Nightclubs: Radio activity: Joseph Gallivan talks to the radio pirates who are planning a mail-order club service

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The Independent Culture
Like the poor, the pirates are always with us. And some of them really are poor too. But many people feel that wandering mono signals, linguistically challenged DJs and inexplicable silences are bearable if the music being played is up to scratch. One pirate radio station broadcasting on weekends in London has spent the last six months successfully gaining listeners with an unadulterated diet of house and garage tunes. (For legal reasons, it's not possible to name the station, but it is currently much talked about in clubland.)

'Six months ago I knew nothing about this sort of music,' says station director Richie, 'but my girlfriend lent me some of the money for the equipment. We don't make any money off it at the moment, but one day we want to go legal.' Yes, going legal - the age old fantasy of the pirate, only in Richie's case he may well be tilling fertile soil. His partner, Rick, who works in a record shop specialising in dance music, explains why. 'Ninety per cent of the clubs in London play house and garage tunes, because people can dance to them. There are pirates that play ragga and hardcore, but there's a niche in the market for what clubbers want to hear. Hardcore rave music is dying anyway - it's on a dark and devious tip at the moment. Girls especially don't like it.'

The proof comes when you listen to the station. Rick's DJs play this particular breed of up-tempo soul - plus some of the latest fad, tesko, which is a hybrid of techno and disco - back to back, without naming artists, and interrupting only to say things like 'Big shout goes out to the cherry-flavoured tunes posse. . .'. This is music you could technically dance round your bedroom to forever. They give out a mobile phone number, on which callers send in their best wishes, or provide their names and addresses for a mailing list. The phone rings constantly, and most of the callers are women aged between 18 and 25.

Richie has a reason for the mailing list. With listeners stretching from deepest Surrey north into Middlesex, the opportunity for getting a night club off the ground was staring him in the face. 'The idea is to get 1,000 members together - we've got about 600 now - and then offer them free entry to a Monday night club where they can hear more of this type of music. The original 1,000 get in free, and hopefully the vibe grows. I just like the idea of having everyone involved, so there's no barriers between 'star' DJs and listeners. What I really want one day is to make this a promotional station, like you have shopping channels on Sky TV. But our style is we don't announce records, so that when a lot of people call up to know what a certain track is, we know it's hot. That's also useful information for people who run record shops.'

The way they see it, they play records by up-and-coming artists who don't mind not receiving their PRS (Performing Rights Society) payment because they prefer the exposure. 'We're pretty strict here,' says Richie. 'Nobody ever mentions drugs, for instance.'

I'm taken to that weekend's studio location, at the top of an old private house. A couple of lads stand at the decks doing a 'back-to-back' - alternating between tracks. 'I think we've got a happy vibe here,' says Rick, who represents something of a backlash against the old- school of opportunist rave music promoter. 'Not many DJs will share their spot like this. We have about 30 DJs who want to play for us.'

Richie pulls back the net curtain and points at a nearby block of flats. 'There used to be a station there, but all the equipment was nicked. The great thing about here is, I admit that a few of the people involved have done some dodgy things in the past, but they behave well here. We've never had a single thing gone missing from our studio.

'Every weekend we move the decks to a new place. You have a link transmitter which sends the signal to a bigger transmitter, which is usually on top of a tower block. It has a 24-foot aluminium mast, but the whole thing packs up into a sports bag. We keep the power turned fairly low so as not to ruin TV and radio reception for the residents. Some people wouldn't bother with that.' Richie finds new locations all over the place - a strictly samizdat activity, since it is illegal to aid pirates in any way. 'You can do this from anywhere,' says Rick. 'A pub, a basement, even an ice cream van. We're working on that one.'

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