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London's 10 best underground radio stations

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Written by Becky T

Published Jun 08, 2023

London has long established itself as a hub for underground music scenes and emerging "alternative" talent, with underground radio stations providing a platform for these communities to cultivate their own creative spaces and local scenes.

Not only this, but underground radio stations provide a more accessible entry point for emerging artists across a range of backgrounds wanting to gain exposure and connect with a wider audience. These are spaces that actively campaign for inclusion and representation in music and beyond, which is a breath of fresh air when compared to the mainstream music industry (if we're being honest).

In this article, we've set out to uncover London's 10 best underground radio stations:

Contents:

  1. Aaja Music
  2. NTS Radio
  3. Rinse FM
  4. Netil Radio
  5. Soho Radio
  6. Reprezent FM
  7. Subtle Radio
  8. Balamii
  9. Foundation FM
  10. Rude FM

1. Aaja Music

website landing page for one of the best underground radio stations in London, Aaja Music

Located in Deptford, southeast London, Aaja is a record label, community radio station, and music event venue that garners an eclectic crowd of music lovers from across south London and beyond.

With a commitment to nurturing its community roots, Aaaja is heralded as "an authentic melting pot, dedicated to music and culture". As an underground radio station, Aaja is committed to uplifting fresh talent as well as collaborating with a number of emerging and established artists within the scene, including LS Dare, DJ Lessons and Rhi Spect.

You can find Aaja Music's dedicated event space, The Snake Pit, in the heart of Deptford, beaconed by the face of an iconic double-decker London bus that extends into the venue (sounds intriguing, right?). The space is open 7 days a week and is host to regular events and shows, featuring music across a diverse selection of genres, from jungle to garage, house to hardcore, and everything in between.

Aaja has established its place as a community hub and "a staple of the SE8 community", providing "an inclusive and welcoming space where radio shows are enjoyed in the flesh and new connections are made daily".

Follow Aaaja Music on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with upcoming shows and events. You can also become a patron from just £3 a month and receive their weekly newsletter in return for your support.

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2. NTS Radio

website landing page for underground radio station in London, NTS Radio

Less underground nowadays, NTS Radio is an online radio station that had its humble beginnings in Hackney, London back in 2011. Now the station pulls in millions of monthly listeners across the world, but it has stayed true to its roots, continuing to support and spotlight artists that don't receive mainstream exposure. In fact, back in 2020, The Financial Times reported that over half of the music played on NTS wasn't available on Spotify.

In this way, NTS Radio has gained popularity and recognition for its commitment to independent and underground music. The station now has permanent studios in London, Los Angeles, and Manchester, from where they broadcast innovative and original music from across the world.

NTS founder, Femi Adeyemi, started the station because he believed that London's diverse music culture wasn't being represented in media: "Pirate radio stations were laser-focused on specific sounds and the mainstream radio stations the same... there are so many different tastes in London, why don't we just set up this thing that plays everything? Let's keep it as diverse as possible" (Ssense, 2019).

NTS Radio continues to attract a loyal fanbase of music enthusiasts who align with its mission to broadcast a breadth of independent music.

You can become an NTS supporter for £2.99 a month, or follow them on Instagram or Twitter for regular updates.

3. Rinse FM / Kool FM

website landing page for underground radio station in London, Rinse FM

Rinse FM is a community radio station in London, which acquired former pirate radio station Kool FM in 2023. Rinse FM had its own beginnings as a pirate radio station between 1994 and 2010, when it was finally awarded a broadcast licence. Known as a hub for jungle, grime, garage, house and other dance music, Rinse FM has gained notoriety providing the first exposure of artists such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley.

Kool FM (which is now managed by Rinse) is widely regarded as playing an integral role in the shaping of the jungle music scene's evolution in London. In fact, people say similar things about Rinse FM's impact on the grime scene. This goes to show how underground radio stations inevitably influence popular culture by collectivising music scenes and making them accessible to a broader audience.

Like others with similar origins, the station is committed to honouring its community roots, involving itself in local charity initiatives such as training marginalised youth in broadcasting skills.

Follow both stations on their social media to stay up to date with shows and features: Rinse FM Instagram; Kool FM Instagram; Rinse FM Twitter; Kool FM Twitter.

4. Netil Radio

website landing page for one of the best underground radio stations in London, Netil Radio

Netil Radio is a community radio station, that broadcasts from a converted shipping container on top of Netil Market in Hackney. You can visit their bar near London Fields, where you can relax with a pint while you listen to live broadcasts.

First established in 2016, Netil Radio showcases a diverse range of music genres, including electronic, disco, house, techno, soul, jazz, and reggae. The station aims to promote local talent, emerging music artists, and underground sounds, reflecting the vibrant and eclectic music scene throughout London.

As with its peers in this list, community engagement is at the heart of Netil Radio's operations. The station actively involves itself with local businesses, artists, and charity initiatives, often highlighting funding efforts and collaborations in its weekly newsletter.

Follow Netil Radio on Instagram and Twitter for regular updates on shows and schedules.

5. Soho Radio

website landing page for underground radio station in London, Soho Radio

Founded in 2014, Soho Radio is an online radio station in London broadcasting a range of emerging talent across soul, jazz, reggae, rock, electronic, hip-hop and more. They run their station out of a storefront in Soho, London, as well as in the Rockefeller Centre in New York, broadcasting over 250 shows a month.

Sets feature a diverse coverage, "from soul to ambient, rockabilly to psychedelic, jazz to boogie, along with environmental, chat and satirical shows". A range of established artists also make an appearance through guest interviews and shows, includingthe likes of Simone Marie (Primal Scream), Dennis Bovell, Anna Prior (Metronomy) and Jim Sclavunos (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds).

Soho Radio is also invested in promoting arts, culture, and community on a wider scale, often highlighting the vibrant and creative and cultural scenes within Soho and London as a whole.

Follow Soho Radio on Instagram and Twitter as well as on their site blog for information surrounding upcoming shows and features.

6. Reprezent FM

website landing page for underground radio station in London, Reprezent FM

First established in 2011, Reprezent FM is a youth-led underground radio station in London, showcasing emerging talent across urban, electronic, hip-hop, R&B, grime and more. Reprezent FM have gained recognition for their distinct focus on empowering young people to showcase their talents and express themselves positively.

Reprezent FM are invested in their mission to improve the lives of young people in London, working "with pioneering organisations to create systemic change for young people". As part of this, they're involved heavily in a number of community projects, including their On the Level initiative, which delivers tools and methodologies for helping young people in schools improve their mental health.

They also offer a range of opportunities for young people wanting to break into the industry or gain exposure as a music artist, offering practical experience, training and mentorship within the music and broadcasting spheres.

Follow Reprezent FM on Instagram and Twitter for regular updates on their campaigns and events.

7. Subtle Radio

website landing page for underground radio station in London, Subtle Radio

Subtle Radio is an online radio station based in London. It focuses on promoting and showcasing underground electronic music, with a particular emphasis on genres such as dubstep, garage, bass, and grime.

Live broadcasts feature a range of DJ sets, guest features, interviews, and topical discussions about the underground electronic music community. Subtle Radio also maintains an archive of previous shows, allowing listeners to access and enjoy past broadcasts at any time on their site.

Subtle Radio also regularly hosts its own events, featuring emerging talent and its own resident DJs, which include BirdE, Hannah Rose and LISH. Check out their online news bulletin for ongoing campaigns and updates.

Follow Subtle Radio on Instagram and Twitter to get notified about upcoming events and shows. You can also become a Subtle Supporter for just £3 a month, or through one-off donations.

8. Balamii

website landing page for underground radio station in London, Balamii

First established as an app back in 2014, Balamii has since blossomed into a reputable online radio station, showcasing diverse and eclectic talent across electronic, jazz, hip-hop, UK club and more. Operating out of Peckham, South London, Balamii "champion[s] emerging & established artists from across the underground music community".

As of 2023, Balamii has "produced over 10,000 radio programmes, platformed over 2500 artists and hosted over 75,000 event attendees... delivered from passionate people IRL, not algorithms". The station has played an integral role in supporting emerging artists and engaging with the local music scenes across south London and beyond.

Shows and events feature a range of established and up-and-coming artists, with recent collaborations featuring the likes of Dave and Central Cee.

You can become a supporter of Balamii for as little as £3 a month, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with their work.

9. Foundation FM

website landing page for one of the best underground radio stations in London, Foundation FM

Foundation FM is a community radio station built on a mission "to showcase the hottest emerging talent in the underground music scene", with particular efforts towards uplifting underrepresented groups within the industry, including women and those in the LGBTQ+ community. Genres range from hip-hop and R&B to electronic, reggae and soul, with resident artists including Heléna Star, Ella dhc, and Leo Gosh.

As well as live broadcasts featuring resident artists, emerging talent and topical discussions, Foundation FM also run a range of events across London and the UK, often collaborating with major festivals such as Parklife, Wireless and Glastonbury.

Foundation FM is a refreshing reminder that you can find your tribe and gain success as an artist even when faced with a music industry that fails to champion diversity and inclusivity in the ways we might hope. If you want to discover more female and non-binary artists across a range of genres, Foundation FM is well worth a listen!

Follow Foundation FM on Instagram and Twitter to stay up to date with events and shows.

10. Rude FM

website landing page for one of the best underground radio stations in London, Rude FM

Rude FM is a 24/7 Drum and Bass undergound radio station in London, that had its beginnings back in 1992, making it one of the longest-running online Drum and Bass radio stations in the world.

The station has played a vital role in supporting and promoting emerging talent, as well as hosting established artists and DJs within the drum and bass community. A number of big names in the scene have been linked to Rude FM in their early days, including Lady Flava, Riko Dan, and Evil B.

Rude FM has built a loyal following over the years, both locally and internationally, and is widely regarded as an influential force within the drum and bass community, playing "the finest in forward-looking Drum & Bass live and direct from London".

Follow Rude FM on Instagram and Twitter to hear about upcoming show schedules and special guests.

Wrapping up

As a city, London's cultural diversity has led to an abundance of underground music scenes and pockets of counterculture, and it's heralded as one of the underground music capitals of the world. Crucially, what all of these underground radio stations in London have in common is their commitment to honouring the scene above all else, and (at the risk of sounding pretentious) doing it for the music, not the money.

Because of this, underground radio stations often struggle to stay afloat, usually refusing to run on-air advertisements, and so many have succumbed to financial pressures during the cost of living crisis. Do what you can to support these beacons of creativity whilst they're still around.

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