Rinse FM is the best-known, still operative pirate radio station in the UK. It’s been broadcasting from East London since ’95 when it started off as a jungle station, later becoming grime’s primary disseminator. Wiley practically lived in the Rinse FM studio for a few years and pretty much every MC on the scene got their break chatting on Rinse. More recently shows helmed by Kode 9 and Skream have done the same job for dubstep. But listen to Rinse all day – which everyone can do at Rinse FM– and you’ll find its remit is surprisingly broad. Last time I tuned they were playing minimal techno.
It’s a testament to the tenacity of Rinse’s management that the station has survived and prospered despite its enforced nomadic existence. It’s been shut down by police numerous times or had its transmitter stolen by local vagabonds only to resurface almost immediately in a new location. Forced to inhabit some seriously squalid premises, Rinse once took up residence in an abandoned council flat, finding itself nextdoor to a crackhouse – DJs were advised to use the baseball bat in the corner of the studio to deal with undesirables. Given the frequency of police raids, Rinse staff naturally went to great lengths to keep each new address a secret. When I went to interview Roll Deep at Rinse in 2005, I was picked up at Aldgate East and then blindfolded until we reached the studio so I would be unable to divulge its location. It was an amusingly pointless caper: after a couple of laps of Limehouse the blindfold was whipped off to reveal the instantly recognisable courtyard of Cable Street Studios. But I never squealed.
Rinse is now ensconced in a more salubrious East End venue. It's still not properly legit but the telecoms regulator is currently turning a blind eye, knowing that whenever they shut it down, Rinse only comes back stronger (they've also belatedly recognised Rinse as a community service rather than a criminal organisation). Talks are ongoing to get Rinse established as a fully legal broadcaster, although FM frequencies are at a premium. In the meantime Rinse is busy legitimising itself in other ways, adopting a friendly new logo and promoting CD compilations and club nights.
Rinse took over Cargo last week with a solid line-up of grime and dubstep. It was good to see Ghetto back on point, even if his set did only last about five minutes. A new singer called Katie followed him on the stage and did a few numbers with a live band. She was sweet enough, especially on a zippy, bassline-y DJ Zinc-penned tune, but she wasn’t what most of the crowd were there to see. Rinse’s recent pushing of the funky house sound has perplexed a lot of outsiders but this stuff is now huge in the urban clubs, especially with the laydeez. At least DJs like Supa D seem to have advanced the idea, stirring in tropical rhythms and grime basslines. But the brrraps that rang out when Skepta showed himself were fired off with relief.
He barrelled on to the sound of the ‘Stage Show Riddim’ and was soon joined by Jammer and JME clutching champagne flutes. Their triple assault, backed up by DJ Maximum, started out in absolutely incendiary fashion but energy levels dipped as their set reached the hour mark. It was left to Skream to provide the night’s only genuine headfuck moment. I thought dubstep was in danger of stagnating but the barrage of astonishing alien boomps and schlurps this guy dealt out thrillingly suggests otherwise. Like the best grime productions, but delivered with the significant weight and technical polish of a Mills or a Hawtin, it was truly awesome stuff.