In this new series, MEOKO shines a spotlight on different projects, venues and activities outside the borders of our beloved UK. We travel or look back at foreign, neighbouring, exotic and desolate places to point out those – who have been or remain the most inspiring, seldom but utterly brilliant to all of us audiophiles.
For the first episode of this series MEOKO takes us back to Amsterdam. Inside the Red Light District; among prostitutes, sex shops, casinos and some shady hostels there is a unique radio concept called Red Light Radio, broadcasting from an old prostitution window. Since its humble beginnings in 2011 initiators Hugo van Heijningen and Orpheu de Jong have amassed quite a following by bringing daily shows of both local and international DJ’s and hosting live performances diverging from House and Disco to Afro Beat, Black Metal and Punk.
In the past three years they’ve had some respectable artists over like Soul Clap, Gerd Janson, Jacques Renault, Motor City Drum Ensemble, Red Rack’Em, San Soda and many others. Besides a lot of Dutch artists find themselves as residents for RLR, with local heroes San Proper and Tom Trago bringing their own show. Red Light Radio is one of Amsterdam’s most exciting creative collectives; making damn good radio and being a hotbed for up and coming, talented musicians.
MEOKO spoke to Hugo van Heijningen about the concept, the location and the stories.
Could you tell us a little bit about the process you came up with the idea to start Red Light Radio? How did you end up in the Red Light District among prostitutes and sex shops?
We wanted to share good music to the world with many friends having a great record collection. The idea was to broadcast 3 months, but now we already passed 3 years of making radio. We really wanted the radio to be visible from the street. We had our eyes on the Red Light District since this neighborhood is undergoing a heavy transformation the city is trying to reduce the prostitution in the district and spaces are opening up for creative initiatives. We got the chance to rent a space in here, and we learned to love this neighbourhood.
How do people often respond – eagerly on the look for a quick … walking past the studio and when they notice there is a DJ playing and not a half naked lady as expected?
This spot behind a former prostitution window is perfect and makes it a lot more special to make radio here compared to for instance a basement studio. It’s a crowded neighbourhood and everyone who passes by looks into the rooms and sometimes pushes an ear to our window.
How much of an effort was it to get the show off the ground? Was it a bedroom set up at first or…?
It’s still a bedroom set up! The old sex spaces are super small, so there’s no room for crazy equipment. All you need for internet radio is a computer, DJ set-up and a fast internet connection. That’s still all we have. When we had these things together, we started broadcasting and never stopped. We’re still using everything we bought at the very start.
Are there any particular kinds of artists you look for and ask to come perform?
We have a very broad range of artists and DJ’s coming by at our studio every day. So when this heavy metal show ends, a disco DJ takes over, followed by an experimental live set. As long as it’s good, we’re happy to broadcast any style. That’s the fun thing about Red Light Radio.
What is the craziest thing that happened during a show? There must be some funny stories…
We haven’t seen that many crazy things out here. Of course we see many dirty old men and stoned wacko’s passing by, we also do find some blood on our window from time to time. Actually today I found the packaging of a huge dildo in our backyard. Those things don’t really surprise me anymore and are not that crazy, right?
There are some other activities going on within the compound you’re based. Speaking of a record store, a studio and the guys from Dekmantel neighboring as well. Do you interact a lot? Does this makes it easier to come up with new ideas about the show?
Yeah, we sometimes do cool things together. We find great DJ’s digging in the record shop, and take ‘m to our studio to do a radio show. Also our radio makers buy records before their show. RLR co-founder Orpheu designs all record sleeves for the Dekmantel label and we host a stage on one of their upcoming festivals. The record shop owners, Dekmantel, Patta & musicians in our building make radio shows. We help and support each other a lot.
Last year Red Light Radio did an extensive tour, in which you brought the show abroad to the States and even to China. How did this started? What was the most important thing you tried to accomplish during the tour?
Like I said, internet radio needs a real simple set up. You can broadcast from anywhere. We went to the States to broadcast during music festivals, to Russia for an art project and China at an architecture biennial site. Very different things, but seems like making a red room and broadcast and share good (local) music is what lots of people and organizations like. And we like to travel!
Most important in these trips is to find local musical talent or great selectors to let the world hear what this countries underground scene is about.
Anything exciting in the pipeline for this year?
We’ll be broadcasting at the SXSW festival in Texas again, that will be killer. We have plans for Italy, Germany, UK & hopefully go to Moscow again. Also important we keep streaming the most exciting stuff out of our Amsterdam brothel of course and collaborate with more great partners.
If you had a theme tune, what would it be?
O.D.’d On Life Itself by Blue Oyster Cult
Finally, who’d you still honor to perform in your show?
So many great people did already visit our studio, but still so many we’d love to see here. Let’s hope for a live performance by R Kelly accompanied by Charles Manson on acoustic guitar some day.