In the 2009 film Pirate Radio, Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a DJ on a ship off the coast of England, broadcasting rock and roll music illegally to a populace that was starving for the likes of Janis Joplin, The Who and the Rolling Stones. While fictional, it depicted an era of radio that actually existed before commercialized rock and roll radio eliminated their necessity.
Pirate radio is not a thing of the past everywhere, though. Pirate radio stations do still exist throughout the world, including here in Amsterdam, where we have the benefit of a lovely little thing called Radio Patapoe. More Pump up the Volume than Pirate Radio, Patapoe is an actual pirate radio station that has been in operation since 1989 (when it was known as Radio Dood - "Radio Death"). They broadcast a wide array of music - including the excellent "Punk as F**k" hardcore show on Fridays. Here in Amsterdam, Patapoe can be found on 88.3 FM, but listeners worldwide can tune in to Radio Patapoe online.
We caught up with Patapoe DJ/author/jack-of-all-trades Bart Plantenga, who does the Patapoe show Wreck This Mess to find out what it's like being a part of DIY pirate radio, and the way that the punk scene is involved in making it a reality.
RC: So tell us about your early days in radio.
BP: My name is Bart Plantenga and I was born on the edge of Amsterdam.
My parents, without my permission, emigrated to America, where I grew up in the toxic belt of New Jersey, in Hawthorne and Edison, living in an area flanked by a Ford plant, an Allied Chemical factory, Pittsburgh Paints, and toxic industrial plants before moving at that most tender of identity ages (13) to Upstate NY, where New Jersey stewed inside me in the middle of nowhere between Elmira and Horseheads.
I began doing radio by listening to WFMU in 1981 and making tapes for friends. Got involved at WFMU and by the end of 1985 I was doing overnight fill-ins. I took overnight literally to mean all night and usually rode home in my 1976 AMC green Hornet (one of only two cars I have ever owned) at around 8AM. It was after careening off into the median and waking up between lanes of northbound and southbound Route 1 traffic that I knew I needed to graduate to a more civilized, daytime show.
I got a regular show in 1986 but moved to Paris in 1988 where I invented the show Wreck This Mess on anarchist radio station Radio Libertaire (1988-1991), and periodically guest shows since then. I went back to WFMU in mid-1991 until 1996. Wreck This Mess meant avoiding music as commerce or filler and not engaging in standard (indie) radio formats with a standard character-driven personality and witty repartee between songs – four songs followed by information and attitude. That wasn’t me; I was shy and tongue-tied so went for weird, evolving, morphing mixes in the shadow of KLF’s Chill Out and continued to fascinate and/or annoy listeners. And then I moved to Amsterdam in 1996.
RC: And you started at Radio Patapoe?
BP: I started DJing at Radio Patapoe almost immediately (sound-junkie trait?) upon arriving in Amsterdam. I lived in a legalized squat ON the water, paying $35 a month for lodgings, and was within walking distance of the Silo – a squatted grain silo along the waterway the IJ, behind Amsterdam’s Central Station – where Patapoe was located.
It was gothic, castle-cold in winter, difficult to get into (you had to find a resident art punk squatter who was willing to take the time to let you in – we didn’t have our own key), climbing up the rickety silo stairs to the top floor where you had a view of probably 2/3 of Holland. The studio looked like something out of a Dickens movie set: Glorious, ancient, post-industrial decay and old recycled equipment – no toilet and so you could p**s out the window or leave urine samples behind in the thousand beer bottles and/or cans left behind. The Silo area has since been redeveloped as a yuppie neighborhood with intriguing architecture including the old Silo.
RC: And you were also a DJ at Radio 100.
BP: I started at Radio 100 some years later – 1999 I think. Radio 100 was stable, had great sound, DJs that regularly turned up, didn’t leave the equipment smoldering or in a tangle of unplugged cables. There was respect and Radio 100 was broadcasting 24 hours a day - even if half of it was loops and tapes of great meandering ambiences and weird sounds. 100 was plainly more organized and that had its value. It meant slightly more bureaucracy, quality and responsibility.
RC: Now Patapoe wasn't always Patapoe. It was originally Dood, right?
BP: It began with Radio Dood in the mid-'80s as part of the blossoming squat scene in the area north of Rembrandt’s house not far from the anarchist bookstore Fort van Sjakoo. It was an exciting/stressful time (much upheaval and vacant, under-maintained housing) when many of the most creative people were on the dole and so people had time for creativity, for building up alternative structures and such. Most of that has evaporated as more people have less time. So now DJs don’t hang around. They come, do their shows, leave; there’s definitely less scene.
Patapoe’s style was definitely punk with a political tint: it was the last years where punk, the music, the clothing and ethos/attitude would still be seen as vaguely politically contrarian representations doing battle with the normals and their endless consumerist habits but Patapoe was never orthodox.