“Don’t assume” – words that echo across a growing network of transmissions, voiced by a community that continues to shape and define the global music phenomenon that is NTS Radio. Borrowed from a jazz record by Maggie Nicols and Peter Nu, the tagline has come to encompass NTS’ many charms and idiosyncrasies – qualities that have fuelled its success as an independent station in a matter of twelve years, and a record label in just four.
NTS Radio began in April 2011, founded by Femi Adeyemi and co-run by Sean McAuliffe from a low-key London base in Dalston’s Gillett Square. Now, the platform has additional studios in Manchester and Los Angeles, and continues to broadcast music from over 50 cities and 500 residents.
So to close out 2023, it feels fitting to celebrate the independent online platform, its community, and nascent label. No strangers to the airwaves, the hosts of this month’s episode are Flo Dill of The Breakfast Show, and Samuel Strang, NTS's Head of Music and host behind the SNZ show.
During this year’s final installment, the duo weave brazilian funk, dungeon synth, and Amapiano into discussions surrounding the importance of the label in today’s music landscape, NTS’s varied musical output, and the processes behind making its upcoming compilations.
Samuel Strang (NTS Head of Music, host of the SNZ Show)
What was the impetus for launching NTS Records in 2019?
Samuel Strang: The intention was to build something out from the existing NTS setup. After finding our footing over a couple years, the label now feels in a position where it can influence the broader direction we take at NTS, as much as be informed by it.
Can you tell us about the artists that you work with and the processes behind releasing their records?
Samuel Strang: Most of the artists we work with are usually a natural extension of the broader NTS setup and artists that we have existing relationships with. With Amaarae, for example, we had previously worked with her on a few projects. Rosa Pistola, meanwhile, is a well-loved resident host on the station and we released a standalone record from her a few years ago, so it was always a natural direction. Particularly with the Cumbiaton Total compilation, and the Singeli Sound project before that, it has been nice to document the artists and their creative approach with documentary footage, especially given the nature of the releases. But it is also about trying to retain the general spirit of NTS, and keep our approach as flexible and broad with each release.How much does NTS Radio itself influence the label?
Does inspiration come from discovering new music on the platform?
Samuel Strang: It is an influence and a resource, as much as anything. The label isn't meant to operate as a traditional label; it is meant to be a collaborative structure to have incoming people contribute to the curation. A lot of us have overlapping roles at NTS so, whether it is radio, events, or a label project, all components are usually interwoven across NTS in various ways.
What upcoming releases can we expect from the label?
Samuel Strang: We have the first compilation in a series called FUNK.BR, documenting the most biting funk out of Brazil just now. We are starting in São Paulo, working with Jonathan and Felipe there, and it proudly features notable names like Mu540, Blakes, and Arana, alongside a wicked web of more emerging names. It hopefully is a snapshot of the city's current scenes and sounds.
We then have an upcoming archive compilation called European Primitive Guitar, that picks out a selection of largely private press recordings from the 70s and 80s that is a collection of transatlantic equivalents to Fahey's vision of American Primitivism, and some totally otherworldly adventures in instrumental guitar.
What do you find most challenging about the work you do?
Samuel Strang: Our primary focus is on compilation projects and, whether you are talking about contemporary music scenes or archive projects, you just want to avoid being clumsy and grouping artists together without reason. We want to make sure that the purpose of the release is to reflect and support those artists, and the scenes they are from with real value, rather than just some butterfly collector shit.
What do you think has been the label’s biggest hit so far?
Samuel Strang: Possible by DBN Gogo and Musa Keys. Shannen and Joe, who were central to pulling together Amapiano Now, were concerned that the song had already had so much time in the sun when it was signed for the compilation. The track had been rinsed across the scene and had even broken onto radio as an unofficial audio rip. But it was refreshing to play a role in establishing it as what is now a vital Amapiano anthem; finding a broader audience for the song and the compilation, and helping achieve some broader international coverage for the genre.
What distinguishes the NTS label from others?
Samuel Strang: I feel record labels have had to reflect in recent years. After being in natural positions of power for so long, there needed to be more of a sense of how a label setup can contribute to an artist and their career. We don't have the setup or resources to promise structure and long-term commitment. But as a result, we are geared around short and sharp collaboration with artists, and trying to make some real impact.
How did you go about selecting the tracks for your Carhartt WIP Radio show?
Samuel Strang: We played a mix of music from some forthcoming releases and a collection of some past music we released. It's a bit of a clusterfuck – it jumps from Amapiano to ambient and black metal – but, with that, it hopefully reflects a bit of what we are about.
Flo Dill (Host of The NTS Breakfast Show & Digging with Flo)
Can you tell us about your background and how you got into music?
Flo Dill: I always thought I would go into journalism: I did History at university which I loved, and was also very interested in media and broadcasting. I did a year abroad in Berlin, which is a fantastic place as a young person interested in history, but I was also becoming interested in DJing after running club nights with a friend, and of course it’s great for that too. I became totally immersed in club culture and dance music, as people often do there, and was volunteering at Berlin Community Radio. Later when I went back to London, it was NTS. So, it all just snowballed from there. Working at NTS opened me up to a whole world of music I didn’t know before, and it feels like doing The Breakfast Show is the culmination of all of those years, soaking up all sorts of music, and meeting all sorts of people.
What records from the past shaped your life?
Flo Dill: Too many to properly get into, but something that really shifted and opened up my taste as a young adult was a mix CD called The Elegant 80s that Zack Cowie and Andrew Cabic put together for Dublab. Once I listened to that mix, I was off to the races. Hearing The Blue Nile for the first time on that CD, for example, was extremely influential for me.
What is the most obscure record you have in your collection?
Flo Dill: I have lots of obscure things I have bought over the years, a lot of them not very good. I used to prize obscurity over quality, and it does still hold interest for me, but I have moved on from that largely, I think. I love pop culture, including popular music, and that is more interesting to me now; why people gravitate en masse to things, what things have united people, music that inspires people. Maybe it’s because I do a breakfast show, which in its nature, has to have more of a mass appeal, but also, I think it’s a conscious rejection of musical snobbery and boring vinyl fetishism. I am not particularly bothered about ‘having’ music that other people don’t, now I am more concerned with the presentation of it. But I suppose the answer lies in my 7 inch boxes – some terrible UK private press soft rock from the 1980s or something.
Are there other art forms that influence you in the same way music does?
Flo Dill: Yes, definitely. I like visual art, especially painting. I like architecture a lot too, and urban planning: my best friend is a brilliant architect, and she’ll often take me to see interesting buildings, or we will go for walks around the city and just look at things. I find London very influential and inspiring in my work; the way different people intersect, and the cultural output of that – all these things happening concurrently in a massive sprawling city, which can be a hostile and challenging place. The urban environment of London has probably inspired me more than anything else. I’m not sure if that counts as an art form, but it feels like one to me. And the things that are definitely art – art with a capital ‘A’ - that are born out of London I find get to me more than anything else, including in a musical sense. Grime, for example, or UK street soul, or contemporary music coming out of distinctly London scenes – I love it.
How do you spend your days without music?
Flo Dill: I listen to a lot of talk radio and podcasts when I’m not listening to music. I like learning things and listening to people having a chat. I love cooking and I like to listen to things like This Cultural Life, or football podcasts when I’m making something that takes a long time. I garden a lot, I make ceramics, and I like exploring London. But I spend a lot of time with music, especially when I’m prepping my show. I have to go through lots of new releases, as well as discovering old music for it, so the hours really add up. But it’s a complete pleasure to do.