Hundreds of hours. Thousands of words. Countless tracks. Endless collaborators and contributors. For the past 10 years, Carhartt WIP Radio has brought a monthly dosage of eclectic, esoteric sounds to you, from renowned DJs and record-label owners dotted all over the globe. We’ve never been ones to blow our own horn or revel in nostalgia – but, at times, it’s worth looking back. Here, we present a potted history of our own little station in the landscape of digital broadcasting over the past decade, as well as digging out some of our favorite shows.
Imagine a world without open access to media. An absence of the democratic playground of the internet, where everything you could ever want is no longer conveniently at your fingertips. No live-streams or album download torrents, looping GIFs of music videos or shared online playlists. Yet, just over ten years ago, this was reality. Mass media companies were still experimenting with digital programming, as only a prescient few took advantage of its immediacy and capacity to reach wider audiences. The internet was - and still is - a breeding ground for pirated audio and illegal file sharing, and the notion of legitimate online streaming services, such as Spotify and Last.fm, was only just coming to fruition. Even this, relative to what we see and hear now, just skimmed the surface of DAB’s potential.
At the same time, Carhartt WIP’s music label, Combination Records, was on its last legs. The rising popularity of digital streaming and peer-to-peer sharing saw the independent label, and others like it, become defunct; the entire record industry was feeling the effect. Soon, the label’s managers, Philipp Maiburg, Frank D’Arpino and Michael Leuffen, would seek an alternative that would keep their universe alive – one which, over the years, had tethered the brand to multiple independent music scenes. But how do you adapt to a rapid shift in media distribution without compromising your core beliefs?
Carhartt WIP Radio, a digital station that would broadcast once a month, was born in November 2008. In response to the waning popularity of independent record labels, it swung the spotlight back on them, devoting shows to imprints such as Innervisions, L.I.E.S, Awesome Tapes from Africa and Huntleys + Palmers. Founders of each label were invited to showcase their rosters of artists and discuss inspirations, reconceptualizing the role of indie labels in the digital age. This was a symbolic grouping of artists with shared tastes, rather than one intended to break the next chart-topping record. Over the years, shows featured artists Madlib, Funkineven, James Pants, Dez Andrés and others playing mixes of their own back catalogues, alongside longform interviews that aired their views on music and culture. Speaking to Carhartt WIP Radio in 2016, Matt Black of Ninja Tune reflected that, “whether you’re an artist or a label… you have to find some way to stand out from the crowd.” The station served as the space for both to do just that.
In its formative years, few would have predicted how digital radio would reconfigure the broadcasting landscape. We now view independent online platforms like NTS, Know Wave and Boiler Room as modern industry pillars, both online and offline. We look to them for an education in alternative art and culture - one previously absent from mainstream commentary. The medium is again fostering a sense of community, allowing like-minded people to build and share beyond the confines of terrestrial radio. These stations went from local to worldwide.
UK-based stations Kiss FM and Rinse began in the 1990s as pirate stations, both localized celebrations of Britain’s burgeoning dance and grime scenes. They functioned as spaces for local communities and artists to connect with each other and showcase the sounds that commercial radio did not. This was “neighborhood music” – a term Detroit-based artist DJ Andrés coined in an interview with Carhartt WIP Radio – and these stations gave space to those previously ignored by mainstream media, diversifying the landscape.
We have come a long way since the 1960s, when public radio was owned by the government in the UK. Pirate radio pioneers took matters into their own hands back then, broadcasting shows out at sea, from boats and abandoned forts, all for the love of music and people. That sense of anarchy and defiance remains an undercurrent in digital radio (incidentally, illegal file-sharing site Napster attempted to circumvent U.S. laws in 2001 by hosting its servers on Sealand, a deserted military base in the North Sea – its owner seized the base from pirate broadcasters in 1967 with the aim of setting up his own station.)
Today, radio stands for people, community-driven and broadcasting beyond borders. This spirit has woven itself through Carhartt WIP Radio throughout the past ten years. And that love of music and community, is what keeps it alive.