Interview: Geeneus on Rinse FM's 16th Birthday
He may look like your Bacardi Breezer-swilling 15-year-old bruv, but this is actually Geeneus, one of the firebrands behind legendary (and bloody brilliant) London underground radio station Rinse FM.
I don't know why I've got into the habit of interviewing sullen dance music nerdos lately, but there you have it. Maybe it's their musk.
Anyway, I talked to Geeneus about Rinse getting a legitimate broadcasting licence ahead of their 16th birthday, which they'll be celebrating in typically epic style at Fabric next Friday with a huge selection of show hosts and regular guests.
Read the feature in next week's Time Out. But for now, here's the interview in all it's full (yawn) glory.
Hello Geeneus. Congratulations on getting your official licence. What's the update? 'We’ve got the licence and we’re in the process of sorting out technical stuff to switch on. I think it’s going to happen in the next four to five weeks. Quite soon!'
Why has it taken such a long time to get one? 'It took us around five years to get the licence. It’s just the process. The first process was us asking, “Can we get a licence?” and them [Ofcom] saying no, and then us working a way around it. It took just over four years to get to the stage of them even letting us apply. It would take about three hours to tell you the process we went through.'
Why did they make it so difficult? 'It’s standard protocol. You ask a question and there’s an automatic answer that they’re meant to give. There’s not a thought process in it, it’s just what the systems tell ’em to do. So I think we had to shake up the system a bit.'
What does the future hold for the station? Is anything going to change? 'With regards to the programming an’ that, no. Hopefully, the only thing that will change is the DJs will now be on time. We’ve spent 16 years making the station: I’m not about to change it. The point of us getting a licence was so that we could be legal, not be something we ain’t. A lot of people ask me, "Ah you’re gonna be changing, you’re gonna be playing news" – and I say, "We’re gonna be playing no news! I don’t care about nufin’ like that. I don’t care about the weather: it’s is what it is." We’ll have adverts – we have them now – but we’re not going to be selling people car insurance or nufin’. It’ll be relevant. And there won’t be adverts during the sets neither – I’ll still let DJs have a two-hour show and then play the adverts when they finish.'
Have you got any new presenters lined up? 'Not really. Like I say, I’ve actually got everything I wanted and I’m really really fussy and always want to find something new. A lot of DJs and people have come from big radio stations, or people who were on big radio stations in the past, and thought that [us getting an official licence] is another opportunity for them, but it’s not. It’s more of an opportunity for someone new, not someone who has already been and done it. That’s not for me, thanks: we’re full up!'
How long is your waiting list? There’s normally around a year waiting list for a permanent show with about 80 people on it, but it’s been like that for the past 10 years.
Notably your station is male-dominated. Is there space for female DJs too? 'We’ve got two, I think [Flight and Jay Diamond]. But the thing is, I don’t care about girls or boys. I don’t give preference on gender, it just depends on whether they’re a good DJ or not.'
What advice would you give to budding DJs? 'Do what they think is right and try and get through with it and if you’re not very good, try and realise at an early point in your life.'
Charming. Do you have a permanent home now? 'Yeah, we’re based in east London and we’re hoping to stay where we are – we’ve been in the new place for about eight months.'
What’s the most interesting place you’ve broadcasted from? 'Probably in Slimzee’s mum’s house in his bedroom. He was one of the founders of the station. His parents didn’t know what was going on so we used to have to sneak the DJs past his mum and dad while they was in the front room and pretend it was just mates coming round. We rolled that one out for about four months. But they were cool with it; they knew that we loved doing it so they kind of supported it – when they realised that we weren’t going to give up anyway!'
Were you ever concerned that getting a legal licence would affect your credibility? 'Nah. I don’t see it as a big-massive thing. It’s just that now I don’t have to keep running away from someone and we can actually talk about our station like it’s a good thing. Some people’s perception is that it’s illegal so it’s bad and that is what we wanted to get rid of. I’ve been on the run from it for, like, 16 years and a few of our engineers an’ that have been ducking and diving and it’s just like, give us a break, we just wanna play music. Do ya know what I mean?'
How many people signed your petition? 'I didn’t even look. I saw the first batch and it was quite a lot and I was, like, "Wow", so after that I didn’t have a look. I really have no idea.'
When did you realised that Rinse had the potential to get so big? 'When Sarah Lockhart said to me, Rinse is actually bigger than you realise, and she said that she thought we could get a licence. Up until then we’d just switch on the station, play music, and I wouldn’t listen to a thing the outside world says. I didn’t used to speak to any kind of press, I just used to speak to the people on the station and that was that. I didn’t pay any attention to the world.'
Why has Rinse kept on going where so many pirate stations have only lasted a few years? 'Because I’m like a psychopath and I just won’t stop! I’ve got this thing in me where I just can’t give up and I can’t lose so I’ll keep going. I like new things otherwise I get bored very quickly, so I’m always searching for something new, whether it’s music, technology or anything else. I think that me and some of the people around me had the mentality of the younger generation early, so everything moves a lot quicker these days, but we felt like that before. But the other thing is that we keep refreshing the station every second, so instead of playing a specific type of music and then that grows and get old and we get old. There’s a DJ called A-Plus, who has been there since the first day we switched on, he had a little break in-between, and he’s the longest-running DJs apart from me, and then there’s Newham Generals, who have been on the second longest. But apart from that we keep changing the DJs an’ that all the time so it’s always current, so that just keeps it going for a long time.'
Has Rinse always been such a tightly run ship? 'I don’t know what a tightly run ship is, but what I can tell you is that when people come into our organisation and look at it they think it’s complete madness. But for me, it’s fine. People think it’s a tightly run ship and it does have some kind of structure, but we just freestyle and do what we like.'
What are your most memorable moments of the last 16 years? 'I have so many, but I am actually going to sit down with someone and they’re going to write it all out for me and I’ll explain it all. I’m going to do a little book on Rinse and all of its history and what it took to do and all of that. We’re just working it out now. It’s going to be a really long process but I have to sit down and get all the memories out. Then you can read the whole lot of it.'
Oh, right. Thanks… You must have one that you can tell me? 'I could tell you a story and you’d probably be on the floor laughing after one of them but it would take longer than I’ve got today. Off the top of my head, there’s a Wiley one where we’re doing the radio station in his bedroom and his dad was away and we ran out of electricity. So I wired up the electricity – illegally – bypassed the whole thing and got it working. Then Wiley went out on a motorbike and got arrested and the police brung ’im home and brung ’im into the bedroom where we was all DJing illegal radio and then police didn’t realise what was going on. They was moving some stuff around and it was going ‘KSSSSH’ and we were like “Yeah, that’s just the aerial” so they put it back all neat and tidy for us and everything. And then they looked in the cupboard and Wiley got arrested because I’d wired up his whole house. That was dodgy…'
When you started, you were more MC-based, right? 'When we started we were more focused on the MCs. We had 40-odd MCs and 10 DJs in the first days: that was the balance. It was just madness. There was some shows that would have 10 MCs chatting on it and one DJ. Target used to be the worst for it. It stayed like that for years and me personally, I like MCs quite a lot, so I’ve always been keen to get more in there. But, saying that, they’re the hardest people to control and it can get out of hand sometimes. Everyone else thought it was a disaster – jungle din’t like it; garage din’t like it – but we din’t care, we just do whatever. We liked it and we was kids so we just carried on with it.'
Like when Wiley started dissing an MC on air and then said MC came to the Rinse headquarters to start a fight with him? 'Yeah!'
Why is Rinse the most important radio station at the moment? 'I think because we try hard to keep bringing in something new. The world is based on moving forward and new things coming around and that’s what our human tendencies are like. Musically, we push that side of it a lot. With everything in life, people always ‘want’. They want something new – and that’s what we supply. We care about British underground music. We care about music that we can actually make: that is the point of it. We listen to music, we make it and we can turn it around quite quickly to play on the radio.'
How did Rinse become such an important cultural indicator? 'I don’t know how to answer that!'
Did going online have a lot to do with it? 'I think what the internet done for us is brung everything more local. The thing that we represent, the young thing, the new music thing, got branched out to other places and it connected with a lot of people and it kind of give us more of a ‘local’ feeling. So, at first were were based in east London and we felt like we represented in east London; then we represented the whole of London; now it’s like we represent a bigger thing. The whole music scene.'
Out of all the genres that you’ve supported, which has been the most important? 'They’ve all been important. They’re all one scene, it just keeps transforming and mutating. It’s like garage turning into grime, which also turned into dubstep, then turned into house and funky. It’s all from the same train of music. It’s part of something called the ‘hardcore continuum’ [which is much theorised by music journalist Simon Reynolds], I’ve read about it. The ongoing underground scene keeps moving and the names keep getting changed but it’s all the same thing over and over.'
What would have happened to dubstep and grime without Rinse? 'I think they would have existed. Rinse participated in getting it off the ground at an early stage. Rinse is just an empty thing, really: it gives everyone the ability to play the music to people.'
Why are the Rinse parties an important part of the station? 'It gives the public a place where they can connect more with the radio and feel it and see it. And it also gives those on the station a chance to show off and have face to face time with the people. FWD>> and Rinse come from the same angle – we own FWD>> – but FWD>> is weekly and small and underground and Rinse and FWD>> together is a much bigger thing. It is everything.'
What new sounds are exciting you right now? 'I’d say house. We’ve got an event called Yellow – that is the type of scene that I find interesting right now, but it’s quite small and it’s quite hard to say exactly what it is. Kismet, A-Plus, dem ones, they’re quite interesting.'
Rinse FM celebrates its 16th birthday at Fabric next Friday.