Dalston’s NTS Radio set for tour after making waves around the world

Director Sean McAuliffe and founder and CEO Femi Adeyemi

Director Sean McAuliffe and founder and CEO Femi Adeyemi - Credit: Archant

On seeing its humble studio in Gillett Square, Dalston, you’d be forgiven for thinking NTS Radio was struggling to stay on the air. You couldn’t be more wrong, as Sam Gelder found out when he spoke to MD Sean McAuliffe

Yasiin Bey and Lord Tusk did a set last year

Yasiin Bey and Lord Tusk did a set last year - Credit: Archant

An online radio station is set to burst out of its Gillett Square studio and give thousands of its listeners around the world the live experience.

NTS was founded in 2011 by DJ Femi Adeyemi as a rejection of commercial radio and features no adverts and a diverse musical output summed up by its slogan – “Don’t Assume”.

You could be listening to drone music one hour and “psychedelic country” the next – a range only increasing with the growing list of DJs and artists queueing up for a slot. There are now 250 hosts across the world, with studios in Los Angeles, Shanghai, Glasgow and Manchester to add to the tiny hut in Gillett Square, where it has been since it launched.

And last week the team received funding from Arts Council England to showcase its underground London artists on the world stage as they embark on The NTS International Festival Tour. Not bad for a business that started out with three staff and a dream.

Neneh Cherry at the station

Neneh Cherry at the station - Credit: Archant

“We were over the moon when we found out,” says managing director Sean McAuliffe. “It’s an incredible opportunity to showcase artists internationally.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure where we’ll be playing but so far we’re thinking festivals in Athens, Montreal, potentially Uganda, Echo Park Concrete & Grass Music Festival in Shanghai and Supersense in Melbourne.”

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The line-up will feature artists or DJs with shows on the station and the aim is to not only help them export their sound, but collaborate with artists they would not normally have the chance to work with.

On its launch, the station was known for its strong Hackney sound, and despite its enormous success the East End core remains – about half of the artists these days are still from London.

Stewart Lee broadcasting from the Gillett Square station

Stewart Lee broadcasting from the Gillett Square station - Credit: Archant

But Sean, who has lived in Hackney for 20 years, believes things are changing for the worse in the borough.

“At the start it was very Hackney orientated,” he continues. “Everyone who started on it was a Hackney resident and there’s still a lot of Hackney artists.

“A lot of young people with the best ideas are from Hackney, but it is changing. I’ve seen it become less creative because of the gentrification. It’s been driven out to places like Tottenham and Deptford.

“But Gillett Square hasn’t been gentrified at all and that’s why we love it.”

The NTS studio

The NTS studio - Credit: Archant

These days, NTS, through various media (the website, mobile apps, mixcloud) has more than 360,000 monthly listeners.

So what are people tuning in for?

“We don’t do playlists, we don’t play commercial pop and we have no traditional radio advertising,” explains Sean. “It’s free for listeners and we have quality artists that people want to hear. It’s music you don’t normally hear on the radio.”

Like what?

“We have anything from drone to jazz to deep techno to psychedelic country and ’80s Japanese digital music.

“The station has grown from having a solid local network of artists. Now other artists feel like they want to be a part of it because we represent them musically and artistically. They get in touch with us and we reach out to artists, too – to people that we love, whether it’s for the music they play or the music they make.

“Sometimes they say: ‘F*** off, I’ve never heard of you.’ Other times they come and do a set.”

Joyce Wilson, Arts Council England’s London director, said the organisation wanted to help provide the opportunity for the station and the artists to show what they can do.

She said: “This exciting organisation is one to watch as it takes the vibrant talent of London from the underground to the world stage.”