never say die interview
+ Media = Freedom proclaims the cover of Never Say Die #1, house
magazine of Radio Never Say Die, a pirate station broadcasting to Herts/Essex
on 107FM and across the internet from www.rnsd.com. Following their idealistic slogan,
NSD #1 is a muddle of technical advice and encouragement for the budding
broadcast buccaneer, a skinny history of Faust and a couple of cartoon
strips based on songs by Love and Beefheart. The follow-up continues the
grasshopper approach to content but casts a wider net, covering the Performance
film, Dakota Suite, Brian Eno's Oblique Strategy cards, Fluxus and the
Residents' "Wormwood." The station is similarly varied and on any one
day will be playing bands like Tractor, Jimi Hendrix, Groundhogs, Bevis
Frond, Dave Bacha Band, Pink Floyd, Dick Dale, Captain Beefheart, Led
Zeppelin, Ash Ra Tempel, Meat Puppets and Ultimate Spinach.
first came across RNSD at Terrastock III where their posters featuring
a glaring Beefheart in an spooky Kitchener-esque pose seemed to exhort
the viewer to find out more. Many of the sets at Terrastock were recorded
and have been (or still are) available on the web for downloading along
with a host of other gigs from recent months. To find out what it's all
about (Alfie), Sal Paradise, Bobby Bollox and myself conspired to meet
at a hostelry in downtown Cambridge on the eve of a Jethro Tull gig. For
security reasons the two spurned their theatrical pseudonyms in favour
of a couple of less-showbiz, but still false, names. On this occasion
then, RNSD is represented by Mark and Paul.
did you start RNSD?
Ten years ago, maybe twelve...
Paul: It was basically pirate radio with a few other people involved.
We've got to give a lot of credit to a guy called Crow who actually started
RNSD. He invited us to get involved...
M:...we've taken it a step further for him...
P:...he was throwing an aerial up a tree and he had 4 C90s and 4 walkmans
in a cake tin with a big car battery...
M:...and he had a circuit that triggered each walkman off as the previous
one finished so that you get an 8-hour show.
Jim: That's the standard way...
P:...yeah, but we moved it from the tree into the studio where we could
operate on the mains 24 hours a day, 7 days a week...
M: We moved from studio to studio cos one guy had a studio in his house
that got busted so then we moved to where we were which is fairly private.
We've been going non-stop for two years now.
J: Do you expect to get busted at some point?
M: I don't expect to...
P: The reason we don't expect it is that if you tune through FM now you've
got stations encroaching on Radios Three and Four, so we don't expect
to be busted because the DTI can't cope with what's going on currently.
But we've only got a small aerial anyway, compared to the dance stations
that pump out 18 watts.
M: We've got a small audience of maybe 10,000 and we can get out 5 or
J: There was a pirate running near where I used to go to school
when I was about 11 or 12 and they used to give out a phone number which
I thought was pretty stupid.
M: We don't do nothing like that.
P: We've got a PO Box...
M: But that's registered at a different address...
P: But we're just not worth it...I mean [the DTI] could bust us if they
wanted tom but we're not worth it. We don't take advertising and we're
not interfering with anyone else. We've got a good transmitter...
M: ...and a clean signal...
P: ...and there's no harmonics going out on any other stations and we're
not sprogging on the aircraft band or anything like that...
sort of music were you playing when the station started?
It's always been 60s, 70s, prog, psychedelic, avante garde, jazz from
that era...basically the criteria is good music---that's our
"good" music of course.
M: It was us that introduced the 90s psychedelic stuff...
P: ...cos Crow and his mate that used to do it with him was real diehards...
M: ...but we changed it. We play a lot of ECM label stuff and Paul's got
a big Jazz collection so we play a lot of that as well and people like
P: ...we even play real avante garde stuff like Glass and Cage.
J: But I noticed on the web site that you say "no rap, no crap"
but also that you're doing RNSD because no other stations are playing
the stuff that you want to hear. I'm not saying that you should play rap,
but isn't it a little hypocritical to say, y'know, "other people are saying
this stuff's crap but we really like it and we're broad-minded but, by
the way, we think rap's crap" ?
P: That comes from something we used to say: "it's a rap-free, crap-free
M: It's tongue-in-cheek, but funnily enough we were watching some good
rap on MTV last night. But where it comes from, the "rap-free" stuff,
is that it really used to irriatate us that every other station, all through
the signal was a rap station playing shit that was distorted...
J: So you'll need to find something that rhymes with jungle now then?
M: [laughs] yeah, "bungle" comes to mind...
P: ...the bottom line is that if it's good we'll play it...
J: ...well yeah, because you're obviously music-lovers and that's what
M: ...we play a lot of Nitin Sawhney, DJ Shadow, Amin Tobin, we play all
P: ...that "no rap" stuff is a hang-over from the very first web site
that we had up and I was just typing anything and someone shouted it so
I just bunged it in and it stayed there. So that's what's behind it.
J: But somebody like me who just reads the web site can't tell editorial
comment from throwaway lines that are in there for whatever reason. But
I don't want to go on about this...
me about the audience
It's mainly American, we get 60 countries altogether---we can tell from
the access logs---but 40% is American and the demographic is strongly
35+ and, obviously, male...
J: Why "obviously"? Is it an internet thing or a music thing?
M: It could be both. I think a lot of the music that we play, girls just
don't get it..
P: [laughs] You shouldn't be saying that...
M: ...yeah, but a lot of the concerts that we go to, I would say, are
P: The demographic of our mailing list proves it. We've probably had about
500 people on the mailing list come on and drop off over time. Of those,
there's about 5 girls. The rest claim to be males.
got the station out of the biscuit tin and into the studio. Did you start
doing live shows at that point?
Yeah, and we still do that every weekend.
P: During the week it's a 5 CD player which gets changed 3 times a day
and that's a fairly varied mix. Possibly once during the week...
M: ...or twice. We've got a new DJ, Nick Saloman from the Bevis Frond.
He's noted as one of the biggest rare psyche collectors in the country.
He's an authority on the subject...
P: ...he's always got an anecdote as well, cos he's a gigging musician...
M: ...we're very privileged to have him come down to the studio every
week. I look at his vinyl and he's got an album that he bought for 50p
years ago that's worth 160 quid now, and it's great music.
P: And it's new stuff to us as well. Which is what we'll continue looking
for. [disappears off to the bar. Mine's a pint]
when did you decide to start internet broadcasting?
It's something we always wanted to get into because of Paul's background.
He's been involved in the internet for years and he's always worked in
computers. I guess about three years ago...
J: Were you waiting for something like Real Audio to come along?
M: Yes. There was, three years ago, Real Audio and a couple of others
we could've gone along with but we waited to see which would gather the
critical mass. It's a bit like choosing VHS or Beta when the video came
in. We stayed with it as well because it's not downloadable so that a
lot of artists on the site are not too worried about people bootlegging
them. I wouldn't want to be in a position were we were losing people money.
That's not what we're about.; what we're about is letting people listen
to the music they want to listen to and not what they're told to listen
to by the Government.
J: You've got some kind of conspiracy theory then?
M: I do. I think we're told to listen to whatever music. I think it's
always been that way, it's been run by the corporates and all these records
that people are forced to buy...we're a nanny state in this country and
we're forced to listen to music that probably a tenth of the nation are
interested in. The rest of it, we can't here because it's not commercial.
J: So what's the Government's interest in that?
M: Money. I think they're all corrupt, they're all trying to line their
pockets. I think that every area of industry, including the music industry
is touched by that. I think there's a cartel going on, I really do. Ask
yourself a simple question: why can't we listen to the music that we want
to listen to on radio that is governed by the Government?
P: [returning from the bar] Because it's not commercial.
J: You're talking about Radios 1-4?
M: Actually, Radio 3 and Radio 4 ain't that bad. At 12 o'clock at night
you can listen to some fantastic music. You can listen to the ECM label
which is rare over here...
me about the zine, did that come after the station?
Yeah. That came about because we thought we needed...
M: ...another medium...
P: ...well, not really another medium but an elaborate calling card. So
we could send it out to people and say, y'know, "this is what we're about,
this is what we're interested in." The first one was a bit light-hearted
and the second one got bogged down in the cultural things around the music
that we like.
J: Does it work? I find that people are apathetic in responding when I
send out copies of Robots..
P: Yeah, there's a lot of apathy. If we send out 20 or 30 copies of the
zine and we get one person back with a positive response, who wants to
do something with us, then that's the job done.
The next phase is to start a label.
M: It's a natural evolution for us. We've always been involved, we've
always needed rehearsal space to play our own music with our own band
and it would be nice to invite other people down. We're now expanding
into the next building and we're gonna knock it all in to one and make
a soundproof studio.
P: We just want to cover our costs with this as well. We're not into profits---if
we wanted to make money out of this we'd go into boy bands. Why not exploit
children to make money?
M: We're looking for more mediums to expose the kind of music that we
like. The way that we're going to do that is film the bands that we've
got in the rehearsal space and put them straight on the internet. We'll
become the record label. Fuck the record labels---we do get cynical...But,
we still like doing what we do and there's a lot of musicians who know
us and have a lot of different ideas. We bring them into the studio and
jam with them and it's fantastic. We call it the grin-factor, everybody
gets together and everybody loves the music. A lot of the music that we
play is music that we grew up with and music that we want to spread.
you a pair of hippy throwbacks?
J:...anti-government, conspiracy theory, not into profit...sounds a bit
hippyish to me---not in any pejorative sense.
P: It's, well...
J: Is there a philosophy behind the station?
M: Let people hear good music. I go to America quite a bit and when I
turn the radio on there I can hear really good music. 90% of the stations
are good rock music but I come back here and every station, almost, is
playing chart stuff. I listen mainly to classical music on the radio in
this country. [he leaves to put some money in the parking meter]
J: So where does "Never Say Die" come from?
P: It's a Black Sabbath song. It was Crow, basically. Crow is the spiritual
leader of RNSD. He lives in a caravan and he's a bit of a character. All
credit has to go to Crow, he's the man that started it and we just came
along and tried to take it a bit further but it's always been that he's
the founding father. "Never Say Die" is also the philosophy of the station.
We will never give up broadcasting. He's always done it, even up a tree.
To think that someone would go out on a bike, with a car battery, find
a tree, sling an aerial up the tree and then set this transmitter off
so that maybe 4 or 5 people (in them days) would tune in. That is obsessive.
So we're just taking the baton on...If we've got a philosophy, that's
it: we are there purely for the music. We are there for the music.
and Paul are interested in receiving shows from new DJs (and they must
be desperate, they've given me a show!) Send your tapes to PO Box 280,
Waltham Cross, EN7 6ZR. www.rnsd.com