Playing with the Bandwith: Recalling the early days of Resonance FM

Photo from Mute Magazine with station founders standing outside the front door. Mick Richie, Xentos, Magz Hall, Sarah Washington, Knut A, along the page was Ed Baxter and Simon Lucas 2002

Playing with the Bandwith: Recalling the early days of Resonance FM

Its hard to belive its 20 years since Resonance started as a full time station and 24 years since its first broadcast. Back in 1998 I became part of the action group who ran Resonance FM, from the Southbank Centre, during John Peels Meltdown festival as an RSL. It was a hands on month where I learnt a lot about live radio and got to listen to the breath of European and US experimental radio and radio art.

I had been making music and learning how to make mainstream radio via but felt uninspired by mainstream career options, so the thought of an experimental radio station was right up my street.

As a Goldsmiths grad I had chosen London to live and make music and to follow my creative passions. As a student my studies were certainly second to my social life. I started working in the Record and Tape Exchange with best friend Caroline Handforth. We also co ran the Psychedelic Society inspired by Goldsmith’s grad John Cale, the fact the society was no longer was running made us revive it and put on gigs, trips and happenings. After which we started squatting and got fully absorbed in the alternative music art scene in London.

Bristol musician mates the Moonflowers would come and stay and play at our huge house on Queens Road, New Cross where we hosted some great parties. Several house mates including my boyfriend at the time and his brother Nick became pivotal in the rave scene, moving from Spiral Tribe and Bedlam to set up their own system United Systems. I was a kind of participant observer I liked acid house but only about 10 percent of hardcore and found myself at many of the most famous raves including castle Morton. I saved money to go travelling, to Thailand, doing market research working with many other musicians and actors some I still know such as Orlando from the Alabama 3 who still does a show on Resonance to date.

I gained a TESOL cert thanks to a government scheme. I travelled across South America and got a teaching job in Ecuador. I wasn’t career minded at all, rents were high in London and housing benefit, allowed me and other grads to stay London and follow creative paths. I gained some unforgettable life experiences in South America which gave me a different perspective on London and returned from my travels and started working in Soho in Selecta disc, but it wasn’t a scratch on the old Record and Tape Exchange days so I started  teaching part time at Southwark, Lewisham and Westminster College. I couldn’t afford to do an MA in radio at Goldsmiths so I did a radio HNC at Lambeth College, before doing a postgrad teaching course which led me to teach a BTEC Audio course at Lewisham College which I eventually took over from Paul Speare, an accomplished musician and former member of Dexys Midnight runners.

Mainstream radio opportunities were very limited, and there was not such a clear route as there is today. I got involved in the Resonance Access group running the RSL. The opportunity to have my own radio show was really exciting if a bit daunting. I knew a lot of talented and creative people who had yet to make it, one of which was Peter Strickland’s Sonic Catering band, they made and played popcorn live on air. He is now a director has just release a filmic homage to his early experiences in the band called Flux Gormet. I had met Peter and Genetic Moo at experimental film events OMSK and the Exploding Cinema. I made my first proper radio feature about and also aired on the first incarnation of the station.

 I also brought in a laughter therapist which turned out to be a serious radio session and interviewed former psyche society pal and performance artist Marisa Carrensky who had studied at Laban. I also managed to get maverick radio broadcaster Chris Morris to give me a programme to air on the RSL. 

At the time I was hanging out with Ron Briefel who now runs the Bookery Gallerie. I met him the ICA while Kylie Minogue did a reading at a book launch for squat mate Suzie Corrigans book on riot girls. Ron was a larger-than-life character avant garde musician and sound technician at Morley College who knew everyone on the experimental music scene and was part of a band of improvisors called Morphogenesis with Clive Graham founder of Paradigm Records, whose responsible for bringing the work of Daphne Oram back into the public realm. The band were infamous for supporting Sonic Youth and being booed off stage, another member Micheal Prime made music from plants way before it became a sound art staple form.

 During the RSL Ron fell asleep during a show on Fluxus and was allowed to snore live all the way through it which was in fact almost a radio homage to Andy Warhol.  We had a whole floor at the Southbank theatre it was an amazing labyrinth of connected rooms one had to walk through to find the live studio.

At one point Shirley Bassey had a floor for a week, whilst bands like Sonic Youth were there playing gigs at Peels meltdown. We also made material for the station in a studio in Brixton the LMC had owned by Paul Gilleron with the engineer and another resonance founder Mick Richie. Salomé Voegelin was also on hand doing protools engineering and help me master some material.

Later I recall working there using screaming of Gregory Whiteheads Pressures of the Unspeakable and a Patty Smith riff outside of society to make a jingles for pirate station Interference FM.

I was at the South Bank for most of the whole month of the RSL and well as doing my show was helping Phil England whose brainchild the station was. I was also able to get clear reception in Dulwich as well so we also monitored it from there. I was in love with Resonance and was thrilled to be part of it. The LMC attracted many creative misfits mostly male to be honest as well as known improvisors like Lol Cocksill. The station captured the imagination a host of soon to be fellow sonic artists like Joe Banks, David Toop, Caroline Kraabell, Sharon Gall and John Wynne, Peter Cusak, Viv Corrigan to name a few and other mates like Scanner and Rob Young did shows.

Peel Effect

John Peel was curating his Meltdown Festival at the same time and shared a lift with us in the building, I was in huge ore, but realised that we were actually pushing the bar further as a ground breaking experimental radio station, a total laboratory for radio experiments. At the end of Meltdown, a few of us got invited to Peels 50th by David Sefton who introduced us and Peel, who make a joke of squeezing my hand till it hurt.  LMC head Ed Baxter it turned out was no fan of Peel so didn’t invite him on air.

Peels show was a hugely influential to me as a teen offering new bands to digest in my suburban bedroom alongside Whistle test and TOTPS and live gigs. As a teen in the 80’s Peels radio show was important to me when I was living in Pill near Bristol and Portishead. I went into the city at least 2 times a week to see bands like Stump, TPE, The Pogue’s, The Clouds all the C86 bands and noise bands like Sonic Youth and Lydia Lunch. I was involved in the indie music zine scene, now known as the scene in between and co wrote a zine with Amanda Burston. My teen attic bed room covered in indie gig posters before indie was mainstream and had all my windows open playing music to the street. I did my first Djing Peel style, no beat matching or mixing and eclectic tunes at 17 at the infamous Tropic Club supporting My Bloody Valentine so I guess I was a kind of music hipster.

I was into post punk, new wave. noise, indie and 60’s music at the same time. I was also lucky to live just an hour away from Pill to Pilton Glastonbury. My first one was in 1985 without a tent! I had a whale of a time hanging out with Steve Mack of That Petrol Emotion who I interviewed there. I watched bands like Husker Du from backstage of the pyramid stage which was managed by the Hell Angels, who did not take advantage but did buy me drinks I am relieved to say.

The following year I got an official press passes for my fanzine I started doing a bit of music writing and had tea with Micheal Eavis and his wife, at this point I thought I wanted to be a music journalist. At the start of my teens my hair was 5 inches tall with silver eyeshadow hard rock hair spray and an American retro mac, I went to gigs at the Bierkeller and did a lot of moshing before moving into a mid 80’s s shoe gaze faze, fringe with stripy tee-shirt dm’s and brown swede mini skirt and started co writing a music fanzine, then when I got to London I went full psyche out colourful dresses and floppy hats then to drum and bass trainers clothers really reflected the music I was listening to at the time. I then came part of the electronic scene and took part in a host of sonic arts events.

 Peel and his producer john Walters were influential in my own formative ideas on radio. I specifically recall a little bell Walter’s would ring as he would recount Julie Burchill’s scathing reviews  of bands, they imagined her having a huge whip which she would break frail band egos to smithereens they were very funny made me really like Burchill whole hailed from my home town.

My own parents were into trad jazz something I really didn’t like. I recall seeing Acker Bilk at a recorded outside concert with them as a kid on Bristol Harbour next to the Arnolfini and being mesmerised so see the TV credits rolled up by hand. My mum had wanted to study art but left school at 15 with no qualifications and became an army nurse and my Dad was an Irish farmers son who left home to gain a trade in engineering and make room in the tiny cottage for his youngest brother. They met working in the forces in Benghazi Libya, both had left military life by 25. My dad had MS and eventually found work as architecture technician at Bristol Uni which he did for 25 years and I have great memories of being a kid in his workshop. They had a strong community spirit and helped set up the first city farm in the UK in Bristol in the 1970’s turning an old car park in Bedminster into the flourishing community hub it is today.

I snuck into some of the gigs at Peels Meltdown during the resonance broadcasts, but so much was happening on the Resonance radio side it was far more exciting. Working behind the stage of the South Bank was the most fantastic experience one which was life changing at the time as it gave me a lot of confidence, as broadcasting across London was a more than a dream come true.

Much later when the station was full time I was really chuffed when I was invited to be on a panel with Peel at the Big Chill back to talk about Resonance, he talked about the ability to be surprised by radio being lost and certainly Resonance was always full of surprises. Peel was very approachable and supportive of so many musicians. I recall giving him the Female of the Species CD at a gig within a few days he was playing loads of tracks from it including mine, which ticked off one of my life goals which was to have a record played on his show and then it was onto the next thing. I did feel a generation gap though as he was very much of another era really but totally tapped into the music scene and a gate keeper for alternative music in the UK, the BBC monopoly meant things didn’t really open till commercial stations like XFM came along which was a very different beast when it started and soon became a bland corporate affair. Community radio in the UK was very slow in starting and it wasn’t till 2002 that a real sea change happened with the first pilot licenses, plus later internet streaming really opened up the playing field bringing even wider hyper local stations like NTS. At Resonance we looked to NYC station WFMU as a role model.

Full Time Resonance

After the RSL ended I was on a mission to see Resonance back on-air full time. England had found running the station stressful and wasn’t pumped to push it as a full time station. However I was now evangelically stoked up the experience. I joined the CRA now the CMA to see what could be done to get a licence, and got Tom Wallace to join me the timing was really good as I got involved with the community radio campaign in lobbying the government and the RA to get community radio stations on air in the UK after a failed attempt a decade earlier. I could see a strong case for pitching the idea of community of interest in art and music.

I recall going to the house of commons for a CRA meeting with MPs, it was the only time I have been inside, and I recall speaking to former actress labour’s Glenda Jackson about how important community radio would be and the head of the RA and Tony Soller, the former head of the Radio Authority who is now an academic. The push was successful, and the radio access scheme was set up. I sent a letter to the LMC encouraging them to apply to the scheme and offered to help. Mick Richie told me they didn’t think they would get it but they applied and did in 2002.

I was elated and became part of the initial steering committee who set up the station with Mick Richie, Tom Wallace, Knut Alfermann, Sarah Washington, Caroline Krabbell, Andy and Simon Lucas with Ed Baxter at the helm.

15 stations were selected including Resonance FM, which became one of the first Access stations as the government called them to start with as for some reason community was too subversive. The success of the pilots meant this was soon rectified and the stations became full time community radio stations the first ever in the UK.

The birth of the station heavily ties in with the formation and growth of sonic art and sound art in the UK as several involved were studying or teaching in those areas like Peter Cusak LMC member who lectured sound art at LCC did a show on peoples favourite sounds.

I had started making sound art in 1998 and my first serious commissioned work was called Brighton Rocks for a shipping container at a festival in Groningen Holland in 2000. I took over two trolleys of beach pebbles along with my composition and slides and smell of chips. I then had a lucky break meeting industrial architect Kevin Carrucan at the ICA from Foster Studio, he liked what I was doing and I got commissioned to make an ambisonic sound track of Hong Kong airport in 2001 for the touring exhibition which was at the British Museum and Sainsbury Centre.

From that point I was totally focused on the station which became my primary output space till 2006 when I started my PhD. It was so varied I got to produce, present, curate, interview, commission, fundraise and loved it.

I recall spending a manic few months spreading the word that resonance FM would be broadcasting full time and getting people to pitch show ideas. I knew so many creative people across the city from the underground art, music and film scene so it was really a joy to get them to be part of it.

Some of the shows I got on air are still running today, such as Trunks OST and the Organ Show. Marine Organ recently told me I changed her life, after I approached her at a gig at the Garage venue where she was selling her fanzine.

The station became a pure passion project for me and totally hands on. I ran the opening party at 93 Feet East in Hoxtan the band Wire played which was a real coup and I recall being overwhlemed talking to the huge audience who attended, Xentos Jones peformed I think with a coffin whilst at the same time the station went out on air for the first time. A few days later I did my first weekly radio show called Your Are Hear on May 6th 5-9pm and the first guest was artist Damian Abbot from Inventory who sadly died when he was only getting into his stride as an artist.

youarehear.co.uk

***2002***

May 6th – Psychogeographers Damien Abbot and Adam Scrivener from Inventory

May 13th – Church of Sonology – live sonological amplifications

May 2oth – the Horse Hospital’s James Hollands and guest poet Karl Blake of the Shockheaded Peters

May 27th – They Came From The Stars and David Grubbs play live

June 3rd – Performance Artist Haley Newman

June 10th – The Exploding Cinema celebrate 10 years of DIY film events, with guest Duncan Reekie

June 17th – Mark Pilkinton (Fortean Times and Strange Attractor) Hosts. Interview with arch provocateurs Alexander Brener and Barbara Schurtz, writers of a new work of fiction “Bukaka Spat Here”

June 24th – special guest: Deptford X festival curator Rueben Thurnhill with artist Patricio Grose Forrester

July 1st – Interview with Uwe Schmidt AKA Senor Coconut AkA Atom Heart AKA Flanger

July 8th – Gavin Turk versus Pop Poodle

July 15th – Clerkenwell Literary Festival (hit the link ‘Pilchard Teeth’ below)

July 22nd – Damien Abott joins John Eden and Ewen Chardronnet from the Association of Autonomous Astronauts talk community space exploration

July 29th – Conet project Short-wave stations Akin Fernandez Irdial discs

August 5th – Fabian Tompsett of the London Psychogeographical Association

August 12th – Clive Shaw on Alexander Trocchi and the Psychogeography of underground clubs in the 60’s and 70’s

August 19th – Rod Dickinson discusses his re-enactment of the infamous Milgram experiment

August 26th – Lee Hazlewood special

Sept 2nd – Mark Perry of Alternative TV plays some acoustic numbers

Sept 9th – Kate Potter – Mystic Artist discusses her ‘Ghost Horses exhibition’ at the Horse Hospital

Sept 16th – Ryo-Co performs a live electronica session. Area 10 guests pop in too

Sept 23rd – Andrew King, English folk music archivist at the National Sound Archive discusses his work, with many rare field recordings.

Sept 30th – Oxbow, the San Francisco hardcore/experimentalists, perform a rare live acoustic set

Oct 7th – the fantastic Laura B live session

Oct 14th – Mike Slocombe of Urban 75.com discusses Media Democracy Day

Oct 21th – Noxagt live, plus Lawrence Burton AKA War Arrow presents some far out sounds from Mexico

Oct 28th – Murcof and The Vanishing Breed perform live in the studio

Nov 4th – Kev Hopper `the saw man’ here to delight you with his great (musical) tool and Eva Rostfrei will be performing her electronica inspired yodelling

Nov 11th – Bedouin Ascent live session

Nov 18th – includes highlights from the mouse on mars gig at the ICA

Nov 25th – Guest BJ Cole airs his latest unreleased tracks

Dec 2nd – Devotion play live plus Charles Thomson Stuckist spokesman

Dec 9th – Artist Mark McGowen rolls in

Dec 16th – Jakob Jakobsen Danish cultural worker rescheduled till next year sorry!

Dec 23rd – Los Pitufos and Murcof

Dec 30th – highlights from the years live sessions from Kev Hopper, Noxagt, David Grubbs, BJ Cole, Eva Rostfrei ,Vanishing breed Bedouin Ascent, Oxbow, Devotion, Ryo-Co, Mark Perry and The Church of Sonology.

YAH was a weekly music show with lives session and guests from the outer edges, lots of experimental, electronic new music and independent artists. The first shows set the tone of the live show which we did for four years and really was an A – Z of the most creative people in London at the time and a few of my musical heroes. Haley Newman was the first woman artist on the show plus we celebrated Exploding Cinemas 10th birthday, they are now 20 as well.

Guest’s spanned the arts and included new and cult musicians like Cosey Fanni Tutti, John Cale, Mo Tucker, Lee Hazelwood who after after over an hour as he wasn’t allowed to smoke and well known artists included Gustav Metzger, Steward Holme, Gavin Turk and Greyson Perry and writers like Tom McCarthy and inventor Bob Moog. We also put together via the show fundrasing LP where supporters paid to have tracks on it this proved to be a hugely popular idea and raised £5000 for the station and meant a host of great people were on it like Jem Finer and Gavin Turk. It got a 5 star review in the Times from Stewart Lee.

Flatpack Antenna

I also produced a show called Burning Decks where I would invite a host of cutting edge DJs to experiment on air from unknown to the very known like Luke Vibert and the Lounge of Pleasure which was an easy listening muzak show one featured the beloved John Jaques Perry.

I loved commissioning shows and curating weekly Clear Spot shows, an hour when anyone could take to the air, many of my guests took up the opportunity to have a go including Mark Fisher and Grayson Perry and Fanni Tutti and some BBC producers.

At Resonance there were three giant paper files of programme ideas from hundreds of proposals sent in by mail from the initial call out for shows and I would troll through them to commission shows and clearspots it would always make someone’s day to be given the opportunity to make their dream arts based radio show. Such was the sparsity of broadcast opportunities before podcasting existed. I was also very good at getting press for the station securing the first review in the Guardian and other papers.

Just before we went, the studio at 9 Denmark Street needed a huge clean up Genetic Moo took up my invite to come and help clean up and paint it. The very first studio it had been a former recording studio called Sun Studios in what was known as tin pan alley a road of music shops in the heart of London.  I recall going on the roof clearing out the guttering on the leaky roof. Many legendary 60’s artists recorded in it like Sandy Shaw. But when we took over it was semi derelict and a bit of mess. The music club the 12 bar was a bit further down the street and engineered by Andy who was hands on working at the station and club. It’s very sad that the club was pulled down and the studio was made into luxury flats as part of the regeneration of Charring Cross Road and cross rail. St Martins was just round the corner as was the Astoria all now all gone due to cross rail, the Angel Pub is still there it became a regular haunt for those invloved in the station. In fact the studio front door is still there but its been made into flats now. It was a real hub for a time with bands coming in and out all day and evening I remember rushing into set up a live session as the Sun Ra orchestra came out and Suicide were handing out just round the corner on Charing Cross Road. I was living a music fans dream, every show felt like going on a secret mission to the heart of London on the bus from Deptford to broadcast across the city from its musical and arts epi centre. Now there is Soho Radio which I guess have the hot spot Resonance once in terms of location and this was pre internet listening our audience figs were never recorded but we estimated them to in the hundreds of thousands.

Caroline Kraabel and Tom Wallace were also on the steering committee and did a lot of work and Mark Saunders made the first website. Caroline was really upset artists could not be paid, everyone worked for free apart from Baxter and Knut who became lead engineer and station manager and soon after Chris Weaver was taken on to help Knut via a gov scheme. Caroline did a seminal show called taking a life for a walk where she pushed her son round London and played saxophone and got listeners to call her in phone boxes and make feedback.  Viv Corrigan also had a show where she would walk around London and sing the sounds she could hear. In many ways my own live show was quite conventional at the time in terms of format.

The radio studio was a tiny room with a very low ceiling with one roof window and a Soundcraft desk and wobbly stands. Every time anyone came to the door which was all the time the door buzzer would go off live on air. When bands played it was amazing as you could feel the vibrations under you and right through you.

I co-produced YAH show with Xylitol and we had some amazing live engineers over the years Kirsten Skoog who is now a radio historian and musicians Will Searle and Alex Mitchell along with the main engineer Mick Richie and station managers Chris and Knut. There is some film footage from a wonderful documentary about one man bands which feartures some of our live sessions Ninki V and the Man from Uranus. http://www.adamclitheroe.co.uk/onemanintheband/about.html

I was so busy I never took any photos which is something I now regret. But I do have a huge audio archive having recorded all the shows.

We had so many great live sessions and were doing them way before 6 music started doing live sessions, so it was really exciting, the bands played downstairs and the ceiling was really thin so you could feel the vibrations across your whole body. The other odd thing was the doorbell which was never muted so during shows it would be buzzed a lot you had a sence of place which people get now from home broadcasters there was a different kind of intimacy as it wasn’t a sterile studio space in any sense. It was rented but did feel like a squat, in the middle of Denmark Street next to a very smelly cafe.

Quite a few of the sessions are acrhived via the podcast and on a CD. http://feeds.feedburner.com/youarehear

My show was clearly pulling in an audience as indie pluggers started targeting me and we got regular press. I was patronisingly called the Jo Whiley of Resonance by a middle aged Marxist, Wire writer Ben Watson who did a wild card improv show called Late to Lunch with Out to Lunch which says more about him really.

A lot of Wire writers did and still do shows as the magazine and sponsored a free monthly ad for the station. The early ads were generously put together by an electronic music mate of mine designer Mark Everett who had collaborated with me on artwork for Flatpack Annena LP, the YAH CD and gig and art show flyers. The You Are Hear site started as a blogsite and Damian Swarbrick made a site for us based on the CD design later its still archived for now.

I recall persuading over many weeks artist Edwin Pouncey aka Savage Pencil and Wire writer to do a regular show and make an alternative Resonance logo which was used on the flat pack antenna album and was used as the station logo for quite a while.

So many people helped set up the station it was amazing collective act.

There was always a buzz going of bands coming in and out, one day the Sun Ra Arkestra came in and I walked past the band Suicide hanging out on Cross Road, kind of posing against a wall like they were in NYC. It felt underground and it was but we were broadcasting across the heart of London and was just before internet connections were any good, so internet radio had not taken off we attracted huge audience across the city as well as streaming it.

I loved putting on live events and curated two fundraising exhibitions at the Foundry one was called Circle of Sound, which I like to think was the second sound art show in London, Toop’s blockbuster at Heyward was first.

I ran live music events at Cargo and the Foundry in Hoxton to promote the show and station alongside organising a play-to-play LP to raise funds which got 4 stars in the Times thanks to Stewart Lee. The live shows were always packed a very memorable was one at the Foundry, which became key to the arts underground scene in Old Street, it was run by an ex Falklans vet called Gimpo who was part of the KLF crew, he used to let off fireworks in its vaulted area. Salt Peter played and everyone danced on a huge turning bank wheel it was a wild night. After Gimpo left its new custodian artist Tracey Moberly ran a live show on Resonance from the pub for many years.

 The show before us was comedian Simon Mummery urban warrior and Kevin Ayres who would always do live improvisations. I was far too shy to join in when asked, performing was not something I was not at ease with.

I was engulfed in live music and the station was everything to me.  At one point I started commuting London to Sunderland Uni to teach and finally do an MA and came back half the week to do my live show such was my dedication the show and station. With the license fully secured in 2005, Baxter and Knut dissolved the steering committee which was very galling. Soon after Ed became inflexible, making us take a show break with no notice when guests were already booked and a fundraising CD was in production. You Are Hear eventually moved to another station Totally Radio and carried on podcasting and got some great press Podcast of the week in Time Out and in the Independent and did the show remotely till 2010. I started practice based PhD in Radio Art in earnest in 2006 at UAL and refocused on my own creative output rather than fellow artists and took an academic job in Canterbury and started running the Radio Arts workshops and events. Later gaining funding to commission new radio art aried on a host of arts and community stations including Resonance.

I totally loved doing the show live and have very fond memories of my time at the station and hope it continues for another 20 years.