Feature – Broadcasting From the Back Streets of Leeds

Feature – Broadcasting From the Back Streets of Leeds

Filling a much needed void in what otherwise is a fantastic city for music and nightlife, the recently established KMAH radio broadcasts a remarkable combination of sounds to its ever growing fanbase. Inspiring thoughts of old pirate stations, the “independent radio station broadcasting from the backstreets of Leeds,” plays out 12 hours a day, from noon until midnight, the majority of that being fresh content, promoting the best of the sounds coming from the North’s musical underground. The name derives from the collective involved in its creation: music journalist Kristan J Caryl, DJ Mike Stockell, web genius MikeLawton, label boss Arthur Barr and ButterSideUp founder and Wire promotions manager DJ Hamish Cole. They all worked for over 18 months to create the station, which is now serving as the city’s new musical hub, bringing its various musical strands together.

‘It’s hard to imagine why nothing like this already existed in the city given its rich party scene,’ says co-founder Kristan, who writes for the likes of RA, XLR8R and Attack Magazine. Given the widespread praise the station has received in just over six months, this is a bit of mystery. Indeed, in its short lifetime, KMAH has developed into a pivotal cog in the whirring machine of Leeds’ constantly evolving (and arguably unbeaten) party and quality dance music scene outside London. But it is a related issue which has served as one of the main motivations behind the KMAH project.

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Whilst weekends in Leeds have a rich buzz about them, the type of scene which gets mentioned in discussions about places like London, Berlin and Glasgow simply does not get applied to Leeds, and perhaps unfairly. As such the city has witnessed the occasional exodus of DJ talents and parties; one glaringly recent example being the absence of Louche over the past 18 months. Kristan explains the response of KMAH: ‘The hope was, and remains, that this radio station serves as some sort of community that brings people together and keeps them in the city’.

This fundamental drive to create and foster a community is the key philosophy behind the station and is evident everywhere in the operational HQ in the city centre. Curiously found either by walking through a popular hair salon or up a questionably safe external staircase, the studio’s décor recognises elements of what Leeds has on offer: from posters of soul nights at The Wardrobe to local art and music publications on the desk, to a display of SubDub flyers on the wall opposite a framed collection of some of Arthur Barr’s releases on his Leeds based Fullbarr label. This is combined with some essentials of a studio: a computer, decks, a mixer and speakers and a fridge full of booze. Whilst the space of the station of small, its roster in no way shares that same characteristic, with its large and impressive collective of DJs including the likes of house legend Maurice Fulton and disco-compiling Bill Brewster, with guest appearances from Octave One, Mr Beatnick and DJ October. It also features guest mixes from the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Jeen Bassa, and Amir Alexander. That being said, the station’s success can be measured just as much by its quality, as by its variety. One of the appealing features of KMAH is that the generated community is not an exclusive or cliquey one but looks outward to work with as much of the talent out there as possible. ‘The diversity was always key to KMAH. We don’t just want to play house mixes all day long… we want to be more,’ explains Kristan, supported by only the briefest of looks at the schedule which showcases a plethora of funk, ambient, electro,jazz, Balearic, latin music and even the occasional horror soundtrack special, catering to whatever your ears could possibly desire.

Combine this variety and list of recognised artists with all manner of parties being thrown in Leeds being represented on the KMAH airwaves and what begins to form is a vast community which looks very promising for the city, and the North in general. ‘It is the local collectors and musical fanatics that really get us excited and who we are keen to showcase to the wider world. ‘If KMAH continues to succeed it will undoubtedly go along way to taking this local crew of artists to a national audience.

With the wildly eclectic output that is on offer, it should be unsurprising that the station has received plaudits from DJ Mag, Independent  Leeds, The Skinny and The Guardian. This acclaim have also gone hand in hand with KMAH working closely with nights in Leeds which has seen them playing as a collective at Beaverworks and the highly anticipated opening night of Headrow House along with collaborations with Boiler Room at Belgrave. This almost immediate success did not come without its troubles however. I ask whether there were any problems in making KMAH happen, considering as it was a new venture for all involved. A long list of tedious logistical problems emerge including finding space, raising funds for the station’s kit, creating and maintaining a website, promo, enlisting artists, and organising the schedule. This hard work for all involved, Kristan explains, could perhaps be the answer to why Leeds was without a KMAH-like station for so long.

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However, these various hitches and glitches along the way are looked upon proudly as a testament to remaining independent. ‘Our lives would have been 100% easier if we could have just tapped up someone at NTS or Redlight and asked them how to go about getting started. But we didn’t, and wouldn’t have even if we could, because that would be lame. Instead we learnt on the job, spent hours on Google and many more hours doing trial and error experiments until we were reasonably confident we had a system that worked.’ Troublesome though this approach may have been, what emerges is a station which the founders can consider wholly theirs. And it is this attitude which certainly cements their description of KMAH as an ‘independent radio station broadcasting from the back streets of Leeds’ and as such makes the appreciation for the station all the more rewarding.

When asked about the future plans of the station, recent collaborations with Manchester’s renowned Warehouse Project, Boiler Room at Belgrave and appearances at Beaver Works seem to be the start of future party plans which are still in the planning stage along with a birthday bash in the pipeline too. Elsewhere Jane Fitz is pencilled in for a special appearance and others will be added, usually with little notice. As the station demands are so intense little can be planned beyond a week advance. Having said that whilst Kristan says that currently ‘there is no grand plan’ for KMAH, he insists that the overall intention ‘is to be here for a long time.’

Let’s hope so, because as it stands the station has formed an impressive grouping of artists consisting not only recognised DJs but the promising sounds of Leeds’ selectors, young and old, from techno to reggae, who for too long have gone unheard of outside Yorkshire. Doing all of this, whilse staying on track to retaining their independent approach, and who knows, maybe in a few years time the Leeds scene will be nationally recognised, as it deserves to be. If so, credit is due to the station that is making that increasingly possible.

Listen to KMAH Radio here (12pm to 12am, 7 days a week): http://kmah-radio.com

Chris Caden

(Photo Credits: KMAH; The Skinny)

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