video didn’t kill the radio star. it’s alive and kicking in NYC with know-wave
Broadcasting from a basement in downtown New York, Know-Wave - with its teen-gaze and rap king presenters - is the internet radio station redefining our airwaves.
Photography Nick Sethi
Aaron Bondaroff, aka Downtown Don, has been widely known as the face of Supreme, owner of streetwear label aNYthing, and co-founder of OHWOW gallery. There was a time you couldn't walk through the Lower East Side without bumping into him bringing together his local constituency to party or create. When he moved to LA in 2011 to open OHWOW's West Coast branch, he rented a dark and decrepit haunted house - which he christened "the Charles Mansion" - and began tucking into the local radio services in the area. Guesting on Chinatown's internet pirate radio station KChung, and Neuz Pollution's Thursday night show on the FM dial, he was struck with an epiphany, and soon after, he launched his own take on broadcasting and the internet radio show, Know-Wave, with help from Solomon Bothwell of KChung.
It was the manic, free-for-all, spontaneous format of KChung and NP that provided the jump-off for Aaron: "It was really good to see those cool things happening there and the good energy. People are just making things happen on their own, so the way they're working with creative people in that community, I was just really impressed with what they had going on," he says.
Neuz Pollution's Chris Candy and Carlos describe this frenzied radio philosophy as a "complete free-for-all and utter chaos… It is a total open forum. It's freeing in an era that's so constricted by self-image and curation. Our radio show is a place where you can set your unconscious free, thus it becomes like a trash dump for culture. And literally 9 million people stand to hear it," they say. The non-visual element is key with radio, leaving the imagination in charge, which they say "is very freeing when creating content. You're not responsible for building sets or casting hot actors or creating a whole world visually. You can literally just say, 'I'm in a small cheese farm in Iraq,' and there you are…"
Now broadcasting out of the OHWOW Book Club in New York's West Village - in addition to dropping out to Dallas for the recent art fair, where seminal artist Richard Phillips took to the mic, and heshers Power Trip shredded - the shows add personality to the image-makers Aaron reps through OHWOW.
There is no schedule; there is little organisation and no timetable. Know-Wave comes alive via Instagram flyers when the time suits. Locking in to the radio show website, you can trip between Balearic disco and music box jams from pro skater Alex Olson to Weirdo Dave's warped murmurings, out to Skepta battling the Ratking kids and a smooth set from Dev Hynes (a London broadcast wing is set to appear soon). Look up the Know-Wave archive on SoundCloud; records fly off the deck, and you feel like you're earwigging into a vivid conversation, and often it doesn't even necessarily feel like radio, it feels like you've tuned into a banging house party. Just don't touch that dial. Oh, there isn't one!
So Know-Wave, what was the inspiration?
I was always interested in pirate stations and radio. It was a big part of my youth, listening to music, discovering stories through audio, and having to paint a picture and I think that was good for the mind. Actually, when I was in LA, I was losing touch with my New York base, and I really wanted to figure out a way to communicate with them.
And this all tied into your gallery OHWOW…
Yeah, the gallery is in LA and it's our job working with artists, doing good exhibitions but also figuring out a way to bring life to a gallery. I need to be stimulated and doing interesting and fun things - working with artists and creative people that I necessarily don't get to work with in the gallery. Know-Wave radio became a place where all these different scenes can connect, and people wanted to get involved.
Who are you pulling in from New York?
New York is there, the community is there, and I think everybody who is interested in outlets… because we suffer in New York a lot lately, without having venues and like-minded people with no motive. In New York, it's such a community because everyone's working for free, we're doing this out of the love of labour, the love of art and radio, audio and music, so I created this space in New York where people come and hang out. I bring them to me, I listen to what they're doing. We can collaborate and they can talk actively about New York, which is nice because things change - the city changes, the players of the game change and this is a way for me to be able to work with so many different people.
One of the things I love about Know-Wave is it feels like you've just tuned into a party. It doesn't even feel like radio.
I really like to document what is happening around Know-Wave, around New York and all the people who come to town. It's nice to be able to tap into conversations, into atmosphere. I try not to call it radio; it is what it is. It is internet radio, but I try to keep it simple and let it be its thing, let people take their take on it. Know-Wave is very organic, there's no business model, there's no corporate connection. We're just fooling around and we're enjoying it.
Growing up, radio was a big part of our generation. Do you think it still connects with people today? Today everyone is so driven by visual imagery. Radio gets people to use their imagination again.
Radio was a big part of our generation. You had to paint a picture in your mind when you were reading the thank-yous on the backs of all your favourite tapes or CDs. You used to try and figure out who these people were. With radio, you try to paint a picture and connect dots. If you say something, it's going to be live, but also it's harder to find… if you say something really stupid, or something really smart or engaging, you have to listen for an hour to find that one moment when that thing was said for a split second. If it's a photo you can Google image search it and find it.
Do you miss the old world before the internet? I do. You had to dig a bit more, and there was something nice about that.
Of course, that's what built communities and subcultures. You had to find like-minded people who were interested in the same things you were interested in. Even with the Know-Wave project, we've been working on it for a while, casually, not really talking about it. I do miss the idea of walking down the street and finding inspiration hands-on, not hands on the computer. But you can't fight it. We can talk about how things were, but we have to grow with this and we have to embrace it, learn from the youth and the new generation.
Text Jeremy Abbott
Photography Nick Sethi