How London's online radio stations are lighting up the airwaves during lockdown

Bringing our city to your living room

It’s quiet, too quiet. So if you are finding lockdown’s soundtrack of silence a little (or overly) oppressive, grab the internet’s radio dials and get twizzling. For London’s local radio stations, all friendly, familiar (albeit often unsung beyond the already initiated) neighbourhood heroes at the best of times, have stepped up to the mic in the absence of the usual noise and turned it up to 11 over the last month of quarantine, beacons of curated, quality content (by which I probably mean DJs) and voices from the everyday (also DJs) to steer you through these unsettled hours.

With nowhere to go, and no one to see, most of us are simply grateful for having someone else’s schedule to stick to (although the beauty of internet radio is that you can always listen back). Soho Radio, for instance, have spent the past four weeks setting up numerous radio stations at presenters’ homes to keep the airwaves alive. In peacetime the online station (which won Time Out magazine’s Event of the Decade for a 12-hour street party it hosted last year) hosts 200 stations, and lockdown hasn’t slowed them down. “A voice in your home to keep you company can be a lifeline,” says Rachael Bird, Soho Radio’s studio manager. “It’s always nice to have a voice on air that feels as though they are talking to just you.” Whether that’s the daily 9am culture show from Claire Lynch, still hosted from her home in the heart of Soho (ah, we miss Soho), or the roster of DJs still spinning through “self-isolation sessions” — tune in for Pete Paphides, Steve Mason and Norman Jay MBE — it’s music to stay home to.

The Soho Radio Vinyl Sessions, available on YouTube and being replayed on air, are also worth revisiting: artists from Paul Weller to Sampa the Great recording two tracks straight to dubplate. Tune in at sohoradiolondon.com. On NTS Radio, Hackney’s beloved online radio bastion, they’re still putting out a service 24/7.

Hosts like James Massiah, the inimitable spoken-word wunderkind, and Flo Dill, the mastermind behind the World in Flo Motion hour, have also been uploading their own survival guide videos to the station’s Instagram page documenting their efforts to pass the time on lockdown (“I wake up, make coffee, listen to Charlie Bones and that makes me feel happy”). Live, from their bedrooms to yours, at nts.live.


The best concert films: From Stop Making Sense to Homecoming


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1/8 Homecoming (2019)

Homecoming is Beyonce’s grandest, greatest statement. Across 137 minutes, we see each of her sides: the human, the superhuman, and the leader both political and artistic.

The film covers her two nights headlining Coachella and the eight months of fervid preparation that preceded it. We’re let into Beyonce’s creative process, as she obsesses over both minute details and the overarching message of the show. She was the first black woman to top the bill at the festival, and quotes from black cultural icons such as Nina Simone and Toni Morrison intersperse the masterfully edited footage.

The 200-strong crew of performers, handpicked by Beyonce from historically black colleges and universities, are captured in all their explosive energy. But it’s Queen Bey who remains the magnetic focal point, as shots of the utterly enraptured crowd remind us. Getty Images for Coachella

2/8 Stop Making Sense (1984)

Some consider this the best concert film ever, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Stop Making Sense is part rock concert, part theatre performance, part arthouse cinema, masterfully directed by the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme, whose cameras are all-seeing but never intrusive. They catch frontman David Byrne’s eccentric sparks, and steal glances at genuinely joyful moments shared by his Talking Heads bandmates. It’s all choreographed to a tee, with the stage building gradually around Byrne as other musicians emerge one by one.

Still, it would fall flat were it not for the brilliance of the band. It’s hard to describe just how wondrously good Talking Heads are here — the vigour of Life Of During Wartime, the flooring romance of This Must Be The Place — but, luckily, we don’t have to. The film captures all that and more.

3/8 Soul Power (2008)

In 1974, the city of Kinshasa in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) was gearing up to host the Rumble in the Jungle.

The heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was to be accompanied by a music festival but, a week before the fight, Foreman injured his eye, postponing the match. The festival, known as Zaire 74, had to proceed as planned, and is the subject of this vivid documentary. It’s fascinatingly candid, with snippets of Ali discussing the racial politics of the day, but best of all is, of course, the music.

James Brown is the iridescent showman, Bill Withers is supremely understated, and BB King delivers lick after devastating lick. The concert was almost forgotten in the shadow of the boxing match, which took place five weeks later, but Soul Power brings it back into the light it deserves.

4/8 Bjork: Biophilia Live (2014)

Biophilia Live is superb not because it is a film of a great concert, but rather because it makes the most of being a film. It’s a psychedelic trip, layering footage of Bjork’s 2013 gig at Alexandra Palace with post-production visuals of twitching starfish, underwater tendrils and microbial waltzes.

It makes for an immersive watch, and were it not for the occasional cheer from the crowd, you might easily forget that this is a concert at all. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in the musical side of things, from the excellent 24-strong female voice choir to the innovative on-stage instruments, many of which were invented just for the album.

5/8 Nirvana: Live at Reading (2009)

Many point to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set or Live at the Paramount as the band’s greatest moment caught on film, but there’s a transfixing recklessness to Live at Reading that makes it essential viewing. Captured in 1992 as they headlined the English festival, it was the last time Nirvana would ever play here.

Rumours swirled prior to the show — supposedly the band was about to crumble under the weight of Kurt Cobain’s addictions. The frontman responded with a smirk, arriving on stage in a wheelchair and dressed in a hospital gown. He stood, collapsed theatrically, got back up, and then launched into an excoriating 25-song set.

This was Nirvana at their hulking best — Cobain’s insolence is thrilling, and Dave Grohl is Herculean on drums. It’s all captured with minimal production, left gloriously raw.

6/8 The Last Waltz (1978)

Canadian-American rockers The Band clearly had friends in high places, and when they came together to play this farewell gig in San Francisco, they called in a few favours — Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond and more all turned up. They even enlisted Martin Scorsese, who shot the whole thing with typical elegance.

There’s a feeling of celebration from the off, with Scorsese deciding to place footage of the encore as his first scene. Despite its star-studded cast, there are some moments of endearing fallibility here, such as when Eric Clapton suffers a malfunctioning guitar strap midway through a solo. Above all, though, it’s a chance to reminisce on a rare gathering of some of the 20th century’s greatest musicians.

7/8 Madstock! (1992)

On the evening of August 8, 1992, tower blocks in north London began to shake.

Residents panicked; police received reports of shattered windows. Could it be an earthquake? Alas, this wasn’t a quiver from the little known Islington-Haringey fault line — it was a Madness gig in Finsbury Park.

The theory goes that, as the ska band launched into a song, the audience (“35,000 slightly overweight blokes”, as frontman Suggs later put it) all jumped at once. The impact as they landed resonated through the London Basin below the park, causing the ground to shake for miles around. Watching the footage now, it all makes sense.

As the opening thud of One Step Beyond kicks in, the crowd begins to skank en masse, and the seismic energy barely dips throughout the set. The film is a heartening reminder of the weird, brilliant things that can happen once we’re all allowed back within an arm’s length of each other — with apologies to the neighbours. Getty Images

8/8 Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That! (2006)

In the lead up to the Beastie Boys’ sold-out homecoming concert at Madison Square Garden in 2004, the band handed out 50 camcorders to friends and fans with tickets to the show.

The instructions were simple: film everything and give us the camcorders back afterwards. Footage from each device was then stitched together for a raucous, lo-fi thrill ride of a film. It’s a choppy watch — anyone prone to seasickness should steer clear — but there are some humorous gems among the carnage.

At one point, a fan documents a toilet break during an extended instrumental jam, and at another the camera zooms in on an unwitting Ben Stiller as he mouths along to the lyrics. In a peculiar twist of luck, one filmer even picks out what seems to be a young, pre-fame Donald Glover enjoying himself in the crowd.

1/8 Homecoming (2019)

Homecoming is Beyonce’s grandest, greatest statement. Across 137 minutes, we see each of her sides: the human, the superhuman, and the leader both political and artistic.

The film covers her two nights headlining Coachella and the eight months of fervid preparation that preceded it. We’re let into Beyonce’s creative process, as she obsesses over both minute details and the overarching message of the show. She was the first black woman to top the bill at the festival, and quotes from black cultural icons such as Nina Simone and Toni Morrison intersperse the masterfully edited footage.

The 200-strong crew of performers, handpicked by Beyonce from historically black colleges and universities, are captured in all their explosive energy. But it’s Queen Bey who remains the magnetic focal point, as shots of the utterly enraptured crowd remind us. Getty Images for Coachella

2/8 Stop Making Sense (1984)

Some consider this the best concert film ever, and it’s hard to argue otherwise.

Stop Making Sense is part rock concert, part theatre performance, part arthouse cinema, masterfully directed by the Oscar-winning Jonathan Demme, whose cameras are all-seeing but never intrusive. They catch frontman David Byrne’s eccentric sparks, and steal glances at genuinely joyful moments shared by his Talking Heads bandmates. It’s all choreographed to a tee, with the stage building gradually around Byrne as other musicians emerge one by one.

Still, it would fall flat were it not for the brilliance of the band. It’s hard to describe just how wondrously good Talking Heads are here — the vigour of Life Of During Wartime, the flooring romance of This Must Be The Place — but, luckily, we don’t have to. The film captures all that and more.

3/8 Soul Power (2008)

In 1974, the city of Kinshasa in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) was gearing up to host the Rumble in the Jungle.

The heavyweight bout between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman was to be accompanied by a music festival but, a week before the fight, Foreman injured his eye, postponing the match. The festival, known as Zaire 74, had to proceed as planned, and is the subject of this vivid documentary. It’s fascinatingly candid, with snippets of Ali discussing the racial politics of the day, but best of all is, of course, the music.

James Brown is the iridescent showman, Bill Withers is supremely understated, and BB King delivers lick after devastating lick. The concert was almost forgotten in the shadow of the boxing match, which took place five weeks later, but Soul Power brings it back into the light it deserves.

4/8 Bjork: Biophilia Live (2014)

Biophilia Live is superb not because it is a film of a great concert, but rather because it makes the most of being a film. It’s a psychedelic trip, layering footage of Bjork’s 2013 gig at Alexandra Palace with post-production visuals of twitching starfish, underwater tendrils and microbial waltzes.

It makes for an immersive watch, and were it not for the occasional cheer from the crowd, you might easily forget that this is a concert at all. Still, there is plenty to enjoy in the musical side of things, from the excellent 24-strong female voice choir to the innovative on-stage instruments, many of which were invented just for the album.

5/8 Nirvana: Live at Reading (2009)

Many point to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged set or Live at the Paramount as the band’s greatest moment caught on film, but there’s a transfixing recklessness to Live at Reading that makes it essential viewing. Captured in 1992 as they headlined the English festival, it was the last time Nirvana would ever play here.

Rumours swirled prior to the show — supposedly the band was about to crumble under the weight of Kurt Cobain’s addictions. The frontman responded with a smirk, arriving on stage in a wheelchair and dressed in a hospital gown. He stood, collapsed theatrically, got back up, and then launched into an excoriating 25-song set.

This was Nirvana at their hulking best — Cobain’s insolence is thrilling, and Dave Grohl is Herculean on drums. It’s all captured with minimal production, left gloriously raw.

6/8 The Last Waltz (1978)

Canadian-American rockers The Band clearly had friends in high places, and when they came together to play this farewell gig in San Francisco, they called in a few favours — Bob Dylan, Ronnie Wood, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Muddy Waters, Neil Diamond and more all turned up. They even enlisted Martin Scorsese, who shot the whole thing with typical elegance.

There’s a feeling of celebration from the off, with Scorsese deciding to place footage of the encore as his first scene. Despite its star-studded cast, there are some moments of endearing fallibility here, such as when Eric Clapton suffers a malfunctioning guitar strap midway through a solo. Above all, though, it’s a chance to reminisce on a rare gathering of some of the 20th century’s greatest musicians.

7/8 Madstock! (1992)

On the evening of August 8, 1992, tower blocks in north London began to shake.

Residents panicked; police received reports of shattered windows. Could it be an earthquake? Alas, this wasn’t a quiver from the little known Islington-Haringey fault line — it was a Madness gig in Finsbury Park.

The theory goes that, as the ska band launched into a song, the audience (“35,000 slightly overweight blokes”, as frontman Suggs later put it) all jumped at once. The impact as they landed resonated through the London Basin below the park, causing the ground to shake for miles around. Watching the footage now, it all makes sense.

As the opening thud of One Step Beyond kicks in, the crowd begins to skank en masse, and the seismic energy barely dips throughout the set. The film is a heartening reminder of the weird, brilliant things that can happen once we’re all allowed back within an arm’s length of each other — with apologies to the neighbours. Getty Images

8/8 Awesome; I F***in’ Shot That! (2006)

In the lead up to the Beastie Boys’ sold-out homecoming concert at Madison Square Garden in 2004, the band handed out 50 camcorders to friends and fans with tickets to the show.

The instructions were simple: film everything and give us the camcorders back afterwards. Footage from each device was then stitched together for a raucous, lo-fi thrill ride of a film. It’s a choppy watch — anyone prone to seasickness should steer clear — but there are some humorous gems among the carnage.

At one point, a fan documents a toilet break during an extended instrumental jam, and at another the camera zooms in on an unwitting Ben Stiller as he mouths along to the lyrics. In a peculiar twist of luck, one filmer even picks out what seems to be a young, pre-fame Donald Glover enjoying himself in the crowd.

Balamii, beaming original mixes from Peckham, with a fixed-but-flexible focus on playing the best and brightest curations of house, techno and garage from SE15, can be found at player.balamii.com. On Worldwide FM, stuck in his basement with more than 50,000 records in his collection, Gilles Peterson has been using his time in lockdown to explore his back catalogue and round up “The 20” favourite songs across the station’s most celebrated genres: from Brit funk to Brazilian jazz, disco to broken beat.

That’s on Thursdays at 9am on worldwidefm.net. Look, we’re not saying lockdown ambience — the birdsong, the NHS clap, the occasional rumble of an Ocado delivery truck — doesn’t have its moments. But if you can’t travel, at least your ears can.

Tune in.

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