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In Conversation With: Dare Balogun from Vandelay Radio

In the latest post on Vandezine, the newsletter with updates from the Vandelay radio station crew, co-founder Dare offers some words of wisdom; “if you think you’re so cool because…you send messages to yourself from your burner account saying “great set last night,” then screenshot it and post it on your story with the caption saying “fan love”- this is your wake up call.”

There’s no place for posturing on this fully independent, volunteer run, world-wide broadcasted radio station. Instead, what you’ll find is a freedom and fun centred ethos, as seen by their wide variety of music tastes from DJs all around the world, and their social media archive filled with oddly specific cultural references and a passion for funny food pairings. In this conversation, Dare gives us insight into how he maintains this humour forward, humanist approach to running a radio station, criticism of the music scene and how he goes about his own musical expression.

What is it like running a radio station?

It’s hard with a full-time job and life is also a full-time job in itself so it's honestly hard. I started it from my bedroom when I was in Uni in Swansea so it was very much a fun passion project. There was no real pressure on us to perform as a traditional radio station. We had freedom to have a bit more personality on air. But after moving to London and our roster growing, a lot more people depend on us. There is an expectation that we will broadcast on time and that the station is running properly. But we've mostly been able to maintain being able to do what we want. We are also fully independent so there is no external pressure from brand partners that would have us curbing our personalities.

What does the Vandelay team look like?

I started it with Ollie in 2018 but we basically split up when I moved to london. I began to see the platform as an incubator; people that wouldn't necessarily get the chance to play at other radio stations would play for us. We’ve had a lot of DJs that would go on to NTS or go play their own boiler room shows. I ran it by myself for a year before I was fortunate enough to meet Will Silver, a really sick artist and our chief of operations. And then we have Liam who just joined as our treasurer, Max who does our content stuff and the wider team who are our artists in residence. It's not too big but it's good to have support with the operational bit, so I can focus on how the station can grow.

How do you decide which DJs make it to the roster?

It’s based on if they align with our ethos. Our ethos is "don't take yourself too seriously," and for us the focus should always be on music. So we'll listen to people's mixes and stuff but we're not genre specific so as long as your music is good to a certain extent, we're happy. We also like to pay attention to who is from underrepresented communities. When we have open calls we may ask people quite intimate questions like how they identify so we can know which applications to prioritise. One of the main priorities is picking women because our roster is usually man heavy.

Apart from hosting them, how else have you built relationships with the DJs on your roster?

It's been hard because we are an internet radio station, we rarely get the occasions to meet our roster in person. Now we are kind of based in Peckham because that's where Will lives and we've got decks there so we'll do events and we are able to meet people and form connections. But we also really try to communicate more and check in on each other and really try to make sure that everyone is happy and that we are presenting ourselves as a station that our roster feels proud to be involved with.

In one of your zine entries you talk about radio being an unpretentious space, why do you think that is?

I think it's because there is no focus on what you look like. We don't have a video feed so people are more likely to present their authentic selves. When you have to play live, there is quite a bit of pressure to think about what you look like. But when it's just you and the listener, both of you are only engaging with the audio, which for me is just so pure, when there is nothing else interfering with how they perceive you other than the music.

You also talk a lot about ego getting in the way of the music scene, and I wonder, as someone in the scene yourself, how do you keep your ego in check?

It's really hard and I think the ego in music comes from a certain perceived power. People will amass a certain following, or get a big opportunity like a residency or even bigger than that…I mean even the word ‘bigger’, the idea that there is some kind of scale and you might be better or more deserving than others, this is where ego could come in. Really we are all the same, we are all driven by a passion for music. I try to take a very humanist approach to everything. When we say we don't take us too seriously, it's also about us DJs not taking ourselves too seriously. It is hard though, I have to catch myself too. I had my first ever headline show and I could feel myself thinking that I was a big deal because of it, and better than those who haven't had headline shows. I had to remind myself that all I got is a longer time to play music.

How do you balance keeping your ego in check and staying ambitious?

That's the biggest issue we face because I think when we say we don't take ourselves too seriously, it's easy to think we are saying we don't care about the wider objective. We very much care about growing the station and we do want to measure our growth with tangible things like roster growth, doing more residencies. But we also want to measure it with spreading our ethos. Our overall goal is to contribute to a future of music that is more free and fair, but also more fun. We think that this would make things more accessible. We are constantly looking for opportunities for collaboration with clubs, stations and other things like that. When we approach them, the core of the offering is always our ethos. But yeah it's still so hard, we are often looked at like we don't take growth and development seriously. We do, we just measure it in a different way.

What has been your experience collaborating with people that do understand you and your ethos?

It's been the dream. Next Door Records is a perfect example. When we first started doing shows there, they took a huge risk giving us residency. And at first we had to keep adjusting but it has ultimately worked out. They saw what we were trying to do and understood. The place now feels like we are just playing at home and that's how we want it to feel with our partners. We have another partnership with Peckham Audio as well and it's very similar where you kind of feel that this is where we should be. We engage all our partners on a long term basis so we would never play a club only once. We always approach partners with a 6-12 month plan so we can have enough time to build that rapport with them and the audience.

Do you feel like you have built a community?

Yeah I think people align with the message, even if they take the ethos and apply it differently. I think they align with the idea of making things more accessible. A lot of radio stations will require several well done mixes that you've done, whereas we don't necessarily need that; we've had DJs with no experience before and I think that's how we are able to form a community. We also make it clear that people can feel free to leave, but those that stay really do feel aligned. Or they move on to another radio station like NTS, which is like, fair enough you know. But even with our audience, we've had situations where we've announced a show on the subscription newsletter before we've announced it on our socials and the tickets have ended up selling out because people from the newsletter care so much about being a part of our audience. We don't really want to appeal to everyone, just to those that truly care about what we have to say.

What has running a near five year-old radio station taught you about yourself?

I mean it’s nuts because I didn't think we would get to 5 years. When we started it, it was super casual and the fact that we've been able to maintain momentum is all because of the roster. It’s them that have continued to do shows and because of that I feel like I can't let them down. I’m fuelled by not wanting to disappoint people that want to be a part of this, which is great motivation to have. Really Vandelay isn't even me anymore, our roster is Vandelay. Now that we've got to five years we can be like what will this look like in 10 years but that's a discussion I'm having with my whole roster and not just on my own anymore.

As a musician yourself, have you got a work routine?

I wish I did. I made my first EP in 2018. We were leaving uni and we didn't really know what was gonna be the next move and I felt super emotional. My response to it was to create music. Now every time I think about making music I feel like I have to be in such an emotional state. But I don't really have much of a routine; I think I'd make a lot more music if I did. Even with my next EP I made it with a lot of emotion. Half of my childhood is here and the other half is in Lagos so I was inspired by missing home and really wanting to go back and see my dad after so long. And again, it's like do I need to feel super sad to make good things?

What other art form makes you feel even a little similar to music?


Which kind?

All films. I think my love for music stems from my love for cinema first. The first film that blew me away was Blues Brothers and the music in that is amazing. For me cinema is the ultimate expression of creativity because it has everything. It's all these individual elements that you choose and put together. I value cinema so much.

If you rely on intense emotion to make music, do you think you could ever make music not centred around your own experiences?

No, I wouldn't be able to. For me, as soon as the track is done I’m done, I don't really care about what happens after. It's almost like journaling. As soon as I'm done journaling, I’m fine.

Who are your favourite artists if you've got any?

Yinka Bernie for sure. Also, Will Silver who I co-run the station with. He is so technically gifted he could make literally any type of track. I'm also such a sucker for nostalgia, the people that I'm huge fans of unfortunately don’t make music anymore. The best example of that is Sade. I love her man. I only recently discovered her and the frustration that I will never be able to hear new music from her because I've listened to everything is just nuts to me.

A lot of people who are suckers for nostalgia also think music has fallen off, are you of that belief as well?

I don't know if i would say music has fallen off, there are still people doing some amazing things. I think what's really fallen off is music media. You'll see twenty titles covering the exact same EP and it's like, surely at least five of you can look at other works. It feels like a lot of music writers are just sitting waiting for music to come to them instead of going out to look for it. I think a lot about Bloghouse for instance and how different that was from now.

Yeah I suppose the genre-fluid archived shows from your roster can be a place of introduction to new artists as well as DJs of course

Yeah and archiving is important to me because it lets people see what they would join. It might inspire one of them to want to become a DJ or maybe validate existing DJs. There’s this amazing video of Todd Edwards DJing and the dance floor is so diverse. I saw it in the early 2000s and by then I was really into electronic music but not many peers were so I felt alone in terms of my music taste. but when I saw this video and this diverse dance floor I remember feeling validated because I could see people like me who really cared about this music as well. That's why capturing and sharing this stuff is important to me, so that more people can just go on the internet and feel that same validation that I did. It would hopefully motivate them to keep doing what they want to do.

I think a lot about the demise of 3rd spaces almost everywhere and how that has made us increasingly desperate to find this validation online. Do you feel that with Vandelay?

For sure. I mean for me London is so alienating and it can make you feel like you shouldn't be part of the things you like because how do you engage with it? Even with physical stations, because they charge subs that already puts up a barrier to entry. But with the internet all you need is a laptop. Sometimes people do Vandelay shows off their phone, it just takes two clicks. I think online communities are so important. but it's easy to get lost in them. I always say we always need to think about how to manifest the same spaces in the physical realm. I want to be able to connect with people in real life and have conversations like the one I'm having with you.


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