about. When we say to people, ‘House’, they just take it as a sound that has been around for years, but what we play is actually a new thing, it’s like Garage was, a UK thing that’s growing now with people like Super D and DJs like that. And it’s quite big on the underground, but it’s really, really underground though.
So the UK House that Rinse features is something distinct from the more commercial Funky House and US House?
Yeah, it’s kind of like a cycle. The music just goes round and round and now, with the House thing, it’s like Garage again. It’s another London thing that, as we see it, is going to be big. It’s like Grime coming out of Garage, and then different music coming out of that, with the EL-B influence; then all of a sudden it’s got a name- Dubstep- and it’s called ‘brand new’, and everybody’s talking about it. But actually by the time it had that name, it had been going for a few years and we watched it grow. And it’s the same with the House thing; although it’s got the name, ‘House’, we can see it growing into something else, so in a few years it’ll have a new name. So we’re looking at that sound now at Rinse.
The Garage thing from a few years back split into different groups, and went underground. The MC thing went grime. The darker Garage, like El- B, has gone Dubstep. But then there was nowhere for the Garagey, dancey, nice stuff to go; the good looking stuff! So that side of Garage, the more musical and classy side, is now coming through with House. It’s all just little splinters off Garage. And off those, new music will splinter off. People coming to it now, young people, might think that the House thing is brand new, and that they haven’t heard anything like it before, but actually it’s an offspring from Garage. Just like some people are Dubstep mad right now, but they have no idea where it’s come from. There’s always a new generation coming along and growing in to the music; just like, I grew up listening to Jungle, and I didn’t know that it came out of something else- Acid House. I thought it was brand new, but it wasn’t necessarily like that. It was a part of a cycle of music developing.
And at Rinse you’re always looking for the next new thing?
Yeah, always; we like to find what’s fresh. We’re always trying to keep ahead of it. We don’t play as much Garage as we used to, because Garage isn’t new anymore. We still respect the music, because it’s what got us to the next stage, but for us, it’s always about what’s hot now, and what’s gonna be hot. We want to push what’s next, ’till the stage where it becomes big. Drum ‘n’ Bass has already been through that stage, so it’s kind of irrelevant to what Rinse does now.
How healthy do you think pirate radio in London is at the moment? There doesn’t seem to be as many pirates as there used to be…
I don’t think that there is any competition for Rinse at the moment. A lot of stations, their way of thinking is an old-school mentality of; have a radio station, do a rave, get the DJs from the station to play the rave, pay them shit money, make a lot of money, and do the cycle of that. They just play the one music, so they rinse that music out and when it goes downhill they’ve got nothing left. You can’t do the raves because they’ll be no one who cares about the music. And so those stations don’t make through to the next cycle. At the moment, loads of stations are coming and going like that; their one way of thinking is, ‘do a rave, make money’, whereas our way of thinking is- play new music, and we don’t care about the rave, really. We’d have the station whether there was a rave to do or not.
Do you think it’s more difficult to run a pirate station now than a few years ago, with more pressure from the DTI and police?
No, I think it’s always the same. People who are determined and want to go through with it, will go through with it. And the one’s that aren’t determined, won’t. It all just depends on what your motives are. Our motives have never been to make a million pounds. We’re just looking for the next music. Rinse isn’t a Grime station, or a Dubstep station. It’s a new British music station.
Does the route that Kiss took, going from being a pirate to being a legal station, interest you?
Yes, very much so. We want to be legal. We don’t want to be legal to play stupid adverts and make loads of money from advertising. We want to be legal to say; look at our scene, look at what we doing. We’re a business, we’re not criminals. We want to be able to say ‘Rinse FM’ wherever we go, and for it not to be seen as bad thing. Kiss’s angle is completely different from Rinse’s. they want to make loads of money from advertising car insurance. We don’t want to advertise car insurance. And, possibly, we could go legit, with a license. We’re supplying something that no one else is supplying, and we’re very professional. We know how to run businesses. We run numerous businesses, like record labels [Geeneus owns the grime and dubstep label Dumpvalve, and the House label, Jelly Jams].
We’re concentrating a lot on the internet side of things at the moment.; the rinse.fm project, which is the new website. With the internet stream, our audience has gone from London based to world-wide now, and the amount of listeners we’ve got world-wide in the past year has risen dramatically.
Have you been surprised by how popular Rinse has become world wide, with the internet stream?
Yeah, we were surprised. Particularly, we’ve been surprised by the amount of podcast downloads that certain DJs get, where you’d think that that DJ wouldn’t really get that many. Like, you’d expect the obvious ones, like Skream, to get loads of hits, but then you get some where you think, ‘He got a lot of pod cast downloads! Shit, we didn’t even know he was that big!’. And Dubstep’s crossed over well into becoming a global sound. It’s more of DJ based thing than Grime, with mainly instrumental music, so that could have helped. But when I go abroad, everyone I meet who knows about Dubstep also knows about Grime, so it’s not necessarily that one is bigger than the other.
But Dubstep does seem to be getting more attention than Grime recently…
I think Dubstep’s having it’s good time right now. A few years ago, Grime was having it’s good time. I saw it, I was in it. Every new music has its big burst, when things are still at the stage of, ‘Have you heard this new music?’. But you can only say that once. And Grime is still getting noticed abroad: Dizzee’s in the US, and Wiley goes a lot of places. But…Dubstep’s got a good hype right now, and I am happy that it has. People get excited by the new thing, and then they forget a bit about the thing that isn’t brand new. Now that Dubstep’s big, everybody’s like, ’Grime’s boring, Grime’s dead’, but to me it looks exactly the same. But I’ve seen all the musics go through this stage., so I’m not surprised that’s it’s happening now for Dubstep. In a few years, it’ll happen for the next thing, whatever that may be. But I’ll still think that Dubstep’s fun, even when the new thing comes along.
Why have you decided to put out the Rinse FM series of compilations and mixtapes?
We want to put the Rinse brand across to a lot of different people, in a lot of different places, and the compilation idea came from when we did a 6 CD pack of the Rinse FM DJs, called ‘Rinse Sessions’ two years ago; we thought, actually, we could do one of these CDs every four to five weeks, instead of putting out one thing a year. I’ve done the first one, and we’ve got the next two lined up already, from Skream and Super D. It’s a way of showcasing all the different music, genres and styles of Rinse. My mix is about of all the different musics; there’s Grime, Dubstep and House on there. I’ve compiled what the whole station is playing at this moment in time. And they’ll have proper, world-wide distribution: they won’t just be available from the London UK Garage and Grime record shops. When people buy them, they’ll hear what’s going on with Rinse at that time. Our main goal is to push the radio station; we want people to listen to the radio station, and the CDs are a way of getting people to be aware of the station.
What’s the connection between FWD and Rinse?
It’s all part of the same thing. In a way, it’s the Rinse rave. It wasn’t like that in the beginning of FWD, but Sarah, who started FWD, and me started doing a lot of work together and after a while it became obvious that the station and the club were merging into one. The name FWD comes from the idea of pushing music forward; it’s not about where it is, it’s about where it’s going. So as long as it’s fresh music, that’s all we care about at FWD. Now, it’s seen as the big Dubstep rave, but we don’t know what could happen in the future: it could start featuring different, new music.
We’re also starting a few new nights in November: mini-concerts, with Rinse artists performing live, with live bands and so on.
Finally, do you think they’ll ever come a time when Rinse will be focused more on the label, the compilations and the club nights than the radio station?
No, it’s all about getting the radio station bigger, building up the awareness of it. It always has to be the centre of what we do, because it’s what we believed in from the beginning; playing new music to people. We’ve got to keep that the focus, as long as we can hold on to it.