Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Deja Vu: pirate radio and digital decay

This grainy recording of a grainy recording of an illegal transmission - south London's finest, Essentials, on Deja Vu 92.3 FM - has almost 2,000 views. A tape cassette recording of a pirate radio show, filmed with a lo-fidelity camera, compressed and now hovering spectrally on YouTube.
It's the essence of grime unspooling over its decade-long history; a decade of exhaustingly fast technological progress, each development finding a new source of completely unpolished, unofficial peer-to-peer technology (pirate radio -- tape sharing and copying -- youtube). And to my ears at least, it sounds fucking brilliant. For best effect listen through your laptop speakers (kidding - sort of).
Amidst several dazzling performances crammed into 9 minutes, not least from Kidman and Jendor, there's something unsurprisingly poignant about New Era's contribution, especially his catchphrase: "I might not be the best / but I'll merk any crew who come try test". Years later I still can't quite get over the idea of a grime MC who's lyrical punchline acknowledges his relative mediocrity compared to his peers - but like this video, it's a testament to the power of passion over perfectionism. I think you can almost hear an actual echo when he hits his rewind, around 2:00-2:30mins. “I’m the man, N.E. is the man, New Era’s the man...” The vinyl is wound back; the cassette just winds on.
RIP New Era, still haunting the magnetic tape.

Here's my Guardian Film&Music feature on Tape Crackers, the DVD about these very same pirate radio echoes.
One of the most poignant scenes sees Finch cue up a recording of one of his favourite unreleased happy hardcore tunes ("straight away I'm getting goose bumps"). He proceeds to tell the camera he never heard it again in a club or on the radio, never found out what it was called, who made it, or which DJ was playing it. There's a lot of romance to pirate radio, as anyone who's ever waltzed across their bedroom floor with a radio aerial trying to get a clear signal can testify.
Yesterday I was in the weird position of playing an mp3 of a 2005 Deja Vu Ruff Sqwad radio show to Rapid and Dirty Danger, who were on the mic during that very set. They loved hearing it, quite frankly, it was clearly such a memory-shock to be put back in that place, when grime has come (or gone?) so far since then. They wanted to know where they could get these mp3s; Rapid mentioned something about going back through them for inspiration for the crew's new material. Deja Vu all over again:


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