London’s a lonely city. Sometimes it feels like you could walk in any direction for days and days, paths crossed, eyes adverted, mute. Even the people you see every day, the bus drivers, tube workers and corner shop owners glance straight through you, blinded by the post Olympic gloom suffocating the city like a Dickensian fog. Sometimes it’s hard to see every day beauty when the only eyes looking are your own two, alone.
Turn left at the Halifax off the Kingsland Road (the North end) and you’ll find yourself in Gillett Square. Conceptualised as a new town square for Dalston during its development in the nineties and noughties, Gillett Square has fulfilled architects intentions, becoming a place where Hackney’s myriad cultures collide and merge, creating a point of physicalised focus in an increasingly fractured world. Sit here in the summer listening to local radio station NTS broadcasted live from the square and you will never feel truly alone.
‘It’s all based around music but what it does is bring people together’, NTS’ Creative Director Shane Connelly tells me. By connecting the radio station with a strong narrative of place — the station’s website contains images of each of the station’s presenters framed by the lens in what is recognisably Gillett Square — founders Femi Edmund Adeyemi and Clair Urbahn alongside Shane Connelly have effectively grounded their internet radio station with a localised, tangible feel. As the square is a blend of cultures, so the radio station mixes together genres. Tuning into NTS at random could leave you listening to free form jazz, techno, or simply white noise, constantly reinforcing the station’s tagline: ‘Don’t Assume’.
In less than two years NTS radio has grown from a pipeline dream to a viable business. Shows are broadcast live from Gillett Square 24 hours a day to up to 10 000 listeners, by a team of over 160 presenters. NTS is true to its Hackney roots, resolutely a London Thing, but the stations listeners can be found anywhere in the world where there is an internet connection and a discerning set of ears. As Shane explains: ‘NTS is completely London centric but worldly: we know we aren’t the centre of the world’. Yet at times it seems that NTS are the centre, of not the world but at least a world, the presenters together forming a coherent voice to cut through the static. The sprawling network of DJs and artists are of a very high calibre, the programme curated by Femi Adeyemi is ‘very eclectic, but they are the best at what they do’. Anyone anywhere is invited through the act of listening to engage with all different types of music, and, in the progress, preconceptions are shattered: the passion held by presenters resounds infectiously through every broadcast.
Radio has always been entwined with the very notion of community, providing a point of access into scenes and movements. Growing up in the 90s and early 00s radio seemed such a strong part of youth experience. Years before I could sneak into clubs with a stamp half transferred off the back of a stranger’s hand onto my own, I remember sitting in my room scaling up and down the airwaves in the hope of finding something new to listen to. Shane has similar memories: ‘When I was younger I relied on pirate radio. I grow up in east London. I’d go home and I knew that at 6pm I’d be listening to N.A.S.T.Y Crew on Déjà vu. I’d bring the tape into school the next day and everyone would go crazy!’ Mapping these memories into the immediacy of present day digital media, listeners can respond to shows publicly via Twitter, Facebook and the chatroom on the NTS website. It is upon these interfaces that listeners can gather and connect to one another. ‘A lot of the shows have their own individual followings, and the chatrooms are filled with the same people talking and listening’, Shane tells me. ‘A community of people that don’t even know each other: you wouldn’t have got that when I was younger’. Yet given the remarkable diversity of the station, the commitment to showcase everything from dancehall to documentary, the very idea of a generalised ‘NTS listener’ becomes unfathomable. As Shane puts it ‘you couldn’t define what an NTS listener is, you couldn’t, but anyone could be an NTS listener and you’d have that in common’. Unlike many pirate and independent radio stations which have a very narrow focus in genre, and consequently appeal to a narrow demographic, NTS finds its identity in ‘embracing everything’, which Shane sees as a ‘real idea of community’.
Here is an idea of community that does not merely exist in the margins of cyber space but one whose members spin onto club dancefloors and come together for parties on the streets that defined them. Here is a community which has been realised through NTS and which is solidified and celebrated at the events they put on outside of the studio. In August, NTS alongside ISYS exhibited ‘Paved With Gold: A City Symphonic’ at the Tate Modern Tanks. Street cultural archivists ISYS provided two years of London centric video footage, whilst NTS were asked to provide a soundscape for the city. Here Londonness was portrayed through a lens often ignored. 2012, the year of the Jubilee and the Olympics was recast in more recognisable everyday terms. Going to the market. Walking through your local park. The last day at school. Unlike other community projects, this wasn’t condescending, it was reality. As Shane explains, ‘it was like ‘this is what we have around us all the time’, a time capsule of now, 2012, people walking round living their life-celebrating it’. Sometimes you have to see things through a new perspective, taking a step back to realise what surrounds you. Community resides not just in the new park equipment that the council provided for the Olympic year but in the daily conversations that turn strangers into friends.
Lock in to NTS, live 24 hours a day at www.ntslive.co.uk