A preview into the world of Red Light Radio with Hugo Van Heijningen
Set the course for Oudekerksplein 22. Here, right in the middle of Amsterdam's infamous Red Light District, amongst all the red windows establishments, coffee shops and close to the city's oldest landmark, the Oude Kerk, there's a place pushing a different sort of merchandise, in the form of hard to find, often fascinating and usually surprising music. RLR, a platform which in a broad sense is holding Red Light Radio, Red Light Records, Vintage Voudou, several recording studios and numerous other club, arts and culture related endeavors together, has been the occupant of this building for over seven years. Broadcasting and playing sounds from the obscurest afro to the coldest wave, the blackest metal or the newest electronics and everything in between, selling records and generally putting out quality stuff since 2010, RLR has become an internationally acclaimed platform and a mirror for Amsterdam's music diversity. A product of Hugo and Orpheu the Wizard's imagination and a natural evolution of their background as compulsive record diggers, RLR has managed to write a rich history for itself over the course of seven years.
Every heartfelt project like RLR starts from the people behind it. Tell us a bit about the personalities holding it together. Who is part of the team and who does what?
First of all, RLR is a community platform whose success is dependent on all our great DJs & supportive listeners. Myself & Orpheu are the founders of the station and still take care of the platform in the broadest way. From programming shows, to promoting parties & festivals, running our shop & buildings, organizing trips & collaborations, to cleaning the studio, which should happen a little more often, hehe. We have three dedicated part-time co-workers, a tech guy and two interns. We are a relatively small team for the stuff we do, but we somehow make it all work.
We all know what Red Light Radio is, where its name comes from and where to look for it. We're a little more interested in what it stands for though. What does RLR, the platform, mean in terms of the music and artists it pushes through? Where does it start and… does it end somewhere?
RLR stands for exploring music, at the radio, but also on events. It stands for bringing people together. For supporting talents and letting the world hear their passion. We're open to anyone we think are great, coming from any background, any age, any gender, any whatever. It's all about the music, and we try to keep it diverse, cause there's so much good stuff out there.
Speaking about its centerpiece which we believe would be the radio station itself. How does such a radio manage to exist? What keeps it alive? Both from a financial and motivational point of view.
Yes, the radio is the backbone of what we do. We feel it's relevant to have a central space, where everyone comes to share music and be part of something positive. It has been important for Amsterdam and it helped the strong scene that we have right now in our city. I think there's also a fertile global music scene, which we are part of. So being what we are right now, we're of course still motivated, cause it's so much fun. And there's more people out there who can join us, reach out to or collaborate with. Financially it's not that easy, but somehow, we can keep the radio independent by doing some side projects with events, festivals, brands, merchandise and all that. Money is not my favorite part of the operation, but it's amazing we're keeping it up for over 7 years now.
Red Light Radio always had a familiar feeling attached to it. It always felt that the artists and DJs hosting are somehow part of an extended circle, all bound together by the music they love. We're curious how this community took shape and how connections are established? Do producers and DJs simply gravitate around RLR or do you pick and choose who gets to host on certain criteria?
Our DJs are certainly not all from the same 'circle'. I hear this often, that it has a certain style, but I think it's more about the energy. A regular day broadcasting goes from ambient to black metal and from funk to techno. But it's great, it feels like it all connects. DJs have to be nice and play the music we like, because we are still listening to everything and going completely mad if we hear stuff we don't like. Which luckily happens very little. DJs at RLR are chosen on our personal taste. We always keep in mind to stay diverse and like to surprise our listeners with new shows in different styles. Of course, the station brought people together, we created a circle this way. Also, our buildings with recording studios of Young Marco, Vic Crezée, Interstellar Funk, Gilb'R, Jonny Nash & Suzanne Kraft, the two record stores, make our place one to connect.
You've started the radio station in 2010 and a lot have happened since then. With RLR and with the Amsterdam dance scene altogether. Walk us through RLR's evolution, from radio station and record store to platform, promoter and curator.
It all went very organic and things crossed our path at the right time maybe. We started as a temporary station, the goal was broadcasting 3 months, but we did a little more (ha!). At some point we could rent more buildings and created more space for cool initiatives. That's how Red Light Records, Music From Memory, recording studios etc, all found their beginning. Through RLR we met a lot of inspiring people and collaborated with everyone we liked. Big and small. Never afraid to try new things, so amongst all festivals, events & broadcasts, we also hosted movie screenings, art exhibitions, recording sessions and more. If it feels right and we have time, we're in. That's how it has always been. The Amsterdam scene is not that big, people know each other, help each other and are very supportive in general. This mentality is super important for how Amsterdam's music scene is now known in the world.
RLR, as a platform, is now established within the scene. Only last year you've done Dekmantel, you've toured South America, Asia and Africa, and you've opened a shop. I think it's safe to say the platform gained global recognition but RLR still doesn't feel like a brand with a business plan sketched out for it. It still feels organic. Does RLR still create its own path or its growth is something planned well ahead? And if so, what comes next?
You see that right, it all goes very organic, but of course we think about the next thing and need to plan to make things happen. You can say being loose and go with the flow is part of our strategy. Every year there are new things popping up, we're opening a new space in Amsterdam before the summer, going to travel to new places, right now talking to people in Bangladesh and India! The fun part of RLR is that we never really know what's next, but somehow there's always new amazing opportunities popping up.
Amsterdam is a place rich in vinyl, with numerous good record shops. What sets Red Light Records apart from other excellent places where you can get your wax fix, like Rush Hour for example? What's different in the way you curate and select what goes on the shelves and what doesn't?
We have two record shops in our building, Red Light Records & Vintage Voudou. Both known for their amazing curation, which I'm not involved with. The record shops have very limited space, so they really must think what to put in store. The guys all have many years of experience in digging and have a huge knowledge of music. But yes, many great stores in our little city are known and respected for new and second-hand vinyl.
RLR is doing club nights as well. Walk us through that. The radio station clearly has an identity of its own and is a lot more permissive from a musical point of view than a club night could be. Does it turn into a different animal when it's going out at night? And how does it fit in on the Amsterdam dance scene?
We've been throwing parties before we did the radio and now we do it under the RLR flag. Parties can be with punk bands and techno DJs all at one night. I love to see guys in metal patch jackets go wild on a techno set and ravers go mad in a mosh pit. Our listeners are all kinds of people, and so is our party crowd. The diversity in people makes our parties great. Lately we did a club tour with strictly electronic DJs/artists, and did a night with some doom/sludge bands. We don't always mix styles at one night, but try to do events as diverse as the radio schedule.
Last but not least, is RLR a product of its environment and an Amsterdam thing? Would the recipe be different if it were to exist in a remote corner of the world with no background of this sort, where music is harder to obtain and connections are harder to establish?
We are lucky to be in Amsterdam with so many inspiring things and opportunities. The city has great talents, concerts, clubs, festivals, record stores & labels. The supportive environment of our music scene is something special, and I believe it could be harder to establish something in other places. There's no recipe to create another RLR, but I think you can always contribute something positive with music anywhere in the world.
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