Julie Adenuga: Why radio is the driving force behind UK music
The Beats 1 host and Red Bull Music Odyssey captain discusses her early days on Rinse FM – and why pirate radio is the perfect creative breeding ground.
If anyone knows the importance of radio to UK music, it’s Julie Adenuga. The broadcaster and tastemaker is currently the face of Apple Music’s Beats 1 alongside Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden but she cut her teeth at London’s legendary station Rinse FM, just before it went legit in 2010. There, the show she hosted with her best friend Sian Anderson gave a devil-may-care voice to the sounds of the inner-city underground, particularly the grime scene, which by then had retreated from commercial view but had continued to innovate.
On 30th June, Julie Adenuga will captain The Transmission boat at Red Bull Music Odyssey to celebrate UK underground radio culture with sets from the likes of AJ Tracey, Sian Anderson, Slimzee, DJ Maximum and D Double E. The 29-year-old’s candid presenting style embodies the fast and loose nature of pirate radio, so who better to tell us why these rebels of the airwaves are so crucial to the fabric of UK music…
What were those early days on Rinse like?
They were exciting, they were a lot more… carefree. Pirate radio is an unfiltered space. The stuff that me and Sian used to talk about, it was crazy, like saying people’s songs were shit and not knowing how to use a CDJ. We’d play every song pitched up really high and not realise for the whole show. We did the show in the dark sometimes. We didn’t know where the fuse box was so if we’d come in and it had been tripped and the lights wouldn’t work, we didn’t know what to do, and we would just do our show in the dark.
In what ways did those experiences shape your broadcasting style?
I'm just extremely relaxed. I remember when I was piloting at [BBC] 1Xtra, I felt on edge. I couldn’t be myself, I wasn’t being natural. I [was] saying things that I would never say, talking about things I don’t really care about or understand, throwing to songs and artists that I don’t even listen to myself, but then I have to say that I'm excited about [them] and I'm not. Whereas pirate radio, the only difference [with who I am outside] is I'm swearing less. I was being exactly who I was when the mic was off.
How did you become aware of pirate radio and what it was about?
I knew of Heat FM because Junior and Jamie [aka her brothers, the musicians Skepta and JME] were on there. If I was in a car, someone would put on Deja Vu FM. But I didn’t go to loads of pirate radio stations and I didn’t know lots of the people that owned them, I just knew of the ones that I came across in my everyday life.
Pirate radio was one of the few ways that you would hear songs coming out of the underground, and out of young people
How integral has pirate radio been to UK music?
Very integral. It was one of the few ways that you would hear songs coming out of the underground, and out of young people. That was the medium for the music that was being made.
Would a sound like grime exist in the way it does now without pirate radio?
No, definitely not. The importance of practising how to MC is irreplaceable. Going on a set and having to say a 16-bar or 32-bar lyric and then pass the mic to someone, and then think of your next lyric, and then when it comes back, spit again, and the tune’s mixing and you’re saying this – that is an art.
So pirate radio is a crucial training ground for British MCs?
Absolutely. Even some of the sickest rappers in the world couldn’t jump on a [UK pirate radio] set, with a DJ mixing for two hours straight. That is a skill, and a great skill at that.
Are online music platforms going some way to replace pirate radio?
No, I think every medium serves its purpose. If you want to watch music videos then there’s somewhere to do that. If you want to listen to grime sets or two hours of jungle or garage, you can't get that anywhere else but radio. There is nothing to replace, like, Marcus Nasty playing music for two hours on Rinse FM. No platform that can replace that. Just like there’s nothing to replace going to a rave.
What’s so unique about a pirate radio set?
Radio is magical in that you can’t see anything anyway. The magic comes from envisioning what that room is like, from hearing the tunes and you being where you are, but your brain is imagining what’s happening there. The magic comes from…
Things going wrong?
Things going wrong! The magic comes from someone leaving the mic on and you can hear people murmuring in the background, or from hearing a tune and you don’t know what it is, and you’re like, ‘I need to now stay listening and hope that the DJ’s going to say what the song is’. The magic comes from the experience.