how nts manchester became one of the country’s most important radio stations

A hub for the local music community and a part of the country’s most diverse and global music platforms, NTS Manchester is a vital UK tastemaker.

by Kamila Rymajdo; photos by Darina Mohammed
07 November 2017, 8:00am

When it comes to music, rather than importing already established platforms, Manchester has a habit of nurturing its own until they become globally recognised institutions -- whether that's the Haçienda, Sankeys or the Warehouse Project. So when London's go-to radio station for eclectic music tastes, NTS, announced that they were expanding their UK operation beyond their Dalston headquarters, it came as a surprise that it would be to Manchester, especially as the rainy city already had stations such as the brilliant Reform, Unity and ALLFM, catering to an appetite for underground sounds.

NTS Manchester was born when it became apparent a wide variety of the city's long-running promoters and DJs all had the same idea -- to create something in Manchester with an outward looking, international focus. As Chow Down's Finn and Seb Mariner of Stop Making Sense were pitching to NTS founder Femi Adeyemi, Ben Hughes and Leon Riley were priming a studio in Ancoats' Wellington Mill with the same idea in mind.

Meme Gold

Launching in November 2015, NTS Manchester initially broadcast every Sunday, later spreading to the whole weekend. In those two years the station's welcomed a divergent group of established selectors and emerging producers, as well as providing a platform for Manchester-based record labels like Swing Ting and Boomkat Editions. "Manchester has always been proud of its music heritage, and rightly so, but there has been a lot of focus on the past and not the present," resident DJ Annabel Fraser replies, when asked what the station has brought to the city. Meanwhile Josh and Josh of techno outfit Space Afrika praise the station for "drawing together local individuals on the fringes of creativity. It created a hub for artists in the process of becoming, allowing them to express their interests on a respectable yet open-minded platform."

"There's this lovely ten minute window when you arrive before your show, or when you've just finished, and you stand around and chat with the NTS studio crew and the DJ before or after you. There's just something about it."

The NTS ethos for nurturing fresh talent extends beyond taking on producers and DJs. Clothing designer and stylist Meme Gold was asked to join the station despite having no mixing experience. What appealed was her personality. "I learned a lot about myself doing the show, because the first time you go in the studio you're nervous as fuck, thinking what if I do things wrong," she explains over lunch. "But listening back you realise no one can hear all that stress and panic, it's all in your head, and then that just became a thing in life -- just because you're thinking it and you feel it, doesn't mean anyone else is picking up on it, so just get on with it."

2 B Real founder Finn also experienced an awakening in the NTS studio, although for him it was creative rather than personal. "I did a show about trying your very hardest and getting nowhere and it's kind of birthed an EP, which is coming out later this year on Local Action," he tells me, going on to cite the station's role in facilitating collaborations too. "I actually met Swing Ting and Levelz's MC Fox through Swing Ting's show. I sent him a beat and we recorded Lightwork together with Samrai down the corridor from the NTS studio."

Space Afrika

"More people are aware of what I do thanks to NTS as it's hard to get noticed if you don't release music or are not part of a record label," Fraser continues, adding that, "radio's not about holding a dance floor so you can play all sorts of weird shit." For DJ Florentino, whose monthly residency weaves soca, dancehall and reggaeton together, while paying homage to his Colombian roots, it's the opportunity to document his work that's equally important. "It makes me very happy that there's an archive of mixes that I've done that people can go back and listen to," the Mixpak-signed producer explains over email. "With music being so disposable these days, it's great to have something like that in place."

"At this point Manchester is so cosmopolitan I couldn't really say where most of our hosts are from. Diversity on all fronts is key."

More than providing a platform for creatives to grow or expand their skills, the station has fostered a real sense of community too, reflecting NTS' wider agenda of building networks not just in the UK, but worldwide (the Manchester branch was followed by stations in Los Angeles and Shanghai). "I didn't feel like there was a central hub where you'd see familiar faces from the Manchester scene coming together in one place before," Florentino continues "There's this lovely ten minute window when you arrive before your show, or when you've just finished, and you stand around and chat with the NTS studio crew and the DJ before or after you. I dunno, there's just something about it," agrees Anz, who first played alongside fellow Chow Down resident Fallow, before getting her own NTS residency. "They're a free spirited and extremely clued up team who make you tea and coffee when you're roasted first thing Saturday morning," Space Afrika add (importantly).

Annabel Fraser

The sense of community extends to interaction with listeners too, who can count on NTS to provide something completely leftfield. "I got great feedback about a French electro-acoustic record of abattoir sounds," Conor Thomas of Boomkat says in answer to a question about his favourite shows. "Doing the Saturday night slot, I like to see myself as the alternative, mute Dave Pearce, playing Volker Heyn and Venetian Snares to people getting ready for a night out." Anz, whose monthly show also falls on a Saturday night, concurs, saying, "I love fast music but I also have time for Solange-flavoured slow jams, and it's been so much fun mixing the two together and playing sets that would maybe be a bit too confusing for the club."

With internationally renowned guests passing through the station's former cotton mill doors every weekend thanks to the NTS network, and the many independent promoters with whom it has close links, what NTS Manchester does is rather special, and reflects the changing face of Manchester's musical landscape. It's no longer about creating something distinctly Mancunian and waiting for the rest of the world to recognise its appeal, but facilitating artists and curators who happen to be from or based in Manchester. As Seb Mariner sums it up: "At this point Manchester is so cosmopolitan I couldn't really say where most of our hosts are from. Diversity on all fronts is key."

NTS Manchester will celebrate its second birthday on 24 November at The White Hotel.